Part 3: Prioritize Meaningful Connection for Happiness and Health
In Part 1 of our three-part series on phone use and mental health, we explored the issues of distraction, impaired concentration, and mental fatigue and offered strategies for balancing the use of our smartphones to positively support our mental health and overall well-being. In Part 2, we tackled the many ways that our phone use impacts the length, quality, and duration of our sleep—and what to do about it.
In our final installment of this series, we’ll explore our social immersion in the digital realm and the blurring of boundaries between the connections we have in our real lives and the lives we lead on our screens. Here's a look at how phone use affects our relationships.
Good Relationships = Happiness and Health
In a massive, ongoing (for over 80 years!) Harvard University's study of happiness, researchers have established that having good relationships is the number one factor for a person’s happiness and health.
Good relationships, whether they be romantic, familial, or friendships, require ongoing effort and energy to thrive. Building and nurturing meaningful connections with others takes active participation and dedication to cultivate trust, foster open communication, and develop a deep understanding of one another. It involves actively listening, empathizing, and being present in both the good times and the challenging moments.
To be sure, our phones provide positive opportunities for relationship development. Through social media and video calls, we can maintain regular contact with loved ones and strengthen our bonds despite physical distance.
Online communities have made it easier to find and form relationships with individuals who share common interests and passions. And virtual coordination of social events and gatherings makes it quicker and easier to plan and stay connected with a larger network of friends and family.
However, the potential for constant engagement comes with complications, as our phones can also lead to social isolation, addiction, and confusion about the boundaries between our digital and physical lives. Understanding the profound impact our phones have on our relationships is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance between the digital and the real-world to harness the potential for greater connectivity, meaningful relationships, and overall well-being.
The Impact of Phone Use on Our Relationships
If we do not utilize phones thoughtfully, our phone use can have detrimental effects on our relationships in several ways. First, excessive screen time can lead to reduced quality time spent with loved ones. When we are constantly engaged with our phones, we may become distracted, disengaged, and less present during face-to-face interactions, diminishing the depth and intimacy of our connections.
Second, the addictive nature of smartphones can create a sense of detachment from the real world and harm our relationship with ourselves. We may find ourselves constantly seeking validation through social media or becoming engrossed in virtual interactions, leading to a lack of emotional availability and neglecting the needs of those physically present with us. For women in particular, social media provides a continual dose of unrealistic, unattainable body and beauty standards that encourage comparison to a fake aesthetic ideal that ultimately chips away at our self-esteem.
Relying on phone use that is not mitigated with in-person communication can also contribute to increased conflict and misunderstandings. Misinterpreting text messages or social media posts without the context of tone or body language can easily lead to miscommunication, which can strain relationships and escalate tensions. Add to that the constant access to a wide range of opinions and information on our phones that can lead to tension and divisiveness among friends and family. Most of us have likely witnessed people behaving online in ways they’d never act in “real life.”
Lastly, the entanglement of work and personal life boundaries due to smartphones can cause stress and neglect of relationships. Constant work-related notifications, accessing work email from personal devices, and the overall pressure to be always available can eat into quality time with loved ones, resulting in feelings of neglect and disconnection.
Proactive Phone Use Strategies for Healthy Relationships
If you find that your phone use (or the phone use of a loved one) is affecting your relationships, here are some strategies to try out:
Foster open communication. Discuss the impact of phone use on your relationships with your loved ones. Have open conversations about boundaries, expectations, and the importance of undistracted, meaningful connections. Encourage open dialogue about how technology can be better integrated into your lives to enhance rather than hinder relationships.
Prioritize face-to-face interactions in an increasingly digital world. Make a conscious effort to prioritize in-person interactions at least as much as virtual ones. While technology can bridge geographical gaps, and help us connect with like-minded folks, and even get us access to medical and mental health care via telehealth, nurturing relationships through physical presence fosters deeper connections, intimacy, and emotional bonding.
Plan technology-free activities (or at least activities where technology isn’t the focus). Engage in activities or hobbies that don't involve screens. Explore outdoor adventures, pursue shared interests, or simply spend quality time engaging in offline activities that promote deeper connections and create lasting memories.
Seek out activities that combine face-to-face interactions with technology. Invite friends over for a Mario Kart tournament or Just Dance contest. Play games like Heads Up or Gogogo! that use a phone but encourages real-life gatherings.
Lead by example: Modeling presence and balanced phone use behavior in front of kids is crucial for instilling healthy habits and a balanced approach to technology. Before reaching for your phone, pause and reflect on whether it is necessary or if it will interfere with the current moment or conversation. Modeling healthy screen time behavior helps children develop a healthier relationship with technology, encouraging them to find a balance between online engagement and real-world connections. If you need more help with this, check out Anya Kamenetz's The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.
Practice active listening: When engaging in conversations, actively listen to the other person without distractions from your phone. Give them your undivided attention, maintain eye contact, and show genuine interest in what they are saying. This helps foster deeper connections and understanding.
We've discussed this strategy before but: set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries around phone usage, especially during quality time with loved ones. Designate specific "phone-free" periods or such as during meals, family gatherings, or intimate moments. By intentionally creating spaces free from phone distractions, you can focus on building stronger connections and enjoying the present moment.
By implementing these strategies, you can actively preserve and nurture deep, healthy relationships while minimizing the negative impact of smartphones on your interpersonal connections, leading to a happier, healthier life.
It Can Be Tough to Improve How Phone Use Affects Our Relationships
Phone use has a grip on all of our lives. We live in a digital world that has, in so many ways, enhanced our lives and well-being. Yet, overuse and an imbalance of existing in your online life rather than your off-screen one can lead to negative outcomes and even tip toward addiction.
If you are struggling with anxiety around your phone use, find it exceedingly difficult to be without your device, or are unsure how to implement these strategies consistently and want help to reclaim your time and relationships, schedule a free consult call with a therapist at Her Time Therapy, LLC.
Her Time Therapy, LLC is an integrative group counseling practice based in Denver, Colorado comprised of highly trained mental health therapists who specialize in providing convenient and empowering online mental health counseling for women in Colorado.
Call/Text: (720) 255-1667 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Visit: www.hertimetherapy.com
About the Author
Lauren Veazey, MA, is a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and the Intake Coordinator for Her Time Therapy, LLC, a group therapy practice specializing in teletherapy for women. As a therapist in training under the supervision of Her Time Therapy founder Meagan Clark, she believes in the healing power of therapy for women to love themselves, trust themselves, and know themselves.
*Disclosure: This post may contain ads and affiliate links that Her Time Therapy, LLC earns a small commission from when you make a purchase by clicking links on our site at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we've used ourselves and would feel comfortable recommending to clients to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.