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How to temper your phone usage

The Digital Disconnect: How to manage your phone addiction

In an age where smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, it's crucial to pause and reflect on the profound impact they have on our lives, particularly our sense of connection and belonging. We are all guilty, right? We sneak in a few minutes for ourselves to just engage in soothing checking behaviors and find ourselves “waking up” after too many minutes (or hours?), realizing we didn’t do the thing we were supposed to do before getting sucked in to the world of internet.

Recent studies have unveiled a troubling correlation between time spent on our phones and feelings of loneliness and disconnection, depression and anxiety across many cohorts and generations.  It seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? With a device that seemingly connects us to the entire world at our fingertips, that so much loneliness can thrive?

One reason for the increased overall loneliness in the populace is the reduced quality of our interactions. While social media platforms and messaging apps offer a semblance of connection, it just doesn’t compare to real connection. Liking what others are posting or waiting for more likes on our own content is simply not releasing the right neurotransmitters to emulate real world interactions. Another reason is that real connection and socialization involves activation of a plethora of brain areas, whereas chasing likes and entertainment on social media is primarily engaging the dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain rewards’ center. Quite like addiction, which is the antithesis of human connection. (There is some real interesting research on the correlation between lack of connection and addiction by researcher’s like Johann Hari)

Furthermore, scrolling through endless feeds, we're inundated with curated snippets of others' lives, which really just leads to unfair comparisons and a sense of inadequacy rather than genuine connection.

Excessive phone use can detract from face-to-face interactions, eroding the fabric of community and belonging. How often have we found ourselves glued to our screens in the presence of loved ones, missing out on the richness of real-time connection? How much easier is it not to say happy birthday on social media than to call someone to say it to them directly? Or to go out for that coffee instead of just liking their vacation photos?

But it's not just the quantity of our interactions that suffers; it's the quality as well. Research suggests that the mere presence of a phone, even if untouched, can diminish the depth of conversation and emotional connection in face-to-face interactions. Also, it diminishes our focus with 30% just having our own phone in clear view (this is particularly significant for test-taking high school students). When our attention is divided between the virtual and the real, our ability to focus and empathize in real time is weakened.

So, what can we do to reclaim genuine connection in an increasingly digital world? Stop using smart phones all together and get off the grid? Undoubtedly, the phones are here to stay and refusing to be in the times will also make us feel somewhat disconnected. So, let’s find a way to moderate!

Here are some tips to regulate our use of phones and some suggested guidelines to incorporate at home and work:

  • Have a designated scrolling area (a favorite chair?)  where you are purposely on your phone for an allocated wind-down time.

  • Attempt to move to this area every time you catch yourself doing more than a 30sec glance on your phone to increase mindfulness around how much you are actually ‘briefly’ checking. Take note of the time, so that you can be more intentional about usage.

  • Keep a log of your screen time and try to decrease the content that you turn to for numbing.

    • Be real with yourself about what content is actually intentionally consumed or if you are justifying scrolling under the guise of learning or education.

  • Have phone free zones for all family members: Family room, dining room table, car etc. Make sure that this time is filled with active listening, in-depth conversations and togetherness.

  • Clean up your activities, and keep it pure:  Stay off your phone while you are engaging in something else; conversing, watching TV, etc. Dedicate your attention to one source of information at a time, leave your phone in a different room when you are reading, stop texting and walking, etc.

  • Increase your mindfulness around your usage:

  •  Notice what comes up in your body when you can’t remember where you left your phone.

  • Notice what you are experiencing right as you “just wanted to open the phone for a little bit”.

  • Notice the emotions you are having if you were to tell yourself to hold off or restrain.

  • Notice what you do with idle time - seconds - minutes, - how long can you look out the window without reaching for your phone

  • Understand how algorithms work and set boundaries for what you think is healthy content for your self and your family members.

    • Manage your algorithms to spark joy, positivity, increased knowledge, curiosity and creativity. If what you are following makes you feel inadequate and you are engaging in negative comparisons, unfollow this content, and find something that only makes you smile (art, baby goats, how-to-videos, funny pet videos etc)

  • Use social media for what it is intended to be used for,- sharing useful community information, invitations and meeting likeminded with similar interests.

    • Make an effort to balance the amount of passive scrolling with actual virtual interactions (discussion forums, neighborhood community pages, or meetup groups with potential In-Real-Life meetings.

Managing our own information- and phone addiction requires a conscious effort to prioritize presence over distraction, depth over superficiality, and genuine human connection over curated content. But, as you are reading this right now, we acknowledge that internet is a wonderful source of information, learning and potential connection, we just need to learn how to moderate it and customize it, so that it adds, not subtracts to our lives and our connections.

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