Can you remember back to a time when you didn’t wake up and reach for a 3x6 inch plastic and glass life partner who demanded you swipe or press to quiet its specially chosen good morning wake up cry? And then, well, it’s in your hand already---may as well check the weather, the news or social media. Surely someone has done something you cannot start your day without knowing! Or maybe you’re one of the smart one who still awakens to the blaring vintage sound of a digital clock or radio music or a good old fashioned wind up bell alarm. Ahh! Those were the days!
According to research from IDC, 4 of every 5 smartphone users (SPUs) make a connection with their phones to the outside world within 15 minutes of waking up and 80% have done so before even getting out of bed. These numbers are significantly higher among 18-24 year olds. And so far, we’ve only touched upon the morning routine because that’s where it all begins. There is substantial evidence that shows that when we start out day feeding the habit of immersion into the world of endless information our very efficient, easily habituated brains crave more and more.
So why should it matter? Isn’t this just the new way to start the day? Really, what’s the harm? Well, for starters, the information we wake up to isn’t always gentle to the nervous system. It doesn’t have us floating out of bed to open the blinds and welcome in the new day with a light heart and open mind for whatever may come. Most SPUs have instead chosen to fill their heads with the weight of their personal to-do list, work tasks, the most recent political outrage or what shade of eyeshadow the latest, greatest influencer has chosen today. Whether you check your work email, open your favorite news bite app, or check social media, it all has the same affect on your brain.
This kind of dependence on cell phones can become an addiction, just like the addictions we can more readily understand to alcohol, food, drugs and gambling. Put simply, cell phone addiction creates an impulse that wants to be fed and the struggle to resist is real. We know that addiction is the great destroyer. When lack of resistance and habitual behaviors interfere with our own self care, our relationship and work life, it is likely that a pattern of addiction has formed and the aspects of our lives that should matter become neglected.
To be clear, addiction is not a choice or a battle easily won over the brain’s complex neurological mechanisms. This is where words like dopamine, amygdala, feedback loop, synapses and hippocampus come in, but those can be found in the great research studies and articles written about addiction hows and whys and whats. Just know that SPUs who have addictive behaviors around information consumption are at risk of having increased anxiety and poor stress management, losing hours of time for more productive and healthy activities and having poor sleep hygiene.
Albert Einstein wisely said of scientific advancements, ““The human spirit must prevail over technology.” I’m here only to offer my non-judging support of this wisdom. There are behaviors SPUs can implement that can help to embrace a better way to start and move through the day. Consider leaving your cell phone in another room or across the room before going to bed and using a different alarm. You could also put your cell phone on airplane mode to help resist the urge to answer notifications or create one additional, albeit insignificant, small step to have to perform before catapulting into the abyss. It is also helpful to replace an unhealthy habit with a meaningful or beneficial activity and a positive way to replace the void that may be left behind. A morning ritual may include reading a passage from a favorite book; writing in a journal; having a long stretch before getting out of bed; meditating; exercising; enjoying a cup of coffee or tea outdoors while making plans for the day. Try challenging yourself by setting times throughout the day to use your phone for social media or news or casual texting and limit yourself to a certain number of minutes each time. In times when you feel the impulse to mindlessly pick up the phone, have a plan to distract yourself with a mantra or statement like “my time is valuable” or “this is my time to be productive” or by taking a few deep breaths and continuing what it is you’re doing or shift gears and move on to a new task if you’ve become bored.
What sounds simple may prove to be a challenge, but one that is well worth the effort to help you stay focused, productive, efficient and disciplined in the use of your smartphone. One final option to consider would be to choose one full day a week to gift yourself with an information fast or detox or reprieve or moratorium--whatever you want to call it--and paint that seascape, plant your winter garden, crochet that throw, start your holiday shopping list or whatever it is you’ve been meaning to find the time to do! Above all, be gentle with yourself and know that whatever you put your mind to is where there will be change and remember that change is hard. Reach out for support from a close friend or loved one if you need encouragement and accountability. And since so many SPUs are reported to be affected by the addictive nature of information immersion, they just may surprise you and ask the same of you.
Patti Iwer works as an occupational therapist in Johns Island, South Carolina, and holds additional certifications in somatic therapy, LSVT and Reiki. She is the owner of Wellness Rising Integrative Healthcare and co-owner of Island Pediatric Therapy. Patti specializes in dementia care, pain management, rehabilitation and normal development throughout the lifespan.