Part 1: Address Distraction and Reclaim Your Time
Smartphones are an integral part our lives and have the power to influence our mental health in both negative and positive ways.
On one hand, excessive phone use can contribute to impaired concentration, sleep disruptions, and social challenges such as isolation and comparison culture. These negative effects can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and decreased overall well-being.
On the other hand, smartphones provide access to a wealth of information, support networks, and mental health resources. They can foster connections, promote self-care, and offer opportunities for personal growth and skill development.
The key lies in finding a balance and using smartphones mindfully to harness their positive aspects while being actively aware of the negative impacts they can have on our mental health. By setting boundaries, prioritizing being present, and utilizing smartphone tools and resources consciously, we can navigate the digital landscape to support our overall well-being.
In this first of a three-part series on phones and their influence on mental health, we’ll discuss the issues of distraction, impaired concentration, and mental fatigue—and what you can do to reclaim control of your precious time.
Digital Overload and the Consequences of Constant Distraction
We all know the feeling of having gotten lost in the rabbit hole when we’ve spent time on our phones: you go to look up a recipe for meatloaf and all of a sudden it’s an hour later and you’re watching a YouTube video about the Top 10 Rollercoasters in Europe without meaning to, or wanting to, or knowing how you got there. Dinner isn't made, your stress level has increased, and you're disappointed that you once again accidentally wasted your time.
With an infinite amount of content to consume, endless scrolling options, and the perpetual ping of notifications popping up, phones provide a constant source of stimuli and interruptions that can harm our mental health. In fact, studies show that social media platforms are designed to produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and drug use to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. For some, this can escalate to social media addiction, produced by the dopamine-inducing social environments that these sites provide.
Even when we think we’re taking a break by being on our phones (such as playing a game or checking social media for "just 5 minutes"), our brains are still doing the work of processing and filtering everything we’re taking in. This constant barrage of content can overwhelm our cognitive resources, leading to mental fatigue from digital overload.
It's Time To Regain Control
Using our phones can not only pull our attention away from important tasks and the ability to perform deep, focused work—it can also become an unhealthy coping mechanism that distracts us from uncomfortable feelings and can ultimately keep us from being fully present in our lives. If you're looking to reduce distractions and regain control over your phone use, here are some strategies to consider:
Reflect and set clear intentions: Start by taking some time to reflect on how your phone use impacts your life in ways you don’t like and want to change. Then, set clear intentions for your phone use to address the issues you outlined. Having specific intentions can help you choose strategies (such as the ones listed below) to help you be deliberate about addressing your technology use.
Practice mindfulness. Build awareness of your underlying motivations for using your phone. Before reaching for it, ask yourself: “Do I really need to look at my phone right now or is it simply a reflex? How do I want to choose to use my time right now?” Tune into your current mental and emotional state. Are you using your phone as a means of escape or avoidance? What could you choose to do with your time instead?
Use apps strategically to stay focused. Because phones are so intermingled with our daily life, we can’t completely avoid using them—so let’s leverage them as tools to help reach our goals. Our therapist Julie recommends using the Focus Keeper app to help manage your time. It helps you set 25-minute work sprints followed by planned short and long breaks that encourage balanced, intentional productivity.
Have phone-free zones: Designate certain areas or times when your phone is off-limits. For example, you can establish phone-free zones in your bedroom, during meals, or while engaging in important tasks. This creates boundaries and allows you to be fully present in the moment.
Practice digital detoxes: Periodically take breaks from your phone and engage in digital detoxes. Try 30 minutes a day, one day a week, or even one week out of a month. Disconnecting from technology allows you to recharge, refocus, and develop a healthier relationship with your device.
Disable non-essential notifications: This is a small step that can make a big difference: reduce distractions by disabling notifications from apps/phone numbers that are not essential. By limiting the number of interruptions, you can better control your attention and prevent unnecessary distractions.
Purposefully engage in phone-free activities. Participate in activities that don't involve your phone. Find hobbies, move your body, spend time with loved ones, or engage in creative pursuits that capture your interest and keep you engaged without relying on your device.
Cultivate your personal philosophy for technology use and live by it. In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport defines the concept as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, then happily miss out on everything else.” If you’re looking to completely overhaul your relationship with your phone, check out the book from your local library or get it here.
Seek support and accountability: Share your goals and struggles with a friend or family member who can help hold you accountable. Consider joining online or local support groups focused on mindful phone usage to connect with others who share similar goals.
Breaking the habit of being constantly distracted by your phone takes time, effort, and persistence. Be patient with yourself, take small steps forward, and celebrate your victories. By implementing these strategies consistently, you can regain control over your phone use, reclaim your brain and body, and live a full, present life
What if None of These Strategies Work?
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, 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 | firstname.lastname@example.org | 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.
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