Building a healthy relationship with my phone: A 101 Guide
You’re most likely reading this article on your mobile phone right now, so there’s no way in heaven I’m going to recommend you throw your phone away.
You’re also most likely reading this because you can see the many ways in which your phone helps you in identifying resources, setting a routine, maintaining long-distance friendships, building new social networks, finding information about almost everything, seeking help, publishing work, sharing stories, and creating work structures. In a study done across 11 countries, 84% of mobile phone users reported that their phones save them time. But, you are also perhaps able to fathom the many ways in which it can get in the way of our ability to live our lives fully —
to focus at work,
to be present with loved ones, and
to connect with ourselves.
Studies have also shown that using mobile phones frequently tends to increase irritability, and impulsiveness; and reduces one’s ability to be patient and concentrate.
But first, what is my relationship with my phone?
Nancy Colier, a New York-based Psychotherapist, reported that people tend to check their phones an average of 150 times a day or every 6 minutes. Hence, it may be useful for us to begin by asking ourselves some questions to understand our relationship with phones better. Be a curious or concerned parent, not a furious and unmindful one— which means that we don’t shame ourselves or speak in a harsh tone as we explore this. Instead, we attempt to gain insight with tenderness and hold ourselves gently through this process. These are just some possible questions you could ask yourself, but feel free to come up with more questions about what, when, how, why, where, and who.
What value does my phone add to my life?
How often do I check my phone?
Does every message demand to be responded to immediately?
Do I tend to switch between applications; and scroll on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp statuses, News sites, Reddit, among others?
When am I more likely to check my phone?
When am I more likely to scroll for longer periods than others?
When am I away from my phone?
Do I miss my phone when I’m away from it?
What does it feel like in my body when I’m on my phone — does my chest feel tight? Are there butterflies in my stomach? Is my heart racing? Are my legs shaking? Does my head hurt?
What emotions (happiness, sadness, anxiety, anger, worry, etc.) predominantly arise when I’m scrolling through different applications?
How do I feel when I receive a text or a call from someone? Do different notifications make me feel differently?
What may my phone be doing for me?
Seeking answers to these questions may often feel discomforting because it may show us parts of ourselves that we may not want to see. Often this may include noticing that we may be using our phone to escape some hardship or pain that is looming over us in reality —
a recent heartbreak,
a loved one’s suffering,
a fear about the future or
a sense of helplessness.
Dr. Gabor Mate, a renowned physician with experience in the field of addiction, in his book ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction,’ says — ‘I never ask people what they were addicted to or for how long. I only ask — What did it offer you? What did you like about it? What in the short term did it give you that you craved it so much?’
People’s responses usually were: ‘It helped me escape emotional pain; helped me deal with stress; gave me peace of mind, a sense of connection with others, a sense of control.’ Mate also highlights that all drugs, all behaviors of addiction — gambling, sex, cocaine or the internet either soothe pain directly or serve as a distraction from it. Hence, his mantra is not ‘Why the addiction?’ but ‘Why the pain?’
Hence, holding the question of ‘What am I unwilling to see now that’s making me scroll so incessantly?’ can help you begin to see some of those big and small wounds; and perhaps initiate a process of healing from them. One could do this by:
Seeking help from a professional therapist or counsellor may help one to get to the core of some of these aspects and engage in a deeper healing process.
Sitting by oneself either in a café or in a corner in one’s room or house, and using techniques like journaling, doodling, talking to oneself loudly or even using a phone recorder.
Teaming up with a family member, partner, friend or well-wisher in exploring these questions or answers.
Okay so, what are some tools and resources that I can use?
Once we ask ourselves these questions and attempt to answer them, it may be helpful to gather a set of tools and resources to support one on this journey of developing a healthier relationship with one’s phone. Here are some possibilities:
Tick it off: Keep a sheet of paper by your side or stick it on a wall, and put a tick mark every time you crave the need to pick up your phone when not necessary, and don’t give in to it. At the end of each day, make sure to celebrate the small wins — 1 tick is better than no ticks!
Set an intention: ‘Why am I opening my phone?’ is a good question to ask ourselves each time we unlock our phones.
Mindful Breathing: When you catch yourself switching between applications, refreshing an application, or feeling an impulse to react to a message, it may be useful to pause and take a few intentional deep breaths in and out, until that impulsive feeling within you passes.
Support Apps: Most phones come with a wellbeing section under settings to control the number of notifications we receive. It may also help one to keep track of the number of hours they spend on a particular app. Applications like Forest can also help to set small goals to disconnect from one’s phone.
Stand up and scroll: When you’re stuck in loops of scrolling and are unable to stop, it may be helpful to stand up and continue scrolling.
Practise mindfulness meditation: Having a consistent mindfulness meditation practice can enable one to strengthen their ability to be more alive in the here and now.
Feed your feed: Add pages to your feed that nourish your mind, body and heart. It may be useful to notice if there are particular pages or influencers who are negatively impacting your mental health.
Practise self-compassion: My therapist once asked me — ‘You’ve always shamed yourself and it’s not worked out, so why not try not shaming yourself and see what that is like?’ It will be safe to say that it helps to speak to myself like I would to a pet, baby or loved one who is going through a lull. Dr Kristin Neff offers a range of resources to build one’s ability to be self-compassionate.
Understand shame and other emotions: On some days, we may scroll endlessly, distract ourselves, and none of these practices may work. On such days, we need to shame ourselves less; and offer ourselves more and more compassion because it’s so much easier to embrace ourselves when we are on top of things and succeeding on all fronts. Brene Brown’s work on Shame and other emotions (it consists of a list of 87 emotions) is worth engaging in to grasp the vocabulary to articulate our experiences.
As we experience every day on this journey of life, our phones are by our sides. In making them our ally, we gain their support in being alive fully. May we all be at home within us, and hold space for our boredom and wounds. May we live wholesome lives, forgive ourselves and arrive here to do the work of boundaries and healthy relationships, again and again. :)
Note: This is not an alternative to therapy. These techniques can be supplemented with other forms of therapy.
This was written by Keerthana Paulraj, the founder of The Centre for Mindful Presence. When she is not curating wellbeing workshops, she can be found digging into a bowl of food, reading poetry, taking long walks or gazing at the sky. This article was originally published on Centre for Mindful Presence's Medium Blog.