There’s no question that we have really complicated relationships with our cell phones. So much of how we manage our everyday lives is tied to this little device that we have, and sometimes in really wonderful ways. Being able to communicate with loved ones, being able to share pictures, funny moments, tragic moments; I think that overall phones are a net positive.
I hear often that people have a lot of anxiety, feelings of FOMO, or feelings of vigilance that come with having their phone with them and on them all the time. Something that I would really like to encourage people to do, particularly if you have high anxiety, is to occasionally turn your phone off or put it on do not disturb or put it in another room.
I’m sure some of your anxiety is already going up thinking about that, like “Oh my gosh, what will happen if I put my phone away?” But I think that you’ll find over time, if you take more phone breaks, that anxiety will go down, and you’ll actually be able to move through your life feeling like you have more independence from your phone. [Then] your well-being or your mood is not tied to whether someone answered your text or you’ve gotten that important email or whatever it may be. [Those thoughts] distract you from being in the present moment.
Our phones can be really distracting from being in the present moment. How many times have you missed something that was going on in real life because you were checking your email or responding to a text or scrolling on Instagram and something really cool was happening in the moment? It’s happened to all of us.
I have a couple suggestions: one is to try sleeping with your phone in another room. Granted, this may not work if you have children or aging parents or need to be reachable at all hours. But if you do have the privilege of turning your phone off to sleep, try putting in another room. We actually have some really cool data on just the physical presence of your tone and what it does to your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that we can measure easily in saliva and blood. They were measuring it in a study where they were looking at stress levels in college students taking a test or a quiz. They had three groups: the first group was students that had their phone on their desk face down. A second group had their phone in their backpack but down, and then a third group of students [had their] phone in another room. They measured the cortisol levels of these college students and found that the cortisol for the students who had their phone on the desk face down or in their backpack was significantly higher than students whose phone was in another room.
Now just think about your stress hormones and what that might look like if you are never away from your phone. You’re going to constantly have a higher stress level, so giving yourself breaks from that allows you to come down from the high cortisol level and feel a little calmer and more grounded. Sleeping with your phone in another room allows you a break from that high cortisol level, which you deserve. You’re gonna feel more rested, and you deserve to feel more rested.
The other thing I want to suggest is periodically turning your phone off. Or, if you’re really ready for a challenge, going on a short errand without your phone. Of course, if their safety concerns, don’t go far away without your phone. If you need to call for help, of course, we want our phone there for safety. But you could go on errands with your phone off, or try taking a walk without your phone. You really don’t need it, and it’s very unlikely that there will be something that you would miss that would be catastrophic.
Consider your relationship with your phone, consider the boundaries you want to set with it and grow over time. The more breaks you take from your phone, the less stressed your relationship will be with your phone, and start gradually put in some boundaries there.
is a feminist therapist offering online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.