I didn’t realise how many times a day I check my phone, rely on the internet to distract me, or try to do four things at once – juggling my phone, laptop and tablet is my reality sometimes all while flicking through Netflix. (Judging from the number of wifi networks in my street alone I know I’m not the only one.) This week I couldn’t do any of those things and it gave me a chance to think about how my reliance on technology affects my wellness, and what I could learn from my forced unplugged time.
Computer and technology related stress has become a large problem in our tech-driven world. We now consume three times more information than we did in 1960. Studies have linked high usage of computers and mobiles to increased risk of prolonged stress, symptoms of depression, sleep disturbance, anxiety, guilt, mental overload, social isolation, and the feeling of never being free. Not to mention that when we scroll through Facebook there’s a high chance we’re going to come down with a case of FOMO (that’s Fear Of Missing Out for the people playing at home), and when we’re not at work we are always contactable because of that little piece of plastic and metal permanently attached to our hand.When I had a moment to step back from all of that connectivity and pressure I realised how much I have been mindlessly using technology and how much it was adding to my background stress including my natural urge to compare myself to others via social media. I believe, truly believe, that regulating stress is one of the most important things we can do as a part of our self care routine. And here is the teachable moment from my accidental tech-free time: learn to switch off my tech and connect back to the real world. For someone who loves social media, blogs, news websites, and pictures of animals in cute costumes, deciding to be more mindful about my technology use, and actively switching off, is a big step, but I think there are huge benefits. You only have to look at the symptoms of overuse that I talked about above to realise that tech-free time has to be good for us. Chris and I have always believed in tech-free dinners. Both of us leave our mobile phones on our desk, or somewhere out of sight while we eat dinner so that we can enjoy time together without interruption. I like the idea of putting up boundaries for when I use technology, and when I unplug from the stream. After hunting around the internet (oh the irony) I have come up with some useful hints and tips for all of us who might be trying to decrease our scrolling time.
- Set a time limit. Instead of mindlessly trawling through Facebook and feeling bad when you look at the clock and realise how much time has passed, set yourself a time limit. Put a timer on your phone for ten minutes and revel in your scrolling. Let yourself really enjoy your time on social media. Once the time is up, switch off your phone with zero guilt and get back into your day.
- Create a “Tech-Free Ritual”. We have tech-free dinner time every night. It’s our ritual, but I’d also like to create a ritual of not using my phone/internet for an hour before I go to bed every night. It’s a little ritual to create some extra calm at the end of the day – and it leaves more time for reading!
- Deliberately leave your phone at home. We all know the panicked feeling when we accidentally leave our phone at home, but have you ever noticed how much calmer your tasks feel during that time, and how much more attention you can give to the people you are with. Pick a task outside the house (taking a walk, doing the groceries, meeting friends for brunch, playing with the kids at the park, going to the library) that you can do without your phone. Yes, there will be less selfie opportunities, but there will be more opportunity to connect with your thoughts, and the here and now.
- Focus on creation over consumption. When you aren’t consuming that massive amount of media, and Instagram photos of perfectly styled lattes, you have more time to create your own things of beauty: journalling, painting, colouring-in, baking, photography (without insta-filters), or even having a good old face-to-face chat are all things that might add more to your life than another Starbucks’ holiday cup shot.
- Uninstall problem apps. Since my phone died and I have borrowed an old phone of Chris’s I don’t have any of the apps I have previously downloaded. As soon as I loaded my card into his phone I was tempted to download all of my old apps, but I took a breath and realised that some of them weren’t adding anything to my life. So I installed a podcast app, Instagram, and Facebook and have left the rest off for the moment. Perhaps there will be a time when I feel like reinstalling them, but for now I am happy with a more simplified phone, and less apps to obsessively check.
- Have a social media purge. We’ve talked about this before, but I really must encourage you to look through your social media accounts and unfollow people who don’t add anything to your life, or make you feel bad/inadequate. There’s no need to spend your enjoyable Instagram time looking at photos of people who make you feel bad about your body/life -> unfriend and breathe a sigh of relief.
- Don’t roll over and switch on. Apart from my alarm clock function, I am learning to avoid my phone first thing in the morning. I don’t need to flood my waking brain with news, photos, and information, so as soon as my alarm is switched off I slip my phone into my pocket and head out for a walk with Penny (I only take my phone in case of emergencies such as the incident earlier this year where we were attacked by a dog). I don’t check my phone while I’m out with Miss P. That time belongs to her, and I focus on making her walk as enjoyable as possible, which adds more to my morning than any Facebook post could.
Okay friends, there are my top seven tips for learning to unplug. Trust me, we’ve got a whole lot to learn about how to live our lives in the presence of constant connectivity, but setting boundaries, and allowing technology to serve us, rather than enslave us with its beeps and bings, can only be good for us.
Tell me, how do you manage technology in your life? Do you have rituals or rules for its use? Do you have a set “tech-free” time in your house? I’d love to know so leave a comment below!