Are you reaching for your phone more following lockdown? (Picture: Getty)
With little else to do, many of us have developed unhealthy habits with our phones over the past year.
Aside from the baking and TV, our devices have provided comfort during an incredibly tough time.
They’ve ensured we kept in touch with loved ones when we couldn’t see them in person, but also offered a way to pass the monotonous hours – whether it was by watching TikTok hacks or online shopping.
In lockdown our screen time was at a record high – but that’s pretty understandable.
However, now things are reopening, lots of people are left dealing with these addictive tendencies they’ve developed towards their phones.
‘Most of us have been on our phones more than ever during lockdown because there was “nothing else to do,”’ says Vanessa Gebhardt, a mind coach at Freeletics.
She adds: ‘Since we have all spent enough time on our phones and social media, we should use this time as lockdown regulations ease – away from the digital world – to spend time with people we love. Doing this can reduce anxiety and depression by releasing feel-good hormones.’
Of course, this is easier said than done and is something that will take time, says Dr Rachel Kent – a digital habits researcher at King’s College London and founder of Dr Digital Health.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘In lockdown, reliance on our phones was exacerbated because they were our lifeline – socially, communicatively, both personally and professionally.
‘The process of now socialising and adjusting to not having to live our life outside of our homes, via our phones, will take time.’
So, to help you cut down on your phone use, experts have provided some helpful tips.
Turn off notifications
Vanessa says: ‘One of the most common reasons we are constantly on our phones is because of the endless notifications from friends, group chats and Instagram – even UberEats.
‘By turning off the notifications on your phone – or at least switching your phone on silent and out of your way – can drastically reduce the amount of screen time each day.’
This way you’re not constantly drawn to your phone as soon as it lights up right next to you. Instead you can check it at a time that suits.
It will give less of a sense of urgency to reply, too.
‘By muting your phone or muting some WhatsApp chats, groups or apps that alert you, this puts you back in control and allows you to look at them when you decide,’ explains psychology and neuroscience expert Ruth Kudzi.
Set a timer
Lots of devices come with features that allow you to set timers for certain apps.
Vanessa explains: ‘iPhones now have a great feature that allows you to set a timer on your phone to help you to reduce your screen time and even monitor it.
‘You can set daily limits for app categories. For example, you might want to use productivity apps while you’re at work, but not social networking or games. This feature enables you to do that, but access social media sites.
‘Living in the society we do, we often spent up to 10 hours a day on our phones. The recommended daily allowance is around two hours a day. Although this isn’t always possible, due to work or other factors, setting up a realistic goal that suits you is a good place to start.’
Turn things grey
Perhaps a lesser-known trick, but Vanessa also recommends turning your screen grey.
She adds: ‘This tip may be unusual, but turning your screen colour to grey can reduce screen time.
‘There is no concrete reason for this, but by changing your phone to grayscale in settings, apps such as Instagram are suddenly far less appealing in black and white than they are in colour, and this can aid digital detoxing.’
Resist ‘always on culture’
Break your habit (Picture: Getty)
‘There is a stress that stems from being constantly contactable and connected,’ says Ruth.
‘Having time off social media and cutting down phone screen time each week is so important – the best way to do this by switching off our phones, therefore you don’t have the distraction and this allows you to have that digital detox.’
Rachael Kent agrees that we shouldn’t subscribe to the ‘always on’ phone and communication culture, that we seem to have developed as a society.
She says: ‘We don’t have to be always available via our phones. The trauma response from a global pandemic is making us cumulatively anxious and exhausted. You shouldn’t be worrying about doing anything other than prioritising your mental and physical health right now and adjusting to re-socialisation.’
Simply turn your phone off for an hour or two a day – this will help you set boundaries and help you learn to be away from it more.
Put your phone physically away from you
As the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind.
It’s good to start training yourself to leave your phone for longer periods, if you’re looking to cut down your dependence on screens, and putting it in a drawer or in another room will keep it out of view.
Ruth explains: ‘If you find that you are looking for your phone during this time or even picking up the remote control, this means that you’ve formed a habit of looking at your phone often.
‘During the time when you’re phone-free, find ways to stay distracted and keep other activities on hand.’
Be wary of doomscrolling
We’ve heard a lot this past year about how doomscrolling has been wrecking our mental health, but it’s something to be mindful of even now restrictions are easing.
If you’re going to use your phone, have a purpose in mind.
Ruth adds: ‘Phone use increased massively during lockdown as many people are looking for connection, support and thoughts on what is happening in the world – we are all longing for answers, clarity and connection.
‘We are faced daily with a constant stream of noise, thoughts, comments and strong beliefs on social media, news channels and conversations. This can feel overwhelming – yet, many of us find ourselves scrolling more and more.
‘We are often drawn toward this as we are hardwired to focus on negatives and convince ourselves the worst will happen – it’s linked to our primal instinct for survival, to know everything in order to be prepared.’
Ruth also suggests avoiding using your phone late at night when our brains are tired – as this is the worst time to fuel our thoughts.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@metro.co.uk.