I am addicted to my phone. I’m the first to admit it and the first to get defensive when someone calls me out on it. My husband is the same. And a phone addiction does not bode well for marriage or family life. He would get mad at me for using mine and I’d get mad at him for his. We were at a stalemate. We both knew we had no right to complain about the other because we were both equally terrible; him for his games (I curse you Clash of Clans!) and Flipboard, me for social media and working outside of work hours. It was out of control. Plus, we were becoming increasingly concerned over how our bad habits were affecting our daughter. She’d repeat herself over and over because we weren’t listening and had recently started saying, “look up from your phone!” RED FLAG, right?
Science is showing there’s huge issues with cell phone use and, specifically, social media. It’s time we start listening and doing something about it, especially if you have little kids who are always watching. The notifications we receive trigger the release of dopamine, the pleasure juice, in our brains. That little sound or symbol announcing someone has reacted to us in some way keeps us hooked to it, the same way people become addicted to drugs or sex: the pleasure dopamine releases keeps us coming back for more. Dopamine is created in many areas of the brain and is linked to many brain functions such as thinking, sleeping, mood, attention and reward. We’re a society addicted to instant gratification and our phones are the perfect tool to obtain it. We’ve become addicted to social media and its likes and shares. We’ve become addicted to gaming. We’re addicted to the “know”: if you need to know something -- anytime, anywhere -- Google it. I’m addicted to social media and the “know”, plus the habit of constantly looking at my phone mindlessly. It was becoming a serious problem for me but there aren’t steps or help available yet for internet/phone/social media addiction. I had to do something though so, after some careful research, my husband and I agreed to both implement some changes.
I have to believe there are many more people in this same boat: addicted to social media and the “pings” of likes and messages or hooked on games or obsessed with watching stocks or watching YouTube videos. So here’s what we did to start:
1. Make folders on your phone. Organize your apps. Put them into the folders. Push them to the second ‘page’ of your phone. Dopamine loves colour and we now associate certain colours with certain apps (blue, anyone?) so keep your main page void of triggering and brain excitable colours.
2. Delete the apps you really don’t need. Do you really need four recipe apps? For me this was Facebook, games and my Kindle.
3. Turn off notifications. Don’t let those “pings” get to you!
4. If you do a lot of work from your phone, download Hootsuite or another similar app to schedule posts. Take an hour to get them ready and scheduled and walk away! The app will do the rest.
5. Start with a simple rule to get into the flow of change. For us, it was no electronics in our bedroom. This meant no more computers, phones or TV allowed. It also meant investing in an alarm clock.
These few rules were easy to get into. Logging into Facebook from my web browser felt more like a pain than it was worth so my social media time cut back significantly and immediately. I had thought turning on the Night Shift display on my phone wouldn’t trigger my brain as much so I was constantly using my Kindle before bed. But I quickly learned that the disease I thought I had from my constant, unexplainable exhaustion was in fact from using my device before bed. What a relief to know I wasn’t dying!
Those five rules still apply but we’ve now gone deeper since. We’ve now decided no phones AT ALL after 7 pm. They get left in the kitchen and we walk away. Of course, if the phone rings we will answer it but it rarely happens for us these days! Once we are ready for bed, phones go on silent. I thought it would be a hard transition but the benefits are outweighing the discomfort. Here’s how:
1. I never realized how addicted I was to my phone until I didn’t have it beside me. Now, when I’m in bed and I pause while reading or journaling, I will AUTOMATICALLY reach for my phone without thinking! How crazy is that!? Think of how many times I was picking up my phone unconsciously with it always so close! However, knowing this makes me fight harder to get over this and be more conscious when I do have my phone nearby.
2. My quality of sleep has improved 1000%. Like I mentioned before, I was beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with me because I was so exhausted all the time. I was lethargic and foggy, moody and irritable a lot of the time but especially in the mornings. I changed my diet, bed time, number of hours I was sleeping, pillows, you name it only to discover it was using my phone right up until bedtime that was keeping me from a restful sleep. I sleep like a peaceful baby now and sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night blown away I have so many more hours to sleep because I will feel so rested already by 2am or so.
3. My circadian rhythm is re-balanced. Similar to above, my body is more in tune with its natural rhythms and cycles now. Before we would stay up later than necessary only to find that second wind that would keep us up even later and in turn, we’d sleep in later than we wanted. We now go to sleep when our bodies demand it, usually around 9:30 and are up at 6am with no troubles. We wake up refreshed, energized and ready for the day! Also, a 6am wake up sets a really good tone for our day. We are usually up before our daughter so that means we can get some quiet, uninterrupted things done. For me, that’s typically a yoga session and a hot cup of coffee. For my husband, it’s stretching and a long, hot shower. We make a healthy breakfast now instead of mad dashing to the kitchen to throw smoothies together before running out the door as we did previous to our phone disconnection.
4. My marriage is improved. Can you say pillow talk?! Lots and lots of pillow talk! My husband and I communicate so much more now that sometimes I look at him and think, “I’m still learning so much about you and its been over a decade together.” I feel like I’m falling in love with pieces of him all over again and learning new pieces that have since fallen into place in him. We actually talk now in the bedroom versus us getting into bed and picking up our phones. There’s no showing each other videos or articles, music with headphones or social media. It’s just chats and whatever else is supposed to happen in a marital bed! Our bedroom is more intimate and cozy now; something that wasn’t at its full potential with phones and TV in the way.
5. Our family time is more meaningful and plentiful. We spend more time together as a family. We bake goodies, play board games, snuggle under the blankets with the occasional movie or TV show and we talk more. We’re currently teaching our daughter about gratitude and spending time each night to share what we are feeling grateful for that day. I don’t know if our more mindful presence is the contributing factor but our daughter is also a better listener and helper. I don’t have to ask twice for her to clean her room anymore!
6. I’m more conscious of the time I do spend on my phone. I run my business, a non-profit and my blog from my phone so it’s easy to be a slave to it. I was so scared of losing business or readers or opportunities if I wasn’t available 24/7 that I kept my phone near me at all times. Now I know that I can operate on normal business hours and the messages and emails can wait until “open” the next morning. When I do want to surf because, let’s face it, social media and the internet can be really fun and informative, I set an alarm on my phone and will give myself an allotted block of time for it. Otherwise it’s easy to start scrolling only to look up and see that an hour or two has passed. It sucks you in! An alarm keeps me in check and knowing I have only 20 minutes makes me more apt to read articles that interest me (like mindbodygreen.com) than to scroll Facebook.
7. I’m already detaching from my phone. When I’m in public or with friends, I keep my phone put away now. This has allowed me to have nice conversations with strangers, witness beautiful things happening around me and be a more active listener for my friends and family. I’m actually annoyed now when I’m with people who are constantly texting/on their phone in my presence. Be respectful of your friendship/relationship and be present. In that moment, that connection is all that matters and it’s more meaningful than anything you’re seeking through text/social media/internet. BE PRESENT.
All of these changes began about a month ago so the transformation is quick and incredible. I can only imagine how life will be in a few more weeks or even months as we become even more present and mindful. If any of our addictive habits with our phones/electronics resonates with you, I urge you to adopt a couple of our rules and try it yourself. It really is a huge benefit to yourself and everyone around you.