“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” ~ Socrates
As a therapist, I’m big on boundaries! Mostly we talk about boundaries in relationships because we can lose ourselves in enmeshment, dependency and other dysfunctional patterns. But it is becoming clear that many people are psychologically dependent on their phone and coexisting in two worlds. Phone overuse is problematic and even dangerous. Is it time to set boundaries with your phone?
What is a boundary?
A boundary is an invisible line that shows where something ends and another thing starts. For example, a fence in the backyard defines your property line whereas telling an overbearing parent that criticizing your spouse is unacceptable, draws a healthy boundary for what you will tolerate in that relationship. Setting boundaries results in more balanced and rewarding partnerships.
Drawing boundaries with technology is healthy too! Especially for anyone who is consumed by their screens. The scary reality is that people stare into screens while friends are present, while driving, instead of sleeping, at the beach, even during sex. This behavior is “normalized” because so many people do it, but is it harmless?
Is Smart Phone Use Harmless?
Despite what we think, technology is NOT PASSIVE. The tech wave is altering our brains and changing our behavior. Even those in the industry are concerned. “Chamath Palihapitiya, an early employee at Facebook, said that the social network was, “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Tim Cook, the CEO of apple, does not let his nephew on social media and Facebook investor Sean Parker said, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” (source).
The social media giants are cognizant of smartphone addiction and psychological dependency (read this article here) and designing software to keep you engaged longer. They don’t care about phone radiation (read this, this and this eye-opening report from the University of Berkeley), and how extended use can cause headaches, insomnia, poor posture, memory loss, difficulty with real time conversations, trouble with vision (ask your optometrist), lower sperm count, risk for brain cancer, and an increase in suicide among young females.
However, the most dangerous aspect of cell phone preoccupation is using it while driving. Over half of all drivers are “co-attending” to the phone and the road. Research shows that driving and texting is 6 times more dangerous than drinking and driving. As a runner, this worries me greatly! I’ve come extremely close to being hit by startled drivers who see me suddenly, panic and swerve towards me. They recover looking sheepish and apologetic, but we are both badly shaken.
Are you Preoccupied with your Phone?
Most people already know the answer but if you are not sure, take this quiz. Self-reflection and discipline are critical aspects of joy and happiness. If you think you may be overusing your phone check evaluate these common behaviors:
Signs you are Overusing your Phone
- You regularly feel a compulsion to check your phone
- You can’t have a face to face conversation without checking/using your phone
- You take your phone into yoga class (really???)
- You sleep next to your phone
- You get in “a zone” and lose time on your mobile device
- You feel anxious at the thought of setting boundaries with your phone
- You can’t enjoy a meal without looking at your screen
- You grab your phone during any pause in your day
- You text or use social media while driving
Even if you don’t think your mobile use is problematic, try setting these boundaries and see how it feels. Does thinking about it make you anxious? Depressed? Bored? If so, ask yourself if you are truly “free”. Pick one or two boundaries for a week (a month for hard core folks) and see how your nervous system relaxes and you start to breathe freely again.
5 Simple Boundaries to Set with your Phone
- Don’t use your phone while talking with someone in person (don’t show pictures, look up facts etc.) It breaks the connection and rarely improves the conversation. Mostly, it’s just annoying. Instead: pay attention to them and try listening with an open heart. This develops empathy, compassion and concentration.
- Don’t use your phone while driving. Lock it in the glove box or put it out of reach. Instead: Listen to a podcast, book on tape, or the radio. Driving requires concentration so attend to what’s around you.
- Keep the phone out of your bedroom at night. It’s tempting to keep the phone by your bed at night but this is a great place to set a boundary. Instead: Keep your bedroom for sleeping and cuddling! If you are a couple claim your bedroom as sacred space free of intrusion from phones. If you are a parent, keep your kids phones away from them at night.
- Keep your phone away from the table. I feel sad when I see couples at a coffee shop on their phones rather than talking to each other. Even when a phone is off, its mere presence minimizes communication and leaves people feeling neglected (see article here). Instead: Slow down and enjoy your coffee or meal. This improves digestion and reduces mindless overeating since active phone use stresses the body.
- Have phone free time. Get into the habit of putting your phone somewhere out of reach so you get used to not checking it. Instead: Get reacquainted with unfilled time. Listen to music, hang out with a friend, cook a meal, soak in a hot bath, meditate or just hang out.
The Joy of Liberation
About 10 years ago, I got sick of being a slave to the show American Idol. I’d set aside Tuesday nights to watch it, then watched the painfully dragged out results on Thursdays. I realized how much of my life was being sucked up by this show and set a boundary to cut our cable and move the television out of our bedroom. It felt weird at first, but a few weeks later my husband and I loved our new freedom. Years later, we are still grateful and happy to be off the television treadmill of sensational news, repetitive commercials, and mindless shows. People who enter my home always say how relaxing it is.
Living with less screen interaction will feel strange initially, but in a few weeks, you will relish how much time you have to create, be more authentic, have deeper conversations and participate in the things you love.
Edited to include this great article from Time.