There are many things in life that make me nervous. But nothing makes me quite as anxious as dangerously low battery life on my phone. When that little icon turns from optimistic white to precariously bright red, I’m ashamed to say that my heart rate increases dramatically.
When the dreaded red symbol appears, several thoughts run through my mind: Where is my charger? Where can I plug it in? And how long until I can get the magic number above 50 percent?
Have you ever gone out for a meal, only to be interrupted by the Instagram fanatic who insists on taking photographs of everyone’s food? It kind of takes you out of the moment, don't you think? It’s like we’re turning moments into picture-perfect memories before they've even happened.
Or spent a whole evening with a friend, only to have them continuously scroll through Facebook instead of being present in the room? (Or perhaps that friend is you?) It makes you feel like there must be some other — much cooler — party going on somewhere that they’d rather be attending.
And nothing quite highlights our reliance on technology than a lack of Wi-Fi. Being in a no Wi-Fi zone is like stepping back in time. Where are we? How do we order an Uber? How am I supposed to Snapchat this?
Connected to others, disconnected from ourselves
All joking aside, being surgically attached to a device is becoming the social norm. Although it does offer access to some fantastic health services — there are many mindfulness apps and symptom checkers available — it can still have a negative effect. We are increasingly becoming more connected to others and more disconnected from ourselves.
Living with depression and anxiety means that I personally get very lonely and isolated. I reach for my phone because it’s a habit, and it gives me comfort to talk to others online about how I’m feeling. Although this is helpful to a degree, the white noise of social media can often act as nothing more than a mask for how I truly feel. I can be distracted for a few hours, but when the distraction is removed, my negative feelings remain.
This is when putting down my phone for even just 15 minutes is crucial. Talking to people online has built my confidence as far as social anxiety goes, but when I’m checking my phone more than I talk to my spouse, I know it’s time to switch off. Ultimately, nothing beats the peace that comes from turning off your phone and reconnecting with your surroundings.
5 steps to reconnect with the real world
So, how do we do it?
In this instance, the Band-Aid method probably isn't going to work. And if you have anxiety, it might make your symptoms worse. Here are a few suggestions which will ease you into the process.
1. Put your phone in flight mode for a few minutes
This is good because you can avoid interruptions but still have your phone physically nearby. I find just the act of holding my phone is hard to give up, so I put it in flight mode and put my headphones in to drown out noise while I go for a walk.
2. Delete any apps which increase your stress levels
If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, then I suggest deleting any apps which are unnecessary that day. For example, you may need to check your email regularly, but find Snapchat and Instagram are becoming a distraction. Try deleting them. You can easily reinstall them in a few hours, if you want to.
3. Customize your alerts
Different apps come with different notification settings, many of which we get used to seeing even though we don't really need them. Do you really need a visual alert as well as a sound and vibration every time you get an email? Even those little red numbers next to each app serve as a pressure to make you open it and take a look. Try and live with minimal notifications — and only check apps when you’re ready to deal with their content.
4. Leave your phone at home
This is not for beginners, as you might feel a bit cut off without your device on hand. I only do this when I’m with someone else, as it can be dangerous to leave the house alone without a way of contacting people. Try going on a short walk with a friend, leave your phone at home, and ask them to carry theirs in case of emergency. It’s amazing how different your experience will be without technology at your fingertips!
5. Do an activity which prohibits you from having your phone nearby
You can’t very well go swimming or take part in a meditation class with a phone. Even going to the cinema forces you to disconnect for a couple of hours. This is helpful when it comes to assessing how often you really need to look at your phone. Sure, you may have a few messages and notifications waiting when you turn your phone back on — but probably nothing that required your immediate attention. Learn to let life happen while you take some time out, and get back to it when you're mentally ready.
Having a mobile device doesn't have to be a negative part of your life, but more and more, we’re finding that they can be overwhelming parts of our lives. Any type of stressor can take its toll on your mental health, so prioritizing your mental well-being is something we all need to take more seriously.
Starting with a daily digital detox is the perfect solution. Take it one day at time, adding in 15-minute silences when you need them most, and let the world back in when you’re ready.