In March I was averaging four hours a day. Then that number jumped to six. Next thing I know it skyrocketed 10 and then 13. 13 hours of screen time a day. That’s more than half of my day on my iPhone. That epiphany sent a chill down my spine. I knew that I needed to make a change. And fast.
When the Coronavirus interrupted life as we know it, it took with it the health of many of our loved ones as well as any means of social connection and interaction. Naturally, my peers and I jumped on FaceTime, Zoom, Instagram, you name it––anything we could to stay connected and emulate how we would have been spending our days on campus.
But this debilitating desire for virtual connection is not without consequences––and I’m not just talking about a steep credit card statement. I started to notice a recurring headache that would show up every afternoon around three or four o’clock. At first I assumed it was from my third cup of coffee or my sporadic quarantine eating habits. Not once did I consider that this dizziness could, in fact, be from the place I turn to seek connection and comfort. My iPhone.
For what feels like forever I had been talking about cutting down my screen time. I continued to tell myself and my friends of all of the scientifically proven positive correlations between less screen time and a good night’s sleep. And on the day I finally decided to do this, to actually go 24 hours unplugged, was the day that George Floyd was killed.
The death of Floyd rightfully triggered an outpouring of protests and social media activism unlike anything the world has ever seen before. People made their profile pictures black, standing in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to use my voice and identity as a white woman to make a difference, which I knew I couldn’t do on a phone-free day. I was terrified that going radio silent would be interpreted by my followers as wrong, passive and racist. How could I expect people to know that I was off my phone in an effort to protect my mental health?
I turned to social media to educate myself by reading, listening, posting and re-tweeting the many insightful narratives that flooded my feed. But after two weeks worth of social media activism and education, I assured myself that there were other ways to raise awareness and educate my community. I ordered books, supported local black business’ and donated to organizations––all without my phone.
24 hours is a long time, or so I thought. But I knew I was ready to unplug. I finally decided to commit to this challenge on a day where I decided to go down the dark hole of Instagram right as my alarm went off ––we’ve all been there, and it’s not fun. Let me just tell you that the immediate anxiety and recklessness that came at the start of my morning inspired me to lock my phone in my bedside drawer at 10:11 a.m. last Thursday. Here are some of my reactions and realizations from my 24-hours unplugged:
More present during my day
Whether it was breakfast, a jog around my neighborhood or even a light afternoon read, I was fully immersed in and focused on the task at hand. I didn’t have the vibration or idea of one on the way to distract me. There was something about that absence that led me to a type of peace and mindfulness that is difficult to attain with a phone in your hand.
Oftentimes the mere thought of checking my phone produces subconscious anxiety and fatigue. On my phone-free day so much of that stress and tension seemed to evaporate, and I found myself more calm and comfortable moving from one activity to the next.
Noticing things I never do
The smile of a stranger, smell of the trees or sound of traffic are mundane backdrops that often pass me by. But when your head isn’t buried in Facebook or FaceTime, you can come to notice and appreciate the little things in life. And if COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is to never take the simple pleasures for granted.
A different, more simple type of happiness
While it may sound cliche, the happiness that I felt without my phone is an unparalleled state of joy––a simpler, more authentic type of happiness. Happiness from a bright shining sun or savory sandwich or sweaty run with a friend.
If it seems too daunting or difficult to unplug for an entire day, to be unreachable for a full 24 hours, I encourage you to start with baby steps. Leave your phone in another room or on another floor if you have the option to do so. Trust me, once you sit down for dinner or plop down on the couch you will be far too lazy to go check your texts. Or maybe that’s just me. In any case, there went three hours phone free.
I am challenging myself to take a no-phone day every other week, to reset, ground myself and tap into gratitude for the little things in life.
I have yet to make it 48 or 72 hours phone-free, but I’ll get there. One day.