Last week I was feeling very strung out. My wife, being the very observant person she is, informed me that I was spending far too much time with my head looking down at my phone and seemed "disconnected" and it was time for a phone ban. She asked how productive at work I was being - knowing full well there was a huge pile of "to-do" tasks sitting on my desk. The truth stung. But it was true - I was procrastinating. Endlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram multiple times a day, probably several hours over the course of the day. And I wasn't even doing anything useful. But I was stressed out with the various notifications pinging on my phone. My wife was complaining that I was disconnected from the family (true) but it also turns out every time I checked my phone for a notification my brain was firing off stress hormones and I was constantly in "fight or flight" mode (an interesting article on notification stress can be found here).
So what happened?
My wife just wanted me to put the phone down more. I've tried this strategy over and over, usually lasting a few days before I succumb to temptation. This time I decided to uninstall my social media apps. I wasn't going the whole "digital detox" but I wanted to take away any temptation to check my phone. To my surprise, day 1 was really hard. I didn't realise how many times I pick up my phone to check notifications. Put it this way - I lost count. So not only does my phone vibrate and ding all day - in between these times I would check for notifications. I was essentially addicted to my phone and my family was missing out.
By the end of day 1 I was feeling less stressed and by day 3 I was feeling a lot calmer. I was definitely engaging more with my family. I'd also gone back to work and realised how my phone checking was impinging on my productivity. Taking away the temptation to check meant that I would actually do the work I needed to do. I'd finished a book I was painstakingly working through. I was more engaged with my children. By the end of the week I had pretty much overcome the desire to check. I had been on Facebook via my computer a few times during the week and quickly realised nothing much had changed. I didn't check Instagram all week.
On Sunday, however, I relapsed. At the A-league grand final for my beloved Perth Glory, I wanted to share my experience (a reasonable proposition), so I re-installed my apps. And guess what? I was back to checking, scrolling relentlessly. Monday's productivity went down as well. Monday night - uninstall apps again.
So here's the thing - this wonderful technology that brings the world to the palm of our hands constantly sets off chemical reactions in our brain. Every 'like' to our posts, comments or photos is a validation of us, and releases some feel good hormones. But the constant interruptions (even as I write this my laptop is firing off notifications at the bottom of my screen, fighting for my attention) causes stress hormones to be released. We are in a constant state of heightened emotions. Our sleep is disturbed. We don't communicate with our peers in person well - how many times have you seen a group of people at a cafe, all looking at their phones? Or children pulling at their parents' jumper for attention while the parent scrolls on Facebook?
The lesson for me is - taking away the temptation to check social media actually made me feel better - less stressed, more productive, and more importantly more connected with my family. Give it a try and see what you notice.