We all do it. You’re in line at Starbucks or waiting on the subway platform. You grab your phone to kill time, browse through social media and avoid making awkward eye contact with strangers. We use our phones as a distraction, a crutch, an instant relief from having to think.
While there are times when it’s okay to distract yourself with technology, there are times when it can become a problem. Did you know the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen each day? To put it in perspective, that’s most of our waking hours spent online, staring at our computers, our phones and other devices.
Are You Addicted to Being Busy?
If you’re like most people, the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone to check your emails. As you go through your-do-list, your mind starts to race and your head hasn’t even left the pillow.
Many of us feel like our lives have a momentum of their own, hence the catchphrase “crazy busy.” While our fast-paced lives are making us stressed, this stress is often self-induced. The truth is we’re addicted to busyness.
Why? Because we’re uncomfortable with down time. Time alone with our thoughts. Time to face things we don’t want to face.
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes about numbing behaviors that we use to avoid vulnerability. She explains, “one of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having twelve-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
Essentially, if you stay busy, you won’t be forced to feel shame. You won’t be forced to admit to yourself that you feel unhappy in your relationship or undervalued in your job. You won’t be forced to feel the fear that you aren’t good enough in some way.
Why You Need to Disconnect to Reconnect
Recognizing that I fell into the trap of hiding behind technology, I decided to do a digital detox over the past few months (well, as much of a detox as my job in digital media will allow).
Starting small, I left my phone at the office during my lunch break and walked around the city for an hour without headphones. Then, I turned the notifications off for all my apps, only checking them once each day. After work I took the subway to the park and walked home with my phone in my bag.
I admit it was uncomfortable at first. Imagine the volume in your head getting turned all the way up.
After the initial few minutes of “Ah, please make it stop” I took a deep breath and began to lean away from the thoughts. So, instead of getting sucked into a dark, anxious hole, I practiced observing the way I was thinking.
One of the first things that came up was a phone call with a client that I had the next day. She sent an email earlier that sounded cryptic. Well, at least that’s the way I interpreted it since she used periods instead of exclamation marks like she usually does. My mind immediately went to “Oh no, she’s unhappy with me” and “Did I forget to do something?” That crazy train of thought went on and on.
I paused for a moment and realized I was overreacting. There are a million possible explanations as to why she wants to talk to me and why she wasn’t as enthusiastic in that email. Worrying about it for the next 24 hours is a waste of time and energy.
When I took that extra moment to mentally step back, I saw what was real and separated the truth from the lies. The source of that thought is rooted in my perfectionist mindset, and to take it one step further, it’s the fear that I won’t measure up. (And in case you’re wondering what happened during that call, she wanted to thank me for the work I did and talk about the next project. Ohhhh, Kaitlin.)
Here’s the bottom line: By leaning away from the thought, you can begin to uncover what’s causing you to think and feel a certain way. Most importantly, you learn negative thoughts only have as much power as you give them.
The Importance of Slowing Down
While I’ve written a hundred articles on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, I won’t pretend that it’s effortless for me. Living in NYC, my mind and body have become accustomed to operating at hyper-speed. Needless to say, I have a hard time sitting still.
While my thoughts were slowly getting less crazy during my digital detox, I wasn’t physically resting or relaxing. And since I wasn’t glued to my phone I had more free time, so I thought why not kick this up a notch and try incorporating mindfulness and meditation in my daily routine?
After a few days of listening to guided meditations in the morning, I noticed I was in a better mood overall. By connecting to the present moment I wasn’t dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Also, getting my mind and body into balance in the morning set a positive tone for the rest of the day. My default mode was no longer feeling stressed and I didn’t have to try so hard to feel calm or relaxed. After practicing for a few weeks, that peaceful mental state came naturally.
In the wise words of Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a while, including you.”