Creative cures for nomophobia for the tech dependent
You reach into your pocket. It’s not there. You check all your pockets and a bead of sweat begins to form on your brow. No phone. “It’s just the grocery store,” you assure yourself. “You’ll be back in an hour.” You start to think of all the texts you’ll miss. You realize your daughter is at school and left that morning with a slight cough… what if it is the flu? Your heart begins to race… anxiety creeps in… we’ve all been there!
If you can answer “YES” to any of these symptoms, read on… we have some creative solutions.
__ Do you sneak off to use your smartphone/iPad/laptop at inappropriate times (bathroom, while on vacation)?
__ Do you find it harder to concentrate or finish a task through to completion?
__ Do you seclude yourself from friends or family to use your phone?
__ Is FOMO (fear of missing out) real for you? Do you feel anxiety or fear of missing out…?
__ Is your sleep not as deep as it should be…?
If you answered “YES” to any of these, you have NOMOPHOBIA (no-more-phone-phobia) and you aren’t alone. We combat daily a tsunami of new apps, gaming, social channels, YouTube and entertainment channels (including “adult” channels), and of course all the news we feel we can’t live without (real and imagined). Smartphone users, on average, check their devices 47 times a day, or 17,155 times in a year, with 80% checking their phones within one hour of waking or going to sleep… 35% of those will do it within five minutes*. THAT, my friends, is just part of the equation.
Yes, we know addiction is real and comes in many forms. We know that tech addiction/dependency results in anxiety, stress, narcissism, depression, isolation, loneliness, ADD, sleep deprivation and the lack of connectivity, we need as social creatures to thrive. We know it is bad… but how do we push back?
With the understanding that the ‘fear of missing out’ is real and anxiety-provoking at minimum, let’s explore six creative cures for technology dependency:
MINDFULNESS. More than a spiritual activity or a business buzzword, mindfulness is an ongoing practice (like, say, yoga or running) that challenges us to be curious and open, and to simply live in the moment, nonjudgmentally. We all use screens as a default, no-thinking-required position, and being mindful means recognizing that life is too short to revert to “default”. As anyone in AA will tell you, the first step to battling addiction is to recognize that there’s a problem. Nobody on their deathbed brags about all the Netflix binging they did or their clever use of hashtags… they express deep regret about missed experiences and connections, and things they never said or did. Mindfulness means simply making a pledge to yourself to BE PRESENT and to self-regulate your thoughts and actions with an attitude of acceptance and curiosity - not judgements.
CLEAR COMMUNICATION. Have a family member or friend who can’t stop checking texts in the movie or during your annual get-together? Can’t stop filming everything on her phone for (what reason)? Don’t be angry, but get clear about your time and your intentions. Gently let the friend (or colleague, or child) know what you are doing this year to try and be more present and less dependent on screens of all kinds. By bravely and gracefully stating your intention, you may not only make the time together more pleasant and productive, but you may inspire others to follow your example. At the onset of a meeting or social gathering, a smile and light-hearted (not smug) declaration of “Hey, would it be okay if we agree to really focus on our time together today and take a tech break for the next hour, unless there are dire emergencies…” and thoughtfully give people an opportunity to say, “My dad’s in the hospital and I need to know how he’s doing…”
POLICY CHANGE (and great PR): A Boston-based tech company recently decided to reward their employees up to $750 to unplug while on vacation so they can be more productive when they return. Is this a trend among corporate benefits…? I certainly hope so. Spread the word!
POLITE PEER PRESSURE. As a cure? Yes, if used with love, lightness and levity. A group of friends out for dinner puts their powered-down cell phones in a stacked pile in the center of the table; first to reach for their phone pays the bill. A group of colleagues in a meeting agrees that the first to glance at their phone brings coffee to the next meeting. A family on vacation agrees to leave phones “off and away” for the duration of their day at Disney World (and brings a real camera for photos!), with a designated “tech check” time built in to prevent anxiety or they have to do a chore back home. Creativity and humor over pressure and punishments is a more respectful approach.
ENDORPHINS VIA EXERCISE: The reason why so many of us are dependent on tech is because of a “dopamine loop” - it’s how our brains are wired to seek out pleasure instead of pain. Feel-good endorphins - neurochemicals released - give you the same good feeling whether they are coming from a funny cat video or a yummy cupcake or good day at the gym. (Read more here about how texting is like an orgasm.) Exercise rehabilitation uses cognitive behavior therapy to train your brain to associate a better, more positive behavior where there was a negative (or unproductive) one. Which is better for your overall health and wellness…? We love our cat videos, but physical exercise - a brisk walk around the neighborhood will do - provides the rush without the regret.
FOMO: FLIPPED. The average user spends four hours on a smartphone. What would you do with that time if you got it back…? What could you accomplish? If given a gift of even an hour back, would you work out? Spend time with your pet? Take the kids to the park? Draw or paint or write or listen to music? Isn’t the fear of missing out (FOMO) all backwards, when you think about it?
LOSE YOURSELF - FIND YOURSELF. Do you have a hobby or pastime that makes the time fly by without checking the clock….? Give yourself the gift of putting down the phone in another room and picking up a juicy book, indulging in a new cooking technique or artistic endeavor, gardening or cycling, or buying yourself a vintage record player and some vinyl to explore. There are more shared spaces than ever before to learn (check your local recreation department/adult ed listings), or even go to an art space or cooking class with friends and try something new - painting, pottery, jewelry-making, calligraphy… all ways to express yourself and connect with others (or with yourself). Find off-line ways to “lose time” and gain a new skill, hobby or perspective… perhaps even make new friends who enjoy the same things you do.
Fight the fear of missing out with a mindful approach to making every minute count. All extraneous (non-work) time spent off-line is better spent because you’ve made life a bit richer for it, and connected with people in a way that can’t be replicated on a tiny backlit screen. Motivated? I hope so.