Reflections & recommendations on how to have a digital diet.
I didn’t think I was addicted to my mobile phone until I had an enforced mobile phone detox.
Reflections from a therapist after a phone detox.
Find out helpful changes you can easily make to your mobile phone use, which could hugely benefit your overall wellbeing.
I never thought I was addicted to my phone, I observed others who seemed to use it a lot more than I did, people who were far more active writing content and posting regularly on social media, distracted by messages at mealtimes and engaging in other habits which I felt put my regular ‘phone peeking’ into moderation.
Phones have without a doubt changed how we live our lives, many of the tools and applications on them, do make life easier and more convenient. For all the good that they have brought however, they have started to affect people’s attention span and how we engage in our day to day experiences.
Not through choice (my mobile broke), for almost a month I was completely without a mobile phone. This was purely a phone only detox, I was still able to access my emails and my work as an online therapist treating people with anxiety disorders, which I do via video calls. This digital diet was enough however to highlight just how much I was automatically reaching for my phone throughout an average day.
If I was drying my hair in the morning - I’d reach for my phone
If I was waiting at a queue for food in a supermarket - I’d reach for my phone
If I was sat in the car as a passenger - I’d reach for my phone
During a pause in the general chaos of looking after two young children - I’d reach for my phone
I’d check my phone before I went to bed at night and first thing when I woke in the morning.
Our phones have become our watch, our shopping list, our map, our bank account, our diary, our escapism, our recipe book, our newspaper, our dictionary and camera, to name just a few of its daily functions.
Each time we reach to use it for one of those many meaningful functions, we can be easily distracted by a flashing notification, a number on an app or something else.
Our phones are giving us regular prompts to do more on our phone.
Have you ever gone to do a simple and quick task but ended up engaging in all manner of ‘calls to action’? Be that reading and replying to a text, checking your Instagram account, or heading off on a series of scrolling through photos, skim reading the news and blogs. Before we know it, 5, 10, 15 minutes of our day has flashed by. We have not moved forwards with anything meaningful or done anything that was actually useful or productive.
I wonder how many people have done that with reading this blog?
In my work as an online therapist providing video based treatment, I have observed an increasing amount of people struggling with the pressure they feel from the constant prompts to respond to something on their phone, comparing themselves to others posts on social media such as Instagram and Facebook or feeling increasingly busy but not ever feeling they are getting on top of their increasingly long ‘to do’ list.
The accessibility of all the communication technology on our phones means we are filling in any pause of our day with activity, therefore leaving us feeling increasingly busy.
When we look at a social media picture, post or personal message we experience a little shot of dopamine, which leads us to craving more little shots of dopamine, before we know it we have easily created a habit, an addiction. With these easily accessible and dopamine giving distractions from our ‘to do lists’ we feel more busy but are in fact are achieving less.
I am not going to suggest everyone goes on a digital diet or month-long phone detox, but I do want to reflect on and share the key things I have taken away from the experience in the hope that I may help others manage their own phone addiction wherever you might be on that spectrum.
Taking a mini tech break
A small break or even just a pause before you reach for your phone can really help you be more mindful about how you use your phone. Before you move to tap once more on one of those little apps, pause for a moment to consider why you are logging on. By questioning your motivation, it will help you to identify if it is helpful to you and your overall well being or not.
Are you avoiding work?
Are you taking your attention away from people who would benefit from it?
Are you avoiding an emotion or upsetting situation?
Are you looking for approval on your recent post, looking for the number of likes and comments it gets?
What would happen if you didn’t check for 10 minutes?
Decide on some simple mobile phone boundaries
So many of us get out our phones when a conversation takes a pause, or if it feels quiet. This can prevent people from connecting or noticing interesting things in the world around us. I would look constantly at my phone during a long car journey, which resulted in my husband and I talking to each other less despite being sat side by side each other.
Talking to others about what boundaries are important to instil creates a higher commitment to each other to try to maintain those boundaries. We can also decide to engage in good modelling of the use of phones for children as well as within our social circles.
Examples of simple boundaries include;
No scrolling for the first hour of the day or until you are dressed and ready for the day
No phones during meals
No phones after 9pm or in bed. The blue light from your phone screen can impact our ability to get to sleep, because blue light activates the area in our brain that suppresses melatonin, which helps induce drowsiness. Turning off your phone an hour or so before you go to bed reduces unhelpful stimuli and allows guys to get emotionally ready by unwinding ready for sleep.
Take charge of when you connect & when you disconnect
The instant nature of the tech help on our phone, means temptation to engage with it is always at grabbing distance. The risk of this is a gradual feeling of overload, or not enabling us to properly process the information we are taking on in a day or to fully reflect on what is happening in our lives. It is a temptation which is only going to increase.
We could all benefit from periods of time to disconnect, to rest and digest the volume of information and stimuli we get in a day.
Just turning off at night time is not enough. There is a strong theory about the correlation between the steep increase in sleep problems and the constant distraction provided by our mobile phones. We need to create space within our days, otherwise it is likely that thoughts and emotions may surge at night time when we are quiet, still and not distracted by constant stimuli.
Learn some mindfulness skills
Learning the skill of mindfulness can be a hugely helpful in connecting with your everyday in a different way. The ability to be more mindful in our approach to our daily life has been found to be a key element in happiness.
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment. It teaches us to learn to accept what is happening in our present moment without judgment.
Learn to focus your attention
Take a moment to zoom out and gain perspective on what really matters in your life. Evidence shows that quality of life is directly connected to our ability to pay attention to meaningful things.
Do I really NEED that picture?
Because we always have our camera (our phone) with us, if feels all too easy to take a picture of every moment. I would take a photo of everything that felt really positive, interesting, funny, you name it, I was photographing it.
Being in the moment, fully engaged in it and enjoying it provides us with a far, far better quality of experience.
While I will continue to take photos, I now ask myself if it will reduce what I am experience by reaching for my phone? Will it change the flow of the moment? Who will benefit from the photo? Is having the photo that important? I don’t ask myself all of these questions each time, but I have leant to break the automatic nature of photographing each and every moment.
Have you ever sat down to write an email or to read something interesting and been distracted from your flow by a ping of a text or app on your phone? Multitasking with phone distraction takes us away from engaging in activities in a quality way and actually makes us take longer and lowers the quality of our work.
If you want to be more efficient and productive, decide to prioritise what to do first and choose to do one task at a time. Reading a text or engaging with an app can be on your task list, but choose to focus your attention full on one at a time, and you will significantly improve your productivity.
Get into something that immerses you
Engaging in a skill or a hobby which enables you to get totally absorbed in it, can protect time for quality non-phone focus in a day.
You could join an exercise class, a sports team, cycle, bake, swim, learn to sew, knit, garden or turn up the tunes and just dance.
What you choose to do is personal to you, and you may need to try a few things out before you find out what it takes to be fully focused and not distracted. It doesn't matter how you choose to strengthen your attention muscles, just make sure you choose to do it, so that you can gradually increase your skills and ability to do it.
Turn off notifications
Reduce the distraction of and pressure to reply to emails, group and individual WhatsApp messages and texts by turning notifications off of at least onto silent, so that you can choose when to attend to them rather than them constantly nudging you.
Our phones are powerful and clever tools. But they are just that, tools. We can decide how and how often we use them and how much of ourselves and our attention we give to them.
By establishing boundaries and being more mindful about how you use it, you are more likely to enjoy a healthy relationship with your phone and the personal and social pulls it provides.
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Cognitive Behavioural Therapist