Is it just me, or do you find it hard to remember a time when you weren’t surgically attached to your phone?
To me, it feels like most people are basically in denial about just how addicted we actually are to our screens and Social Media. I swear, even my parents are just as bad now – I sit at home in the evenings and although we’re all sitting together in the front room with no TV on, they’re just sat silently swiping through their iPads!
Or how about when you’re walking down the street or getting on the tube and pretty much everyone is glued to their screen. I don’t know about you but I’m getting pretty sick of people nearly walking into me in the street because they’re too busy iPhone-gazing!
Like it or not, it’s become totally normal.
Our crazy digital world of constant push notifications, information-overload and real-time sharing on social means that it’s getting harder and harder to switch off. Whether it’s checking your work emails, chatting to friends on your WhatsApp group or sharing on social media.
Hands up who can’t even spend a chilled Sunday, go out for a nice meal or even go on holiday without still feeling the need to get on their phone and share it on their insta-story?!
When you think about it properly, it’s totally crazy, and no bloody wonder everyone’s so stressed out all the time, getting anxious or finding it hard to sleep – we’re making it impossible for ourselves to relax because we’re always “on”!!
I went on a yoga retreat at the end of October and ended up having a totally unintentional digital detox from my phone….but it made me feel amazing!
It made me realise how much we rely on our phones, how instinctively we reach for them to mindlessly scroll (even when we don’t have any notifications or literally just looked at instagram 60 seconds before), and notice how much my friends and family were glued to theirs once I’d come back home and kicked my habit a little bit!
And it made me realise how much better I felt without it. How much more engaged I was with real-life, how much more fulfilled I felt doing little things like going for a walk, talking to new people or eating a delicious meal without the distraction of my phone buzzing at me and taking me away from the present, giving me something to hide behind or showing me images of other people’s lives to compare myself with.
Obviously it’s not going to be practical in everyday life to just switch off and ignore your phone for a week, but there’s definitely more that we can do to help cut down on the habit, even if we can’t totally break it.
I’m trying to practice this much more in my daily life, so I thought I’d share my top tips for how to switch off! Let me know what you think and if you’ve got any tips of your own for me to try!
Get away from your screen
One of the biggest things that I find helps me on a day-to-day basis is making sure I have enough ‘screen breaks’.
I like to make sure I get outside at least once a day, make sure I spend some time in the fresh air and give my eyes a break from screen-gazing, but even if you just get away from your desk or computer to make a cup of tea or have a chat with someone regularly then every little helps!
I find that being in nature really helps me to counteract a screen-heavy life, it makes me focus more on what’s around me, feeling grateful and is quite mindful, so making sure I get a boost for a little bit of time each day definitely changes the way I feel for the rest of it!
I also like to practice a 90 minutes / 20 minutes split or working and breaks. It’s supposed to be the most productive way to work for your brain, as well as making sure you take regular screen breaks!
Practice doing nothing
I went to a talk with Calm app at WebSummit, and they are all about trying to help people to switch off more. One of their most successful Social Media ad campaigns was videos of soothing landscapes and sounds – waves on the shore, rain falling into pine trees, that kind of thing – that simply said “Do nothing for 30 seconds” with a timer counting down the seconds while you watched.
What they found out was that it was shocking how few people were actually able to do nothing just for that measly 30 seconds!
But what I also think is shocking for anyone who isn’t used to mindfulness (or switching off) is how much better that 30 second break makes you feel.
And Calm just goes to show it doesn’t even have to be a proper “meditation” (I know that word can scare people off) in order to make a difference – just staring at that clip of rain and trees and taking a moment for yourself can work wonders!
If you are one of those people who doesn’t think they can even stop for that long, then just like anything else all it really takes is practice.
Take 30 seconds or a minute in-between tasks to just sit and breathe.
And it’s easy to build it up from there. When I first moved into a place on my own after my last breakup I genuinely had to train myself to be okay with doing nothing.
Just hanging out on my own in the evening or sitting in my room and doing not much of anything. It’s more of a skill than you think, and one that can really help if you’re like me and find it hard to switch off or stop doing.
Or if you want to try something a little bit more, then there are lots of amazing apps like Calm and Headspace to help you practice sitting and meditating and giving your mind a bit of switch off time! My personal favourite is Insight Timer which has tons of amazing meditations and recordings for whatever mood you’re in!
