What happened to those empty moments before phones? When you woke up and lay in bed just thinking about life. Or rolled over and hugged your partner.
At the risk of sounding ancient, remember when you sent a letter and had to wait for a reply? Or you emailed a friend and had to wait until the next day when back at work to find out if they had got back to you. We used to let our minds wander without constantly being engaged. Pondering the day or our latest plans and future holidays. Empty time to just think.
I love technology and social media. I love its ability to connect people and share information. To help me find my way (I have no sense of direction), to check a fact or find out where I've seen someone before, but I do sometimes have a yearning for the days when we weren't quite so in touch.
In truth, empty time isn't wasted time. It's required to think or reflect. Everything is so instant now and that's not all positive.
In the modern world, we're evermore connected to technology. It's rare that we're ever without our phones laptops or tablets. Pings, pokes, likes and follows are the currency of modern life. we even check in on the loo!
Being in touch with people 24/7 means that there's a constant pressure on you. When you're checking, updating or replying you're 'on' and being in this state constantly is exhausting. When it's more severe it can also be a form of avoidance as it's so absorbing it allows you to ignore the other stuff going on in your life.
If you've ever felt that itch to check your phone or panicked when you're without it, then you're definitely not alone. There's a scientific reason for it too - it really is addictive. When you check your email or social media it causes the release of dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter.
Dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability - small bits of information and by reward cues - exactly what you get when you check your email and social media. The excitement of having mail, getting likes, comments and new followers or making online friends. The fact it's not guaranteed (there may or may not be a new email) adds to this. When you strike it lucky it gives you a hit and the pull of dopamine is strong - it's like gambling on a smaller scale, the chance of a win.
Whilst it definitely has its good points, unintentional or extended use is not so good for you. It is not generally very rewarding. Research shows that mood drops after this type of use and can leave you feeling frustrated, lonely and depressed. It has a negative impact on your relationships (you can't give people your full attention when you're online) and on concentration. Our phones and tablets also emit blue light, which is stimulating and so over-use can also have a negative effect on sleep.Who's in charge? When you look at in the clear light of day, who's in charge - you or your phone? Is your phone really the last thing you want to check at night and the first thing you want to see in the morning? If you have a sneaking suspicion that maybe it's ruling you, here are some ideas to try out so that you regain control:
- Don't check your phone every time you have a spare minute; look out of the window, breathe or think about your day
- Choose how often you want to make checks and try and stick to it, if something is really urgent someone will call you!
- Make sure you have proper time offline. When you don't want to be on your phone/tablet/laptop put it in another room so you have to consciously reach for it and go and get it. You're less likely to end up checking it without meaning to.
- Turn off your updates (yes all of them!)
- Let yourself get bored occasionally, that's when some of the best ideas come!
- Get out of the habit of immediately replying to people.
- Make a rule not to have phones at the table during mealtimes.
- Read sometimes instead of going online.
- Leave your phone at home sometimes when you go out or in your bag.
- Download a tracking app to check how many times you log on each day and try and slowly reduce it.
- Move your phone out of the bedroom. If you wake early try and go back to sleep, read a book, let your mind wander or hug your partner.
- Take a social media vacation! Try having a day off (or longer) with no posts or updates.
Dr Jessamy is running a free 5 day Happiness Challenge. Every day at 8am you'll receive an exercise, which will outline your task for the day. It's a crash course in understanding your mind + a strategy every day to boost your mood. All the strategies are evidence based, which means they are proven work. To take part you can sign up here.