Take a Summer Vacation from your Smartphone

Couples Therapy Sterling VA

Independence Day 2017 is in the books, and I hope yours was filled with fun, family, and time to relax.

July 4th fell on a Tuesday this year, and that means that many of us found ourselves trying to keep up with the demands of the workweek even as we took some time off to celebrate. I found myself thinking about the demands the world places on us these days to be constantly connected and accessible — emails should be responded to within minutes, phones should always be on, and social media feeds require almost constant attention if we’re going to “keep up” with what’s going on in our networks… does anyone else think this has gotten a little out of hand?

I hear complaints about this from my clients all the time. People in couples therapy complain that they have to compete with technology for their partners’ attention; parents complain about their kids “bad habits” with their phones and other devices (even though these habits are often learned from the parents themselves); and nearly everyone is feeling more stressed and less engaged with the people and things around them as they try to stay connected to the larger world through technology. Smartphones and other devices have made life better in some pretty amazing ways, but they’ve also brought some challenges that I think we need to address in order to maintain our authenticity, sanity, and humanity. Here are some tips:

  • DON’T reach for your phone first thing in the morning. I know I am often guilty of this one, and it makes a huge difference. Set your brain up to take in something more meaningful and nourishing in the morning — meditation, a quiet cup of coffee, or time with your kids. Then, when you’re feeling centered and ready to face the day, turn on the phone and dig in.
  • Be REALLY picky about your push notifications. In fact, try turning them all off. Your phone wants your attention badly, and the default settings include push notifications for just about every app there is. Between email, Facebook, Twitter, and your voicemail, all those little dings and alerts add up to a near constant barrage of attention-grabbing, adrenaline-inducing input. And those little red numbers on your home screen are like beacons of temptation — look here! Something new! It could be important! Research shows that this constant technological feedback is actually addicting, which helps explain why so many of us have trouble putting the devices down. Turning off your push notifications allows you to be more in control of when you want to engage with technology, and helps you keep your attention on what’s in front of you.
  • Take time off from technology each day. Make it a regular, recurring item on your calendar, and stick to it each day. Worried about missing something unmissable? One of my favorite iPhone features is the Do Not Disturb function. This allows you to set up certain people who are able to get through when you turn the function on, and blocks everyone and everything else out. So if you’re worried that your mom or your boss might call, you can make it so they’ll get through — but otherwise, put the phone DOWN for an hour or more each day and just do and focus on something else.
  • Reset your expectations around responsiveness. Somehow we’ve all managed to convince each other that immediate responses are the norm, or even necessary. But that’s just not true! The vast majority of messages we receive through our devices are neither urgent nor particularly important; they require a response, sure, but not an immediate response. You can actually be more efficient if you set aside a few blocks of time throughout the day to focus on responding to these things, and ignore them the rest of the day. So, for example, go through your work email at the start of the workday, after lunch, and last thing before you leave the office; go through your personal email once per day at a time that works for you. The rest of the day, just pretend it’s not there. If someone really needs a response from you about something, they can call you.
  • Think about the example you’re setting for your kids, and the messages you’re sending them with your smartphone use. It’s important that we demonstrate to our kids how to have a healthy relationship with technology, and they are truly always watching. A few important changes to make in this regard: block out technology-free family time every day, put your phone down immediately when your kids want your attention, and commit to a phone-free family meal each day.
  • Track your smartphone habits and see how much time you’re really spending immersed in tech. There are a lot of great apps to help with this (Checky is great and works with both iOS and Android platforms). This perspective can be really helpful in recognizing just how much of our time and attention are being lost to our devices, and give you the push you need to make a lasting change.

So, here’s my challenge: use this summer to work on loosening technology’s grip on your life. Take on one of the above tips per week between now and mid-August, and see what a difference it makes. My bet is that you’ll be ready to face September as a more engaged, less stressed, and happier you.

Lindsey Hoskins offers couple, family, and individual therapy in both the Bethesda and Sterling offices. Contact her today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.