Phone Cleanse: Is it worth it?
By Christina Yao, Press & Written Media Team
Like many people, when quarantine first started, I saw the screen time on my phone shoot up. My daily average doubled to five hours, and some of my friends told me about their new records of passing 10 hours. 10 hours!
I started noticing myself instinctively grabbing my phone whenever a notification popped up. As I scrolled through Tik Tok or Instagram, I lost complete track of the time and my daily responsibilities. Every morning I checked people’s stories and updates, whether it be on Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. I quickly noticed my increasing inability to focus during Zoom lectures and homework sessions as my unhealthy tendency to check notifications and send messages took over. My phone was taking over my life and ruining good habits that I had been building. I needed a week-long phone cleanse.
I had never done a voluntary phone cleanse before, so I did some quick research into what I was up against. Articles (like what you are reading right now) boasted of all the positive effects being phoneless had to offer, though most of it seemed exaggerated to me.
Skeptically, I created a plan to give up my phone to a family member for a full week with no exceptions. At the start of the week, I was seriously struggling to get through the day without the constant gratification of checking notifications and getting “likes.”
Before the cleanse, I actually looked forward to living a phoneless life because I had expected myself to have no trouble getting through one week without my phone. However, when I relinquished my phone to a family member on Monday, I realized just how hard the coming week would be.
I felt painfully bored. It wasn’t just a regular “daydreamy” feeling of boredom — it was a desperate boredom that rendered me frantically trying to find something that would replicate the feeling my phone gave me. Throughout the day I found myself constantly resisting the urge to ask for my phone back. I was irritable and stayed in my room to not be bothered. I felt as though this cleanse was a waste — I was ready to give it up.
Luckily, I knew I needed to stick with it because I had already let almost every single one of my friends (and even acquaintances ) know I would be without contact and communication for a week due to a phone detox. If I gave up so early and got back on my phone, I would face immediate scrutiny from people who believed I was being dramatic for giving up my phone. All in all, my ego was not ready to be bruised so I kept at it, and on the first night of the detox, I went to sleep thinking about everything I had missed coming from that tiny screen.
I woke up the next day feeling tired as ever, but I was still not ready to give up. The feeling of boredom lingered, yet I could feel my mindset starting to change. In the afternoon, I experienced something odd: free time. Yes, I’d obviously had some free time on weekends before trying this phone cleanse, but that day I had finished all my tasks by the early afternoon (it was only a Tuesday!).
Before, my phone enabled me to procrastinate all deadlines, consuming huge chunks of my time throughout the day. However, without the enabler, I felt like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders and I could wind down with activities that were healthy for my mental and physical well being. I realized I could read a book without having to check the clock every 10 minutes to make sure I didn’t “waste” too much time. I could clean my room without feeling anxious of having a truckload of work hanging over my head. I could go running as far as I wanted (as long as it was light outside). I went to sleep that night feeling exhausted, but in the best way possible. That night was the first time I fell asleep before 11:30 p.m. in a few years (I think I had insomnia in middle school but that’s a problem for another article).
Days three, four and five of the cleanse went well. It was odd to me because I felt like I had these magical hours at the end of each day that were not there before. On the weekend, I had a socially distanced picnic with my friend and I found myself oddly at peace due to not needing to take a picture of us to post. I noticed (and got a bit annoyed) every time my friend went on her phone and I eventually realized that that was what I used to do. Having social media caused me to not live in the moment; instead of enjoying someone’s company, I would be thinking about the best time to take a snapshot of our day. This idea disgusted me, yet I knew how much truth it held in my lifestyle.
As the week was coming to a close, I thought about not getting my phone back for a while or investing in an old-school flip phone and keeping my iPhone for emergencies. I made a little Venn diagram with the positives and negatives of going back on the dopamine box, and I reached a compromise with myself that satisfied both of my viewpoints.
I realized the overall lack of human contact I was getting from staying quarantined at home meant that social media could be a tool to keep up with friends who I wouldn’t normally call or text. But because I knew the negative impacts my phone was having on my habits and lifestyle, I set strict screen times for all of the apps that I had before previously used. This is my recommendation to people debating whether social media is worth it. Social media can be a powerful tool to receive support, connect with amazing communities and learn new skills and information. With that being said, it is also dangerous for our mental health and development, as many users (including myself) subconsciously compare themselves to what they see on their feed.
Keep in mind that rarely anyone posts their low points in life, so while you look through a social media feed, you are essentially viewing the highlights of a person’s life — comparing them to your life just isn’t healthy. Unfollow or mute accounts that don’t make you feel good and block those who you don’t feel comfortable sharing moments of your life with. Keep in mind that a large part of social media is an exaggeration, and sometimes it’s better to limit your exposure to this rather than to give in.
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