Written by Lloyd Wells, as part of a project for Best VPN.
How often do you use your smartphone? Or should that be: how often do you not have your mobile phone to hand? If you’re finding it increasingly difficult to stay away from the handset, you may have inadvertently developed an unhealthy dependency on the little device.
It’s not difficult to see how overuse can arise. After all, smartphones are increasingly sophisticated communication tools specifically designed to keep you in touch with, well, everyone, anywhere, any time and for any reason – and therein lies the problem. Use it as a phone or to access email, for social media updates or to surf the web. It’s a shopping trolley, an information portal, an entertainment centre, a diary management system… is there anything your smartphone can’t do? No wonder it’s become so indispensable in our daily lives.
If you find yourself checking your phone at any given opportunity, even while you’re driving, when you’re with friends, when you should be working, then it is clear that your smartphone is interfering with your life. Check if any of these symptoms apply to you:
- You check your phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night
- You catch up on emails or the news while you’re eating or watching TV
- Your pick up your phone immediately when you hear it ping
- You wait impatiently for the next Facebook update or Instagram moment
- You feel uneasy when you’ve left your phone at home or when it’s run out of battery charge
- You feel irritated if there is no phone reception or WiFi signal
So what’s wrong with any of the above, you may well ask?
Put simply, it’s to do with the brain and the nervous system. The problem with being ‘overly’ connected is that there’s no downtime. Our brain doesn’t get the chance to switch off. The adrenaline push that keeps us continuously alert and available may be great for productivity in the short term, but only if our ‘fight of flight’ responses have the opportunity to balance out with our ‘rest and digest’ mode in the longer term. Regular digital downtime is essential to give us time to slow down, to reconnect with the offline world – real people and real life in real time.
If you feel you’ve crossed the line and might be ‘addicted’ to your mobile phone, here’s what you can do to turn the tide.
- Put aside 10-12 hours of phone free time every day
Turn your phone off at least an hour before you go to bed to give yourself a chance to unwind from the daily digital onslaught. Aim to be phone-free from 9pm to 9am or thereabouts. Nomophobia never sleeps – some people even wake up in the middle of the night and can’t resist the temptation to check their Facebook page! Create a physical separation between you and the phone by leaving it to charge overnight on the kitchen table instead.
To wake up in the morning, get yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock and spend the first hour or so on your morning routine, uninterrupted by emails and texts. Why not try to go full retro and read the paper at the breakfast table? You’ll be amazed by how calm you will feel.
- Schedule your smartphone use throughout the day
Social media can be real ‘time sink’ – hands up who has wasted whole mornings on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, lacking the will to just switch it off? And is it really necessary to check your emails every 5 minutes?
Save your sanity and boost your productivity by scheduling certain times to view your feeds and updates. Maybe check your social networks just before you start your working day, then at lunchtime, then at teatime. Have a designated time to reply to emails – perhaps after dinner?
The important thing is to put the phone away outside of the scheduled times, so you can settle into your daily tasks without constant distraction.
- Have ‘no phone’ zones in the house
It’s difficult to have real-life interactions with the other people in your home if everyone is always glued to their phones. Is it easier to get an answer out of your teenager by text message than in person? It may be time for the whole family to take action.
Start by making mealtimes a ‘no phone’ zone. After the inevitable period of initial grumbling, you’ll find that conversation starts to blossom and, before you know it, you’ll be talking about the events of the day and share what’s going on in your lives.
Neither should your smartphone have a place in the bedroom. This is your sanctuary – a space for undisturbed sleep and intimacy. Enough said.
- Prioritise ‘real’ living
Connecting with friends over social media is all very well, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for spending time together. Instead of ‘liking’ someone’s post, give them a call and talk to them instead. Coffee catch-ups are better than group texts. Sharing conversations, going out for a meal, going for a run together – these are real-life experiences that no virtual connection can replicate.
It is a sad state of affairs that we may have hundreds of Facebook friends but no time to have ‘offline’ relationships with any of them. Engage with real life and get your friends back.
Why not reclaim a few hours every weekend to disconnect completely? Think of fun activities that don’t involve your smartphone – read a book, do some gardening, go for a walk, anything to give your brain the downtime it needs.