The Simple Changes That Reduced My Phone-Induced Anxiety
“Simple living doesn’t solve all my problems, it just removes distractions.” ~Melissa Camara Wilkins
At times it’s felt like my phone was my only access to the outside world. A place to connect in the middle of the night. The means to stay in touch with friends and family on the other side of the globe. It was a lifeline.
Until it wasn’t.
Improved sleep, reduced stress, and a mindful relationship with technology—they were high on my wellness “should have achieved by now” list.
I'm not sure which was bothering me more, the actual stress of not having a mindful relationship with technology or the fact that I had not been able to achieve a mindful relationship with my smartphone.
It was a cycle in my mind I just couldn't stop. And I was struggling. All the tips and current trends to “digital detox” were not making my life easier. In fact, they were making it much harder.
Being unable to successfully follow advice for my health made me feel like a failure, especially as it was connected to my mental health. Did that mean I didn’t care about my well-being? Was I a fraud?
My phone was disrupting my sleep and worsening my anxiety. But all it took was one small change to break my bad habits and create a new, more mindful relationship with technology.
Where It All Began
Growing up I was a self-proclaimed night owl. As a child and young adult, I stayed up late reading. In university I would study late into the night.
As I got older, falling asleep was always a struggle. I decided I was a night person and would use that time to get ahead of my to-do list for the next day. I figured the more I got done the night before, the easier the next day would be.
When my first child was born, I was introduced to the late-night social media scroll. I was up feeding the baby in the middle of the night, trying not to fall asleep in my chair. And it turned out there was something that would keep me awake and entertained, but not disrupt my son: the blue screen of my phone. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but the thing is, it worked.
Even after the late-night feedings ended, the screen still kept me awake. I would go to bed with the intention of reading a downloaded book or an article on my phone. It was so convenient to have all in one place!
But inevitably a notification would distract me. An email. Or an update on social media. A message from my parents.
To this day I’m a bit ashamed to admit I was guilty of not turning off my work email notifications, even though I was on maternity leave!
What’s funny in hindsight is that at the time, those notifications annoyed me. It bothered me that I was still getting work emails. But I didn’t turn them off.
I wondered who would send me a message in the middle of the night. I would check, knowing it was likely from someone in a different time zone, not expecting me to check my messages until the morning. But I looked anyway.
I found myself often unable to sleep. Remembering the advice I’d received to “get up and do something different” if sleep didn't come, I figured I’d found a solution: I could take a break from trying to sleep without leaving my bed, by using the endless options available on my phone. Located conveniently next to my bed, charging.
And there I would be, hours later. Still awake, exhausted, and unable to fall asleep.
I Needed to Make a Change
I knew I needed to make a change. The demands of working and having young children were starting to make an impact on my health. I was tired, and not getting the sleep I needed.
I decided that if my phone was keeping me up, and I was pretty sure it was, then I’d remove it from my room. That's what the influencers and thought leaders were recommending! Or so it appeared as I researched the topic on my phone, late at night, in bed!
The irony is not lost on me.
My Mistake Was Following Influencer Advice
On the very first night I failed. My son woke up, and I scrambled to find what time it was, but my phone wasn’t next to my bed. I crashed into several things trying to get to his room in the dark because my flashlight was an app on my phone. While this was happening, my son woke up my daughter.
Insert several curse words that my children probably didn’t need to hear.
By the time I got them both back to sleep, I was very much awake, alert, and a bit annoyed. Mostly at myself. What was I thinking? Why was I trying to follow this ridiculous Internet advice?
And then I turned on myself.
Why couldn’t I follow this ridiculous Internet advice? If it was working for everyone else, why couldn’t I do it? Was I just generally failing at adulting?
Heading back to bed, the annoyance shifted into worry.
Would I wake up with my phone alarm in the other room? What if I didn't wake up to get everyone where they needed to go on time in the morning? Would I hear my alarm from the other room? Wait, the alarm won’t work, the phone’s off!
Logically, I knew I was being a bit silly. I would get used to having my phone in another room.
But I was tired. And time poor. And so frustrated. I wanted simplicity, and this was making my life more complicated.
Why Did I Have So Much Resistance?
Reading this, you might be thinking, “You could have just And yes, you're right. I could have done several things differently. I could have made it work, having my phone overnight in another room.
But here's the thing: For changes to stick, I needed to start by making my situation easier, not harder. Sustainable change was what I was looking for.
So, the first step couldn’t be too big or too hard. I was making the common mistake of trying to jump from one extreme to another. If I'm already tired, and my goal is to be less tired, then the first step has got to help with that.
If the barriers are too many, if it's just too hard, then there will be too much resistance. Then I'm probably not going to stick to it.
There was a second reason I was not...