A couple of summers ago I read Arianne Huffington’s book “Thrive”. She wrote how at one point it was a norm in her life to check email and facebook every time she woke up in the middle of the night. “What?!” I remember thinking back then.
About a year ago, I found myself doing the same.
Did I realize the situation I was in? No. It happened last Christmas holiday when our oldest daughter screamed at me:
“Mom! Put the phone away and look at ME!!”
Soon after that I saw this photo series.
I felt awful.
When you become aware of and really acknowledge something, it is only then when you can change.
I started to pay attention how often I had a phone in my hand and how using it affected me.
“Very often” and “Not well” were the answers.
Staring at the screen made me feel tired and stressed. The surprise for me was that the same happened, even when I used my phone for other purposes than work.
As a person who has gone through a severe depression, the scariest thing was to notice a clear correlation between screen time and depressive symptoms.
My motivation for change got even higher when I read the article Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages The Brain in Psychology Today:
“Excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of wellbeing to academic or career success to relationship skills.”
Besides my personal change I also wanted to teach my children to have a healthy relationship with technology.
After decision-making, the next step is to take action.
I experienced another awful moment when I noticed that being without my phone was not that easy. I was already so used to check my phone so often that I felt restless if I wasn’t able to do it.
I will always remember my first long walk I took without my phone. I felt lost. Empty somehow. Many times during my walk I felt that I wanted to grab my phone and watch something from it. Use it for something.
I battled with myself. I wanted to be free and without my phone but felt bad by actually doing so.
But as I continued going out without a phone I noticed that it was easier to wean myself from the excessive screen time while being outdoors.
Little by little I didn’t feel myself lost anymore when I was on a walk without my phone. Instead, I felt more present and relaxed.
Instead of using just one sense I felt that I started to use all of my senses again.
Also children and my husband noticed the positive change in me.
With these 3 advices, I managed to become the master of my phone again:
1. Start small
Start with half an hour. Or an hour. If you start by trying to be a whole day without your phone, you just end up being disappointed. If your hour goes well, make it two next time.
Remember, that there’s no need to be too harsh on yourself either. Changing your habits is one of the hardest things in the world. The main thing is that you are trying to get rid of the bad ones and create better.
2. Put your phone out of your sight
Out of your sight, out of your mind doesn’t apply here but it helps. Put the phone in a place where you can’t see it.
I put my phone into a closet if I want to get rid of it for a moment. To that very same closet I put my laptop after my workday. This small change has improved my wellbeing and the quality of our family life a great deal.
3. No need for extremes
Phones and screens are an essential part of modern life. They bring a lot of good to our lives and there’s no need to get rid of them completely.
Where does the good end, and bad begins?
I’ve noticed that to be the important question when thinking about our relationship with technology in general.
Like with many other things in life, with phones and screen time also, the question is about learning to set healthy boundaries, both concrete and mental.
This winter I officially became an entrepreneur. In spring I found myself saying that I can’t have a holiday this summer because the following year is going to be very crucial for my business and its future.
However, I realized too that after winter I was really tired and needed a break before autumn. The reality was that I didn’t have a possibility to have a long holiday, so I thought about ways that would recharge my batteries as efficiently as possible.
A simple holiday. A holiday that includes as much unscheduled time as possible and time for just doing the things I love without any hurry. That is what I wanted my short holiday to include.
After my “phone and screen time project”, I wanted my holiday to include as little technology as possible too.
Already last winter I started to spend one “phone free day” a week. I was amazed how good it did to my wellbeing and health.
This summer I spent one week almost completely without my phone. If I think about my energy level after that, it felt like two or even more.
I did nothing special with the children, but even the chilly summer weather didn’t bother me because I just felt so good and well rested.
When I was reading a book to our girls on my holiday week, I thought how ashamed I felt when my daughter asked me to put my phone away. For long I thought that it is the other people who are loving their phones too much, not me.
But remember, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all really share this same challenge. Even Arianna Huffington. You are not alone.
Photos: Marianne Ahonen Photography