Note: This article on how to get off your phone and into your life is written by contributing writer, Tammy Strobel.
Recently, I slipped into an unhealthy habit—doom scrolling the news on my phone. Overall, I’m mindful of how much time I spend online, the type of content I consume, and I take frequent digital breaks. However, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I fall back into old patterns (like doom scrolling). Doom scrolling isn’t helpful because it increases my anxiety. I don’t need to scroll through the news constantly to stay informed. Also, spending less time on my phone allows me to take action. If I’m not on my phone, I can contribute to my community through creative projects, volunteering, or through “micro-acts” of kindness.
Dr. Sahib Khalsa a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research explained in a recent interview that “technology can distract us from noticing important signals from the brain — and it can also be the source of our distress. We can scroll for hours, not paying attention to how tired we are, or how unhappy scrolling makes us feel.” Dr. Khalsa’s explanation resonated with me. When I find myself doom scrolling, I don’t always notice my distress. I forget to pay attention to my body, my feelings, and neglect my real life.
10 Ways To Get Off Your Phone And Into Your Life
Fortunately, I broke free from my doom scrolling haze fairly quickly this time. Something that helped: revisiting simple tips that enable me to get off my phone and into my life. I hope the tips below benefit you, too!
1. Set specific time limits
Setting specific time limits is my favorite way to decrease my phone usage. Here are a few examples of how I use time limits in my daily life:
- When I open my phone, I set my timer. I give myself 15-minutes blocks – or less – for specific tasks like texting friends or scrolling through my photo library.
- I put my phone away in the evening and try not to use it. My evenings are for cooking, chatting with my husband, reading novels, and relaxing.
- When I travel, I keep my phone out of sight. This helps me be present in new environments.
- I stopped reading the news on my phone. Instead, I read the news on my big computer.
2. Create phone free zones
Creating phone free zones in my home has helped me get back into my life. Some of the zones include my bedroom, dining room table, and when I engage in face-to-face conversations with my husband or guests. Also, I’ve been experimenting with leaving my phone at home when I take long walks or bike rides. Time in nature without a phone is a wonderful way to practice noticing my surroundings and becoming more comfortable with silence. It’s also helped me realize that I don’t have to take photos of everything.
3. Try movement breaks
Manoush Zomorodi, a journalist with NPR, recently hosted a series about the impact technology has on our bodies and minds, and how movement helps us feel better. Listening to the series gave me so many good ideas! For example, after 30 minutes of working on my computer (or phone), I get up and move for 5 minutes. When I take a movement break, I go for a short walk, stretch, or do squats. My mini movement breaks have left me feeling energized and productive!
4. Turn off notifications
Over 5 years ago, I disabled non-essential notifications on my phone. This action might seem like a given, but it took me a few years to incorporate the idea into my routine. It’s helped me reduce the urge to check my phone constantly. Today, the only notifications I receive are texts messages and phone calls.
5. Turn off your phone
There are many productivity apps that can help you track your phone usage, limit interruptions, and more. If an app helps you decrease your phone usage, use them. I’m a fan of a very simple app, and that’s turning off my phone. The world won’t end if I miss a call or a text. Plus, turning off my phone helps me pay attention to my surroundings. For instance, on a recent flight I didn’t look at my phone. Instead, I watched the sunset. The sky was filled with vibrant orange and red tones. If I’d been taking notes on my phone or looking at my photo library, I would have missed the sunset!
6. Avoid walking and texting on your phone
In the past, I would take walks outside and text friends at the same time. Now I avoid the activity because I tripped (and almost fell). The incident woke me up. If I’m walking, I pay attention to what’s going on around me and my phone stays in my pocket or purse. Unless, I pause to take a photograph.
7. Engage in phone-free activities
Some of my favorite phone free activities include journaling, reading books, cycling, and navigating a new city without constantly looking at my maps app. Whereas, friends like gardening, playing musical instruments, or junk journaling. For instance, one of my friends likes to collage in the evenings because it helps her unwind. She told me that “her phone was not a relaxation device.” What are your favorite phone free activities?
8. Put your phone to bed first
My new evening routine includes putting my phone to bed first. Then I put myself to bed. Typically, I charge my phone in the kitchen. That way I’m not tempted to check it while I’m reading in bed. Next on my list is getting an old school alarm clock.
9. Plan face-to-face gatherings
Recently, I experienced wonderful face-to-face gatherings with friends and co-workers. The context for each gathering was different, but they had similarities. For example, at each gathering we avoided using our phones. Instead, we were in the moment with one another. It made the interactions even more meaningful. When you are together with loved ones, I recommend hiding your phone. Also, try doing phone free activities like dinners, game nights, or outdoor outings. Be together, instead of being alone together.
10. Start a new hobby & pay attention
Start a new hobby that doesn’t involve your phone. You could paint, write in your journal, learn to cook, or try a new sport. When you are engaged in your hobby, remember to pay attention. Author Catherine Price said “The first thing we need to acknowledge is that our lives are what we pay attention to. Indeed, our attention is the most valuable resource that we have. Think about it. We only experience what we pay attention to. Your choice of what to pay attention to in any given moment might not seem like a big deal, but taken together, these decisions are deeply consequential.”
Our phones aren’t going anywhere, so it’s important to cultivate healthy phone habits. If you fall into bad habits, like I did, be kind to yourself. Being kind to myself helps me get back into my life with good habits as a guide.
Resources to help you get off your phone and into your life
Looking for resources to help you unplug? Here’s a short list to get you started:
- Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price
- The Art of Digital Minimalism by Tammy Strobel
- Spend Less Time on Your Phone with These 15 Little Tricks by Courtney Carver