May 15, 2019

How anyone can Stop being a Slave to their Smartphone. (Yes, even you.)


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“The average American spends more than half of their waking life staring at a screen.” ~ Digital Detox


I’m so grateful to have grown up without a phone in my pocket.

Life before the internet, social media, email, or apps galore was slower and more simple. Gratification was less instant. Photos had to be developed to be seen. Phones were plugged into the wall.

Today, it seems we are surrounded by a society captivated by screens and virtual reality.

One of my best friends from home still uses a flip phone and has never joined Facebook. She owns multiple record players and a VCR—seriously. While I admire her analog lifestyle, and appreciate my own quasi-hermit lifestyle in the woods, I also value using the internet for business and communication.

The key is balance and moderation. I have gone through phases, in the past several years since tablets and smartphones have become ubiquitous, in which I have definitely been too attached to my devices. Checking Facebook and email compulsively. Playing Candy Crush and similar games to fill my free time with mindless entertainment. Developing an unhealthy attachment to my Google calendar and task lists.

I’m glad to have dropped these bad habits. I still use a smartphone and computer almost daily, but have learned how to turn them off and put them away at designated times, opting instead to read a book with my daughter, gaze at the trees and sky for awhile, or have a cup of tea and conversation with my hubby.

The Technological Middle Path

Take a moment and reflect on the times throughout the day when you pull your phone out for no real reason. Sitting in traffic or waiting rooms, or after a class or a shift at work? Workout time, lunch break, or while running errands around town?

Imagine that you don’t have a phone and cannot default to this common activity. Would you feel anxious, liberated, or something else? Imagine the feelings that would arise from searching for your phone and not finding it.

If anxiety comes up just by visualizing your phone having been lost, broken, or stolen, there’s a good chance you could benefit from a complete break from internet technology, otherwise known as a digital detox.

Do you feel an urgent need to check your messages and notifications multiple times a day? If you have become a slave to your smartphone, changing this relationship and taking back your power requires self-discipline and a genuine desire to stop wasting so much time staring at screens.

Realize that each time we receive a new notification, email, or text, dopamine is released in the brain. This “feel-good” neurotransmitter drives us to seek rewards and trains us to keep coming back for more.

Studies have shown that heavy internet users are much more likely to suffer from depression. Excessive use of social media can lead to increased feelings of loneliness, jealousy, and fear. When forced to unplug—even briefly—the most dependent internet users will experience severe mental and physical symptoms, not unlike those of heroin withdrawal.

Yet, we’re using these devices day and night. The vast majority of people use electronics in the hour before bedtime. The artificial light emitted by screens increases alertness, negatively impacting our sleep patterns, performance, and mood. And it suppress melatonin, a natural sleep hormone produced by the body.



How to Start and Stick to a Digital Detox

Make a list all of your tech gadgets: computers, tablets, phones. Then, create a list of the things you enjoy doing and would like to do more of.

Make a list of sites or apps where you’re spending tons of time. What draws you in? How can you find that satisfaction in real life?

Go into the detox gradually. Decide on a maximum daily time allowance for screen time. Slowly eliminate technology from various parts of your day.

Eliminate phone and computer use completely on Sundays. Observe feelings that arise throughout the tech-free day. Write in your journal to document your experience. Take a walk, or a forest bath. Avoid watching television or listening to the radio. Read a paperback book.

After you’ve been on this mild detox for a week, start turning your phone off more often. Decide upon a certain hour in the evening to turn it off. Leave it off all night. Designate an additional day of the week, like Saturday.

Turn off all screens at least two hours before bed—no phone, no laptop, no iPad. Not storing devices in the bedroom overnight helps break the habit of using them immediately before bed or first thing in the morning.

Digital Minimalist Tips

Disable the phone’s push notifications. Do this for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, news sites, dating apps—anything that sends an alert when someone contacts you or likes a post.

The iPhone Screen Time feature and Android Digital Wellbeing app can be set to automatically lock you out when you’ve surpassed your app time limits.

Make a rule about phone stacking in a meeting or at a family meal. Everyone puts their device in the middle of the table. No one is allowed to use their phone until the meeting or meal is over.

Turn the phone to Do Not Disturb mode and keep it out of sight and reach when you’re driving. Even hands-free phone systems slow reaction times and inhibit concentration on the road.

Go on a digital detox retreat. It could be a personal holiday or family trip with no screens. Try starting with a weekend and working up to a whole week, or even a month!

Spend roughly eight hours a day at work, eight hours asleep, and the remaining eight hours free to do as you please. Being a workaholic is actually counterproductive. Work smarter not harder and protect your free time. This allows our minds to wander and wonder—and makes our work time more focused and effective.

When the urge to take and immediately post a photo arises, instead take a picture with your mind, just for you. By engaging with the present moment with all your senses, you’re more likely to keep this memory. When we’re too busy snapping photos and posting status updates, we can’t be immersed in our real lives.

Life in the Slow Lane

You don’t have to move off-the-grid or live in a tiny house in order to cut back on screen time. Life can be enhanced by the simple act of choosing to put down the phone and focus more on the beautiful scenery and community of people all around us.

Breaking our habitual dependency on our phones helps bring us into the present moment. We can relax and release our grip on ruminating over the past or compulsively planning for the future. We can choose not to act on our every impulse to pick up the phone. With discipline and practice, we can take back our power and rediscover more presence, gratitude, and awareness in our daily lives.


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