A naturopath’s struggle to unplug from her phone and social media
Never Before in History…
Never before in history have we had unlimited access to humanity’s opinions, fears, joys or curated & groomed representations of our individual lives. Our addiction to the constant scroll (which is a cheap thrill of a dopamine hit every time) is crossing the threshold between us, reality and happiness. Multiple studies are linking poor mental health to social media, and it’s affecting adults, teenagers and now children.
The link of social media and increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, and addiction is something we as a society can no longer ignore. A national survey of U.S. young adults, found that compared with individuals who use 0 to 2 social media platforms, individuals who use 7 to 11 social media platforms have substantially higher odds of getting increased levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Can anyone relate with an increase in depression and anxiety right now? Sure, let’s blame COVID for part of that – but we’ve all also substantially increased our social media engagement through our isolation. Am I wrong?
Physical Effects of Screen Time/Social Media Overuse
The Physical effects of screen time/social media overuse are starting to pour in from the literature as well: poor sleep and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, poor stress regulation (high sympathetic arousal and cortisol dysregulation), and insulin resistance.
I noticed that while in medical school, scrolling through my phone right before bed became a self-soothing mechanism – a way to “keep up” with people I didn’t really have time for, a way to pick up on relevant social topics, and a way to, unfortunately, compare my life to others’. What began as a harmless “reward” noticeably morphed into an addiction, especially since the lockdowns of 2020. If we can’t go outside (or inside) to connect in person, then I guess I’ll scroll until my brain has perceived some sort of social interaction or connection with friends, strangers, politicians or celebrities. So here I am, a naturopathic doctor, who tries to live a life as authentic and in balance with nature as possible, lying next to my husband every night on my phone for at least 30 minutes. And he picked up on the habit from me! So we are “together,” but separately lost in our little blue screens.
It just hit me really hard a few weeks ago that my personal belief of the bedroom being a sacred space was not being honored by my actions. We very strictly have never had a TV in our bedroom, because we believe the bedroom is for resting, communicating, reading or love-making. And yet – the damn phone is the exception to all of this?
Setting Social Media Boundaries
So I decided to work on boundaries with it. What were my reasons for “needing a phone in the bedroom?” The greatest issue I saw was that I relied on it to wake up every morning as my alarm. Okay. So I need a real alarm. Like the kind that has an analog face and a little bell up top, and I want that alarm across the room to decrease the likelihood of the good old “I’ll just hit snooze a few times trap.” Cause that’s a great way to start your day…. (I’m judging myself!). I was up in Portland recently visiting one of my colleagues. He asked what my goals were for the trip. “I need a real alarm.” So we went to Ace Hardware and got one of the two old-fashioned alarms they had on the shelf. Real high demand, people.
A follow-up discussion with his partner while on a walk in St. John’s brought me to my second issue: I can’t stop checking social media. So long as it is on my phone, and I have 20 seconds of not being engaged or entertained by someone or something in my bubble, I’m going to hop onto Instagram or Facebook and scroll for a quick dopamine hit. “Why don’t you delete the apps?” OMG – the millennial in me cringed. That’s too far. I’m not there yet. “Why don’t you get a different device and move the apps onto that?” And 24 hours later I had a base model iPad with only wifi connection in my possession. I deleted all social media apps off of my phone and moved them all onto the iPad. I disabled all communication (phone & text) from the iPad, rendering it useless for the functions I should be using my phone for. See… it’s a slippery slope. I don’t want a giant phone/iPad. I want a cellular phone and then a separate device for engaging in social media on my own terms.
I came back home to Las Vegas and announced to my husband that my phone or iPad are no longer allowed in the bedroom. And I made a personal promise to myself that the iPad stays in our home office, and I can binge all I want for 30 minutes a day. But that’s IT. I don’t carry social media on me. I don’t make posts or read posts while I’m out and about. Heaven forbid, I actually have to pay attention while sitting in traffic or waiting for a latte. There’s no more mindless dopamine scroll on my cellular device.
Noticing a Difference
So what have I noticed? The first few days I still compulsively grabbed my phone an embarrassing amount of times to hop onto social media. What a trip! Now I don’t miss those apps on it – at all. My mood has improved, substantially. With all of the crud floating around on social media, I no longer get worked up…. all day. It’s a choice to engage with the material in a limited amount of time, and to be honest – if I only have 30 minutes, I’m more selective of what or whom I’m viewing. I mean, how much of the news is good news? How much of what your friends are posting is uplifting? Maybe you follow better people than me, but at least 75% of the time – social media is a drain to my soul’s battery.
What else? I’m dreaming a lot more vividly at night. Maybe it’s because I’m reading or engaging in more relaxing activities before bed OR not staring at a blue glowing orb. The studies above back me up on this over and over: less screen time = better sleep. I’m calling friends rather than just scrolling their feed, even if it’s a 10 minute catch-up. And my engagement with my phone is probably 15-20% of what it used to be. It’s just a phone now. It’s not a portal to Zuckerworld.
I think I would be terrified to truly know how many minutes – hours – DAYS of my life I have spent since the mid 2000’s using social media. And our access to it is only getting easier and easier. How many people do you see on their phones if they are standing or sitting still? No one is looking up or at each other. Add the pandemic to it, and it’s like gasoline on a fire. I suddenly saw my life flash before my eyes and half of it was spent looking at my palm. That’s not the life I want to live, and I needed to make a choice to break a cycle NOW.
So I ask you, if you’re struggling with social media addiction like I have, what are some of the key reasons you’re using your phone for, and is there any better way to separate those functions in a way that gives your life more richness and space? I honestly think the alarm piece is a huge part of WHY people have their phones in their bedrooms. Mine is left in the kitchen to charge overnight. It’s as far away from where I sleep as possible in my home. Creating a physical boundary can be the first step in breaking emotional and mental reliance on something. Test this out for yourself, and let me know how it goes!