In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s becoming increasingly common for us to fill every moment of downtime with our smartphones. Whether we’re waiting for a child’s swimming lessons to finish, taking the bus, or sitting at an event, we habitually reach for our pocket-sized screens. Technology has both positive and negative effects on our mental health and satisfaction. Why do we constantly check our phones? Why does it affect us so much? What new habits can we build in to replace the constant desire to check in?
About four months ago, I took a ‘stop the scroll challenge’ to break my habit of mindlessly scrolling on my phone. It hasn’t been a simple task to break away from my phone and social media habit, but four months in, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.
We live in a digital age. Smartphones are our constant companions, providing instant access to information, entertainment, and social connections. Having an endless, immediate source of information makes it difficult to resist checking our phones during moments of downtime. We feel a sense of urgency, fearing that we might miss out on something important or exciting.
During the 2020 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, technology became useful. In a world where human interaction was severely limited, we found ourselves more connected than ever through social media and Zoom. Despite their ability to connect us, using our phones constantly can leave us feeling more alone than ever. God created us for community, and our desire to feel connected to something is real. Social media, emails, and Googling can’t provide real fulfilment. We use temporary virtual distractions instead of enjoying quiet moments and being present.
Cutting back on my phone and social media usage has had a positive effect on my mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that excessive screen time is linked to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The constant barrage of information and comparison on social media can lead to unrealistic expectations and a distorted perception of reality. The fact that our phones are addicting can leave us feeling disconnected from the world and the people around us.
So, I’ve talked about the unhealthy side effects of phone and social media usage. Just trying to stop our bad habits is an exercise in futility. In order to break a habit, we have to replace it with a new one. Creating healthier habits and alternative activities can help us break free from phone dependency and find genuine fulfilment in our free time.
1. Use moments of downtime as opportunities to be present and mindful. Observe your surroundings, engage in deep breathing, or pray and meditate on Scripture to calm your mind.
2. Instead of talking to your friends on social media, wait until you see them in person, make a phone call, or send an email (yes, email is more personal than Facebook). Such personal interactions are rewarding and foster meaningful connections.
3. Use downtime to indulge in hobbies or activities you enjoy. Whether it’s reading a book, knitting, or playing an instrument, these activities can provide a sense of fulfilment and joy. If I know I’ll have downtime while I’m out, I’ll take a book or knitting with me. When I’m at home, I pick up a project or book when I feel tempted to scroll.
4. When you use your phone, do so with intention. Limit social media scrolling and prioritize responding to important messages. Be mindful of your screen time and set boundaries to avoid mindless browsing. I recommend using an app to help with this—the “screen time” features that come pre-installed on your phone aren’t enough.
5. Put your phone to bed at night. Before you head to your bedroom, leave your phone in a designated place (not on your night stand). If you rely on your phone for an alarm, get a simple alarm clock.
6. Use your downtime to explore the outdoors. Nature has a way of reviving our spirits and providing a sense of peace and wonder. One of our family values is spending time outdoors, so this one is fairly easy as long as I use my time wisely to plan for time outdoors.
Our phones undoubtedly offer a wealth of information and entertainment, but they should not be the default response to every moment of downtime. To find joy and meaningful connections, we must be intentional about our phone usage and open ourselves up to the beauty of the present moment. By embracing quiet spaces, engaging in meaningful conversations, pursuing our passions, putting our phones to bed at night, and connecting with nature, we can break free from the allure of our smartphones and discover a more fulfilling and balanced life.
Who wants to reclaim our downtime and make the most of every precious moment with me?