These days, everyone is a brand. Websites, social media apps, and podcasts sandwich valuable information between external gratification, “likes,” suggestive imagery, and sensational catch-phrases. Social media has us networking more than ever yet reduces real-time human connection. Feelings of inadequacy arise while we compare our bumbling lives to carefully curated, filtered, and perfected images and media accounts. All the while, the ease of a click, swipe, or scroll is a constantly dangling distraction. Not surprisingly, a recent study in young adults showed a correlation between increasing cell phone use and decreasing grades. While previous generations used to grasp for information, our challenge today is to sift through it.
According to Chris Kresser, the average American spends four hours per day on their phone, checking it 50 times. That means an American who lives to 80 years will have spent 12 of those years gazing into their phone. Our smartphones have been likened to slot machines, itches that we constantly scratch. Every ding that emanates announces a variable reward, either good or bad, bringing with it a strong dopamine rush. The unpredictability of the next hit is addictive and exciting. Because overstimulation of dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) leads to neuron death, these cells have a self-protective mechanism; they down-regulate, causing a need for more and more hits to feel that same rush. This is called tolerance. When the neurons start to die? Addiction. In the words of Elon Musk, “Instagram is so thirsty, yet gives you Death by Water.”
Serotonin (our happiness/contentment neurotransmitter) is inhibitory, not excitatory. Yet serotonin can be down-regulated by dopamine. Add stress to this civilized mess and you have the stress hormone cortisol down-regulating both serotonin (happiness) and dopamine (pleasure). In a seven-year follow-up study of over four thousand teenagers, more media use meant greater risk for depression.
Before you techies get your cords in a knot, hear me out. Our smartphones are incredibly useful. They connect us to one another, streamline business and to-do lists, take great photos, and provide access to important information. Ironically, they are a necessary tool to be a responsive, available adult, yet overuse leads to irresponsiveness and unavailability. Since we stand to have so much to lose and yet so much to gain from technology, learning to use it responsibly is an important skill. It’s tech savvy.
Disable non-essential notifications on your smart phone. Phone, text message, and calendar notifications are likely the only essential ones.
Phone Fall Cleaning
Uninstall social media apps from your phone. Check them from the web and set reasonable boundaries for usage.
Create spaces of your home that are sacred – make the dining room table for eating, not phones or laptops. Keep technology out of your bedroom and let it be your healing sanctuary of rest and renewal. This improves sleep quality and duration, which improves will power.
Day of Reset
Make one day a week a phone-free day. Let your friends and family members know which day it is and keep it consistent.
Use your Intuition
We all have intuition and “gut feelings.” Give yourself a chance to gain confidence in yours before you google every uncertainty.
Kelly Brogan states that “our phones have become the opiate of the masses.” The moment when you feel uncomfortable and reach for your phone to distract you is a squandered opportunity for growth that can keep you living in narrow emotional bandwidths. It’s important to breathe through emotions, rather than ignore them, as grief, pain, and sadness can be portals to joy. Aim to meditate for five minutes once a day, in a moment when you would’ve otherwise checked your phone. If you catch yourself reaching for it in a moment of discomfort, stop, breathe through your nose, and feel your contact with the floor, chair, or earth.
Watch your posture when you’re on a laptop or phone. Can you keep your core engaged, your shoulders down your back, and your breath deep into your belly and back ribs? Try breathing in and out through alternating nostrils while reading emails. Switch up your laptop position. Try standing, laying down, and sitting on the floor with your laptop on the couch. Play a song that makes your groove and take a dance break. The body needs movement and doesn’t like moulding itself into the same chair for hours.
Into the Woods
Move your body outside every day and plan a few trips a year into service-free areas where you will be forced to abstain from technology. A place you can play in the woods and observe nature instead.
Read a Book
…especially in the evening, instead of using the computer or TV. Outlandish, but effective.
Wherever you go, there you are. Connect to humans and animals in your immediate vicinity. The greatest gift you can give someone is your presence.
Get clear on your values and visions, so you can focus on tasks that lead you closer to them, rather than being pulled by what feels most urgent or loud to moment (which is often someone else’s vision). When you see progress and make contributions in line with your values, it feels good.