One of the frequent requests I get from clients is for help reducing phone and social media usage for themselves or for their children. It’s always a hard one because smartphones have changed our lives in a lot of great ways. But they also cause us all sorts of problems. Increased phone use might be linked to bad moods and bad manners, and I’m sure we can all think of times where being constantly “on” and available is annoying. Search Google for cell phone or social media addiction, and you’ll get thousands and thousands of articles about the dangers of phones and social media.
It’s unrealistic to think we are all going to magically stop using our phones and social media, but we can change the relationship we have with them and the control they have over our time.
Here are some tips on changing your relationship with your phone and social media.
1. Be realistic about using your phone less.
I occasionally check in with my iPhone battery usage to see how much I’ve been using my phone (for you iPhone users: Settings>battery> click the clock under “Battery Usage” and next to “Last 7 Days”). I’m usually horrified by the numbers I see and immediately begin to beat myself up and set a crazy goal to cut my phone time in half. But it’s really important to be realistic with your goals and be kind to yourself! I have to remind myself I use my phone for work including doing online therapy sessions and managing work posts on social media which increases my time. If I’m able to reduce my Facebook use by just 5 minutes, I count that as a success. To help me with my tracking, I’ve recently started using the app Moment to help me notice patterns with my phone use and overall time spent on different apps.
2. Unfollow people.
I follow very few people on my personal Instagram and Facebook. As I scroll through, I try to pay attention to what I’m actually paying attention to. If I notice someone often posts things that distract me in a time consuming way (I don’t really need to know which character from Parks and Rec I am…btw, I’m Ann or April depending on my mood) or make me feel angry, I unfollow or unfriend them. Facebook and Instagram are slowly becoming a place where I only see posts from people I care about which has definitely changed my relationship with social media. I notice I feel less overwhelmed and exhausted.
3. Replace phone time with something else.
It’s a lot easier to quit something when you have an alternative way to spend your time. However, it needs to be specific. I usually get caught up in telling myself I should be reading more but I never actually decide on a book. To set myself up for success, I pick out a book and put it somewhere easily accessible and visible. Sometimes I find myself watching TV and on my phone (apparently one screen isn’t enough…) so I try to put coloring books and colored pencils near the couch. That way if I get bored when a commercial comes on, I’m coloring instead of going down the rabbit hole of Facebook.
4. Know when you’re most likely to overuse your phone and plan accordingly.
If you know that you are likely to get distracted by a notification at the dinner table, put your phone somewhere else before you sit down. If you know you are likely to pull out your phone right before bed and then spend hours trying to figure out if that couple you sort of know broke up two weeks ago, set an alarm (or three) 30 minutes before bed to remind yourself it’s time to get off of social media. It’s even better if you have an accountability partner. I know nothing good happens if I’m on my phone when it’s bed time and I have a rule for myself that if I’m in bed, I’m not allowed on any app except a book app like Kindle. It doesn’t always work out that way of course, I’m human, but simply stating that rule out loud has helped me be more disciplined.
5. Never read the comments.
Just don’t. We’ve all been there. We read an article or a post and it either makes us really mad or we agree with it strongly. We then decide we want to know what other people think about the topic and we look for affirmation of our point of view. Sometimes we’re lucky and we get it. But more frequently, the first comments that pop up are the most contentious. This leads nowhere positive. Our blood pressure shoots up, we begin arguing in our heads, or worse, comment back, which accomplishes nothing. Chances are, you aren’t going to change someone’s mind and will only succeed at making yourself angry and feeling like there is no hope for humanity.
Smart phones and social media can be wonderful things. They connect our lives and allow us to stay in touch with people more easily. It’s a great way to stay on top of news and current events. And sometimes we need a few minutes to watch videos of dogs being adorable. The important thing is to focus on the things that make you happy about having technology and find the right, realistic balance.