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I peer at the computer screen in the back room of the salon waiting for my client to arrive-
But she’s late, and I’m impatient, so I grab my phone and check my email. It’s been about 30 seconds since I’ve been in my personal inbox. Shocker! There’s nothing new. I set the phone down.
WAIT! Did someone text me? I unlock my screen. Nope, false alarm. Before I know it I’ve clicked into Facebook and I’m scrolling my news feed.
They have a name for the type of tech-user I used to be: The Constant Checker.
It’s no secret that technology use is addictive and distracting. And yet, our lives are dependent upon our screens more than ever:
- We order groceries online to avoid public places
- We take virtual meetings instead of going to the office
- We text our friends and families (or check in on Facebook) instead of call
- In our free moments we scroll social media rather than, well, almost anything else.
Some of these habits are necessary to navigate this time in history, but many of these habits, when left unchecked, become distractions and coping mechanisms to keep us from feeling boredom, discomfort or our lack of direction.
What’s more: advertisers are developing apps to be ‘interactive’ because they can capitalize on our attention. That’s right- your attention is valuable and to an advertiser, your attention equals dollars. You’re been ‘wined and dined’ on social media and the everywhere else on the internet by the highest bidder, and a lot of the information you consume is a result of deep pockets and intense targeting.
According to the American Psychological Association, in recent years a type of technology user has emerged called the ‘constant checker’.
As the name suggests, the constant checker will check email, social media, and texts at all hours of the day and feels a consistent connection with their electronic devices. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress In America Study in 2017, 43% of Americans fall into the constant checker category. This large group of people have reported higher stress levels linked specifically to ‘constantly checking’ their devices, as well as interaction with their social media accounts.
The bottom line is this: our devices are addictive, we’re always on them, and it’s stressing us out.
A simple technology detox.
Please note: I’m calling this a ‘detox’ instead of a fast. I don’t think the solution has to be an all-out elimination of your technology. Instead, I’ll suggest a few ways to eliminate the toxic triggers that plague the constant-checker, as well as some habit and lifestyle changes that will increase your sense of overall wellbeing.
Here are my favorite ways to do a digital detox without throwing your phone into a lake, becoming a hermit, or moving into the woods Walden-style.
Turn your screen to Grayscale.
This option is gaining popularity though it may bum out your Instagram habit. Turning your phone to grayscale is just like it sounds- it turns off all the color on your phone and computer screen so all your images show up in black and white. The colors on our phone screens are a little like mini-casinos we hold in our hands – our brains get a dopamine hit just from looking at the colorful screen, and it makes us unlock our phones even when we don’t mean to. Turn your device to grayscale to stop this ‘twitchy’ effect and gain more control over your tech use. (To learn more about the twitch, click here).
Set time limits for your social media accounts (and DON’T extend them).
All modern phones have digital wellbeing controls built into them where you can set timers for your social media accounts. (Click here for info about your Apple device, and here for Android). This part of your phone also records how long you normally spend in each of your apps and how often you unlock your phone in a given day. Check your stats and use them to set some goals for yourself, and when the timer kicks you out of the app for the day, do NOT add more time.
Make a plan for what you’re going to do INSTEAD of scrolling, checking email, and texting.
A lot of our tech use becomes a ‘default’ behavior – one we don’t consciously choose but we just do because we don’t have another plan and it’s easy. To make it easier on yourself during a digital detox, make a plan for what you’ll do when you get the itch to scroll or for when your social app timers kick you off for the day. Having a plan ahead of time will reduce friction in switching activities, and you’re more likely to find success.
Turn off your notifications.
As an ex-constant checker, I can confidently say, every time I received a notification, I would promptly pick up my phone to check it. Notifications for email, social media and texts can chain you to your phone all day long, and more often than not, the notification you receive isn’t that important: (someone commented with a ‘heart’ on your photo, a person you barely remember requested your friendship on Facebook, or your Mom sent you a cat video). Sure, these are fun to acknowledge, but not at all hours of the day. Studies in productivity suggest having short, controlled times throughout the day where you respond to all notifications can reduce your stress levels and increase your productivity and ability to focus. The rest of the time, you leave them be. This can take some INTENSE self-control, so turn off the unimportant notifications (I’d challenge you by saying ALL of them are unimportant!) and only check your apps when you plan to. (Don’t skip this step, it’s a powerful digital detox tool!).
Keep your phone out of your bedroom.
My partner is a wake up and scroll kinda guy. And as an ex-constant checker, I used to be too. Get yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of using your phone, or, if you need help waking up on time, set your phone alarm in the room next to yours. You’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off, and by that time, you’re more likely to just stay awake.
I’d challenge you further to set some rules around when you go into your inbox, texts, and social media accounts in the morning. The second you open any of these apps, you’re bombarded with outside information and you’re in a reactive state. If you can give yourself the gift of 30 minutes in the morning BEFORE consuming everyone else’s ideas, you’ll have a better grasp on what you want and need in a given day, and feel more grounded and at peace. You might even feel less stress as your day progresses.
Take 30 minutes to do you- the rest of the world can wait.
Set ‘cell phone hours’ for yourself and your family.
This builds off the last idea, and I’d recommend setting a time each night where you ‘put your phone to bed’ so to speak. Apple and Android devices have a ‘wind down’ or ‘sleep mode’ feature so you can program this in automatically. One of my favorite digital detox tricks is to program your devices to go into ‘do not disturb’ at a set time every night so you will not receive notifications until it’s programmed to turn back on. I personally use this feature from 8:30p.m.-10 a.m. as a kind of ‘technology fast’, but do what works best for you.
Schedule 30 minutes of intentional, non-screen time each day.
I had a coaching call with one of my clients the other day and I asked him, ‘When’s the last time you took a break and just stared out a window? Or went outside and just sat?’ Many of us can’t remember such a time, and if we do, we associate it with the frivolity of childhood or the irresponsibility of ‘wasting time’.
I KNOW you have things to do. I know they don’t get done if you don’t do them. But what if you could enjoy them a little bit more? What if you could take your body along with your brain and feel in to your experiences rather than feeling like a floaty text bubble all day long? Schedule some time each day to just be. Stare at the ceiling. Go for a walk. Breathe. Feel your body.
All of these digital detox practices will help you reduce your technology-related stress.