How switching off my phone, and locking it away, gave me my best day in 3 months.
I had always thought I had a suitably healthy relationship with my mobile. While others were app-happy and always knew the latest Instagram gossip, I was reading a book or watching something on my laptop. And when I lit up the screen to discover 208 unread messages in group conversations, it reassured me that I was usually the last one to reply. Of course I was — I hardly used my phone.
But it was always there. Curled up in bed and reading the next chapter of my novel and there it lay a black screen in the corner of my eye. An episode of Mad Men wouldn’t be complete without my mobile sidekick taking its place on the sofa. Messages would light up while I cooked, wrote poetry and in the middle of the night, and every time I would swipe access with urgent reluctance and read the gist of the conversation, before promising to reply later.
Before I knew it, my phone had become a mental crutch and I was double-checking every subtle reflection of light my eyes mistook for a pop-up message. From once being able to easily read a novel for hours, in ignorance of the whereabouts of any technical device, my attention had been dramatically shortened to the width of the iPhone 6 screen I was anxiously lighting up after every 3 lines.
It meant that I could not dedicate my complete concentration to any single task, because my ultimate focus was my phone. Without it, I was missing something — what if someone wanted to contact me urgently, for advice or communicate some information that required my absolute immediate attention? Of course, it was an irrational thought, but as my phone focus grew bigger, my world was getting subtly smaller. I wasn’t enjoying or living in the things I was doing in the present, but constantly watching and waiting for something else to happen, in the future and through a device and this was making me feel anxious.
Perhaps the moment when I knew things had to change was when my mobile lost charge at the supermarket. Despite being a mere 10 minutes from my home and within the safety of a large shop, with lots of customers and staff, I distinctly recall the stomach-sinking anxiety that took a hold of my nerves. Bizarrely, I felt alone, disconnected from my family and friends, almost as though I was my own island. My heart beat faster before a fresh breeze of freedom came through to heighten my senses and awareness of my surroundings. For the first time in a long time, I was seeing and hearing everything with its outline, rather than the hurried smudge that often comes with always looking down.
Grocery shopping stops being a mundane task when you notice the quality and colours of fruit and veg or the rainbow-sheen of salmon on the counter.
So, that weekend I switched off my phone. I knew it would not be enough to simply turn it upside down in a drawer for the reason that I would know it was still on and definitely potentially receiving messages. Switched off, however, and I could sit there all day and the screen would still be black. It was the kind of break-up that I needed.
Instantly, I felt a peace of mind just knowing that I didn’t have to worry about any messages or calls. I had already told my friends that I wouldn’t be available for the day and knew that if there were any kind of seriously unlikely urgent reason they needed to contact me, they had my Mum’s number.
And then I went outside, to stand in nature and experience all of its outlines. It was a beautiful day and I bought potted flowers and learned how to make hanging baskets. Sure, at times my mind drifted to my phone, but, overall, I spent the day being more mindful of the outside world, the people around me and myself. I slowed down to create something that lasts and will grow and change every day and just looked up to breathe a bit deeper.
It’s easy to think that if you’re not on social media every day or the frst person to reply on WhatsApp, that you’re not negatively affected by your phone, but the likely reality is that you are. Phones are so commonplace and central to the way we run our lives today that it’s difficult to mentally switch off. In fact, according to The Telegraph, we now spend an entire day a week online and check our phones, on average, every 12 minutes. While there is no doubt that they are useful, like most things, it’s all about balance, and knowing that the strongest connections are created without it.