Somewhere along the way, smartphones and tablets changed from being our favourite new toys to something more like little pocket dictators. Now increasingly health and fitness experts, top business people and even more doctors and psychologists, are urging us to step away from the apps, unplug the email and up our offline time.
While your mind is fogged with grief, scattered by shock or trauma, or bone tired in the re-building a whole life, it makes sense to reduce unnecessary stimuli. That could mean screening calls from certain people but it definitely includes exposing yourself to less screen time.
Of course there are purists. The people who can embrace and sustain a raw food diet are probably great at living device-free. I say: where’s the fun in that? If you ditch junk food for salad, the occasional bit of junk food tastes sooooo much better. So this is not about teaching your kids how to operate a payphone in an emergency – though that’s not a bad idea. It’s about allowing you to take back a bit of control. Spend less time with your phone and when you two do get together, you’ll be so much happier to see it.
- Set yourself some obstacles
Buy a watch so you don’t have to look at your phone so much. Buy a phone case with a zip so it’s harder to get at your phone. Store your tablet and laptop in a drawer, or even another zipped case, so that you have to get them out to use them rather than have them sitting out and available all the time.
- Put your phone to bed
When you go to sleep, leave your phone in another room, ideally switched off. Tell your closest friends and family that you are cutting down use of your mobile phone so if there’s an emergency, to try your landline first. As you might recently have learned, when something very bad happens, the police turn up at your door. Anything else can wait until morning.
- Create a new routine
Confine your checking of non-work email, social media and playing with apps to the bits of your day or week when they best fit. But only choose one bit of each day. This could be your evening commute home if you take public transport; sitting in your car waiting to pick up your kids from stuff; or waiting in the queue at the Post Office. Now when you get the urge to check on something you can tell yourself you’ll do it on the train at 6pm or tomorrow while waiting for judo club to come out. Then you get to feel like you’re catching up with your online pals instead of having them follow you around, tugging on your sleeve all day.
- Cut the pings and beeps
Go to the bit on your phone and tablet that controls alerts and notifications and anything with the word “push” in it and start switching things off. Your new routine means now you know when you’re going to check in on things, you don’t need to be called to look at them all the time. Mute. Off. No.
It’s hard to give up one pattern of behaviour if you don’t have something to fill the gap left behind. Plan some healthy substitutes so that you don’t fall into a new unhealthy pattern. Each time you want to reach for your phone or tablet to muck around, do one of these instead: eat a piece of fruit; make a cup of tea; take the dog for a walk; step into the garden and take some energising breaths of fresh air; read a page or more of a book; do a yoga stretch (if you have to Google this, do something you know already instead); try the crossword in your newspaper (not the online version); phone someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and have a conversation; dust the television; take the bins out; pick a poem (from a book not an ebook) and try to memorise it; take up the kind of hobby that fits well into odd moments, like crochet.
If you spend a lot of time indoors and on your own, the temptation is much higher than when you’re out and about or with people so take this as an opportunity to make some bigger changes in your life.
- Unsubscribe unsubscribe unsubscribe
Shops send emails to try to make you give them your money. You know this. If you’d like to get rid of some of your money, there are financial experts in that kinda thing. Allow yourself more time to consider how you manage your money by unsubscribing from all emails that you don’t read. You’ll find the word “unsubscribe”, often in tiny font, right at the bottom of the message.
- Set yourself free
Build on your progress. Leave the house without your phone. Go a whole day without looking at your phone. Have a digital-free weekend.
Image by iStock.com / Marina_Poushkina
First published in Widows and Widowers magazine Issue 15