5 mindfulness tips for smartphone users
The other day I walked into my local cafe and saw a piece of technology sitting by the cash register that I haven’t thought about in years: a flip phone.
That nostalgic block that really only served one purpose - to be a phone.
“Woah, I haven’t seen one of those in a while,” my boyfriend said to the barista.
“Yeah I made the switch back a while ago, I’m so glad I did. I only really need it to call and text people,” the young man replied.
In a moment of reflection, a life without a tiny computer in my pocket flashed before me. I felt so relieved and relaxed and free in this fictional space. But then I returned to reality.
As a journalist, I use my phone during the workday CONSTANTLY. Making calls, sending emails, googling information, writing scrips, the list goes on.
Sometimes on my streetcar home, I feel like tossing the over-priced tiny computer out of the window. The bright screen and constant feedback loop of content can overwhelm me.
I’ve considered deleting Facebook, but I often come across interesting story ideas on there. I get my news on Twitter, and find sources of photography inspiration on Instagram.
I don’t think I’ll be switching back to a flip phone any time soon.
Because I don’t have much choice in the matter, I’ve been forced to find ways to disconnect.
These are a few things that have helped me and I believe helped my mental health too.
1. Turn off push notifications
Push notifications are designed to get you to check your phone more.
The only push notifications I get are from texts and missed calls. I don’t need my screen to light up every time someone messages me on Facebook or “likes” one of my Tweets. Those can wait.
Turning off push notifications can be done in your settings, and I find it doesn’t lure me into checking my phone as much. It also results in me sitting down and intentionally checking everything at once, instead of responding to notifications throughout the day.
2. Stay silent
This is a strategy I unintentionally started as soon as I got my first iPhone, but I’ve stuck with it.
I found the “PING” took my focus away from whatever I was doing. I especially found it to be distracting during conversations and annoying in public settings.
When I’m at work, my phone rings when I get a call and pings when I get a text.
When I’m at home, my phone is on silent and stays that way. The last thing I need when I’m trying to spend time with my partner or friends is RING DING DING to bring my anxiety levels up for no good reason!
3. Limit ‘Screen Time’
This is a fairly new option Apple has added to iPhone and can be found in your settings.
Screen time tells you how long you’ve spent on your phone and can also be used to set a limit. I’ve just started using it and it’s already been effective. I set my app limit to one hour per day with the exception of my camera app and email (hey, I’m not perfect)
You can choose to not include apps in the limit, so if you’re using educational apps like DuoLingo or maps to navigate you can switch those off and they won’t count towards your limit.
I’m always surprised when that image with the hourglass comes up and I’ve already used my hour, and it’s definitely helped me get off my phone when I don’t need to be on it.
4. Leave it behind
I’m going to tell you a startling secret - or at least it’s upsetting to me.
There are times when I’m just about to fall asleep and I get these vivid flashes of almost-dreams or replays of things that happened that day. In this odd almost-asleep state, I’ve had flashes of screens pop up in this reel. My phone and computer have become so intertwined in my life, THAT I DREAM ABOUT IT.
That’s what sad dreams are made of.
When my partner and I go on sunset walks on the beach, or see a movie, or go for dinner, I occasionally leave my phone at home. It’s interesting because you notice how many times you reach into your pocket or bag to get it, and it’s not there.
‘Oh I wonder what the weather will be tomorrow, what’s this song called, what on earth is this cocktail ingredient?’
Sometimes, it’s okay to just not know the answer immediately.
When I leave my phone at home, I am completely immersed in the moment I’m in, the person I’m with and lose track of time the most lovely way.
5. Airplane mode for trips
I must admit, I love my iPhone camera. As a photographer, I shoot professional photos on my DSLR and even use a film camera sometimes. But when those picture-perfect moments happen on my walk to the office, it’s pretty nice to be able to whip a tiny and pretty good camera out of my pocket.
When I go camping, or for a ‘forest bath’ as I now like to say, I put my phone on airplane mode.
This allows me to freely use my camera to capture the nature if I want to, but doesn’t tempt me to check my email.
I have a dream of reverting back to the flip phone when I’m a retired artist living on the west coast… or in Italy. Unless there is some anti-smartphone revolution, I don’t think they’re going away. These devices have made us smarter and more efficient in many ways, but I think it’s important we don’t let them take over our lives.
Last week on the streetcar as I was responding to emails, I was overcome with that feeling of phone-anxiety again. I intentionally put my phone away and zipped up my purse.
Almost immediately, I see a blind woman entering the streetcar. Another elderly woman at the front of the streetcar pops up from her seat, and leads the blind woman into it. It was such a beautiful little gesture.
I realized that while I read and plan stories on my phone, there are a thousand more little stories happening around me.
I think sometimes, it’s important to tune into those stories, too.