Turn off your notifications
Apparently for every single distraction we have while doing something, it takes a whole 25 minutes on average to get back into focusing again.
When you think about how constantly our phones are flashing, sending us notifications (half the times ones that we don’t even need) then it’s crazy! And no wonder our brains can feel so over-loaded all the time! No joke – my phone just lit up as I was typing this paragraph and I realised how constantly I must be distracted by always being “on”!
So here’s a crazy idea – what if we turned off our notifications?
At least while working, it can make a massive difference. In fact, any time I do it I really notice the difference in how focused I am, and realise how much of my time I spend feeling the complete opposite even when I’m sat at my desk working!
If you decide to try out my 90 mnutes/20 minutes working idea then an easy way to do it is have your phone on airplane mode in the 90 minutes you work for, then give yourself a 5 minute phone check before you start your next 90 minute cycle (just as long as you don’t end up spending your entire 20 minute “screen-break” on your phone – kind of ruins the point!)
Take a Social Media break
I know this one’s a bit controversial, especially for someone who works in Social media and lives on instagram – but it does seem like more and more people (and influencers) are taking Social Media breaks at the moment.
Even if you can only do it for a day or two, just try having a break without posting (or checking) and see how it makes you feel. Maybe start by trying it when you’re having a weekend away (or just a lazy weekend in) – I promise you it will add to your holiday feeling and your relaxation if you don’t feel the need to be on your instagram the whole time!
I can often tell when I’m having a really amazing time because it makes me not want to post on instagram at all.
As much as it kind of goes against the culture of instagram to not share what you’re doing when you’re having a good time, it’s definitely better for my (and I’m sure many other people’s) mental health. I’ll be honest, I did get a bit anxious not posting while I was on my yoga retreat, and my engagement probably did suffer for it, but honestly I’d rather be worse on instagram and feel better in real life if that’s the choice I have to make…and I really hope I’m not the only one!
We all find it annoying when we’re spending time with someone and they’re constantly distracted by their phone, and yet I bet we all still do it!
When I first started dating an ex we used to go out and put our phones on airplane mode while we were with each other….and honestly we were amazed by how much of a better time we had!
Allocating time to hang out with someone or do something (whether that’s a date, partner, friend or just on your own) is a great way to cut down on screen-time.
Put your phone on airplane mode, stack everyone’s phones on the table if you’re going out for dinner and ban touching them…I promise it will make you enjoy whatever you’re doing a million times more!
After all, how much better can you experience something or engage with another person if you’re not constantly distracted?
Change the stigma
I think a lot of the problem starts actually not from our phones themselves, but from the culture we live in.
We’ve always been told that doing more is better, working harder, longer hours, being that person in the office who always answer their emails at all hours, the person who’s “on it”.
And it’s not even just at work – we live in a culture of doing. Literally doing as much as possible! There’s so much choice that we feel like we should be out all the time, socialising, trying out a new restaurant, seeing the latest movies – I’m sure anyone else who lives in London or a big city will understand!
But in reality a life like this isn’t sustainable and it’s definitely not healthy. It quickly turns into stress, burnout and exhaustion.
“It’s crazy that people don’t treat their minds with as much care and attention as their bodies”
– Alex Tew, Calm Founder
The only way to change things and keep us all mentally healthier is to change this stigma. It should be okay to switch off!
It should be seen as a necessary, healthy part of life to help us all work and live better. At the end of the day “looking busy” all the time doesn’t actually mean we’re doing better, working more productively or living more fulfilled lives. Just like constantly posting and looking like we’re “living our best lives” on instagram, doesn’t mean we actually are.
Normalising things like meditation and mindfulness, as well as normalising being open about mental health in general all helps towards this too.
After all, there’s nothing more important than looking after our mental health, and if we can do a little bit more every day to help ourselves switch off and make it a more normal thing at work and at home, then surely we’re going to help the world change in a way to make our lives and minds feel much better!
The guys from Calm believe we’re at the start of a new trend of “Mental Fitness”, and I really hope that’s true – hopefully we can all start paying more attention to our mental wellbeing and make sure that we’re taking care of not only our bodies but our minds just as well.
Calm is the World’s No.1 meditation app and offers meditations and sleep aids to help you wind down and switch off. Find out more at www.calm.com