• Haylie McCleney

Feeling Anxious? Put Your Phone Down.

Everything is on pause in the world right now. There is no sport, no school, no parties, nothing. In the silent moments what is our natural reaction? To spark up a conversation? To pick up a book? To go for a walk and be in nature? No. It’s to pick up our phones. It’s to scroll mindlessly through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. When we don’t know what to do with our time we itch to take it out of our pocket or off the table. Our phones control us and consume us, not the other way around like it is supposed to be. Our phones are an immediate escape yet a constant burden.

We know this, yet we continue to do it. Why? We know and have research to prove that phones are addicting by design. We also have science to back that they increase anxiety, depression, and stress. We think it’s not that serious, we brush it off, but we know that we can’t be separated from our devices for more than 15 minutes. If our phone is in the other room, we feel like we’re missing something. “It’s not that serious,” yet a review of available studies has shown that internet addiction in adults is associated with almost double the risk of suicide and nearly QUADRUPLE the risk in those under the age of 18. The association between suicide and screen time cannot be ignored.

We are overusing our rewards pathway in our brain, the amygdala. This is also the central influencer of emotion and impulsivity. Instead, we should be using our pre-frontal cortex, our center for executive function. Our pre-frontal cortex helps us make thoughtful decisions, engage in positive social behavior, and express empathy. Think of your amygdala as your inner terrible twos and your pre-frontal cortex as your wise old lady. We want to be the wise old lady, but our phones and in particular social media has scientifically shown to push us towards an amygdala way of living. It is terrible cycle that is do difficult to break. We are experiencing warfare at a biological level. So how do we win? How do we beat that? How do we ensure that we are controlling our phones and not the other way around?

I think the answer lies in two parts. One, how do we manage the time that we actually spend on our devices? And two, how do we actually put the thing down?

Management: Ask yourself: Does my consumption pass the test of T.I.M.E.?

1. Time Restricted

Give yourself a certain number of minutes per day on screen time and make this a goal. The iPhone has a special function where you can set time limits for certain apps (particularly social media). USE IT! FYI: this will bring your attention and awareness quickly to how much time you are wasting scrolling.

2. Intentional

Have a purpose when you open your phone. Do not open it just to escape the awkward silence or fill your time. Have intent, then close it once that purpose is fulfilled.

3. Mindful

So much of what we do on our phones is mindless distraction. Being mindful really just means we are aware. Ask yourself some questions as you are scrolling: Am I happy? How is what I am seeing making me feel? Is this productive? Could I be doing something other than this? What I missing to scroll through this? Is this important? What is cool about these questions is if you don’t like the answers, you have the power to change it.

4. Enriching

Is your phone enriching you? So much of this answer lies in being deliberate about what we are choosing to consume and who we follow. Is what I’m looking at a distraction or am I actually learning valuable information? The answers might surprise you. Don’t be afraid to hit that unfollow or mute button. Your mental health is and always will be more important.

In addition to these management tips, try all these suggestions with your phone in the other room to help you get away from your phone. You will be glad you did.

1. Exercise, preferably outside.

Get some Vitamin D and get your sweat on. This could be anything from a walk in the park or running a 5k. Do something. Adults for 30 minutes per day and kids for 60 minutes a day.

2. Read Books.

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Social media and our phones in general are ever contributing to our attention deficits. Reading a book completely reverses that. It allows us to eliminate multi-tasking, focusing on one thing, and LEARN. It puts you in such a relaxing space.

3. Silence/Relaxation

Speaking of relaxing, when was that ever a bad thing? When did sitting in silence become so uncomfortable? Is “boredom” really that bad? No. There is nothing wrong with sitting in silence and breathing, taking a moment for yourself to just be with your own thoughts. It is healthy and it is needed.

4. Pick up a new hobby

I have been trying to learn how to play an instrument on this downtime. I’m not great, but I’m working on it. Maybe for you it’s a puzzle, it could be writing, hiking, gardening, or cooking. Try something you have always wanted to do and be patient with yourself as you learn.

5. Spark Up a conversation with who you are quarantining with.

Social media and technology are great for staying connected with people, but it does not replace actually being in person with others. If you are fortunate enough to be quarantining with your family or roommates, talk to them. How many rooms have we sat in where everyone is sitting in silence mindlessly scrolling?

6. Dedicate 30 minutes to get outside your comfort zone.

This might be my favorite out of all the recommendations so far. Do something for 30 minutes a day that makes you uncomfortable. What is your weakness and can you exploit it? If you are shy can you call someone on the phone you don’t know well? Can you agree to something you normally wouldn’t even consider? Can you do something that normally makes you feel incredibly insecure? Take nothing for granted and move TOWARDS your fears.

This post was inspired by the latest book I have been reading, Brain Wash by Austin Perlmutter, MD and David Perlmutter, MD. These two neurologists take a deeper dive into how our lifestyle choices influence our brain. It covers everything from our life span and overall health to our relationships and connections with others. I encourage you to read it. You can find it here on amazon!

Have a great week and Stay Healthy!

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