It’s Tuesday afternoon. Tim D and I are in the Happynesshub office and the only audible sound is the constant buzzing of my phone on the glass desk; the girls’ WhatsApp group is on full form. With each vibration I can feel my mind drifting further and further from my work and towards Kelly’s excitement at seeing half the cast of Game of Thrones on the table next to her at the pub. And it got me thinking…

Now I must admit, when day 6 of the Happynesshub 21-Day toolkit came along – ‘Digital Detox’ – I immediately decided to give that one a miss (shameful I know). It just didn’t seem feasible – a huge part of my world and social life is contained within my phone.

But the fact is, I’ve discovered, we are actually addicted to our phones – and here are just a handful of stats to prove it:

  • We check our devices between 85 and 221 times per day (Source)
  • 89% of us experience our phone vibrating in our pocket even if there is no phone there (Source)
  • 1/3 report feeling anxious when separated from their gadget (Source)
  • 33% admit to hiding from family and friends to check Facebook and Twitter (Source)

Keen to explore further, I came across Anastasia Dedyukhina, the founder of Consciously Digital, an expert in our relationship with modern technology.

I learned that humans like social recognition, and social media is an extremely easy way to achieve this. For example, we post a photo and in roll the likes or comments. This excites us and releases dopamine. It is this release that we become addicted to. We then constantly feel the need to keep checking our phones to feel good again… and to make it worse, the apps are designed to encourage this.

Another element of the problem is that technology has affected our work-life balance – it blurs the boundaries between work and private life. We feel the need to be constantly contactable.

Now when I listened to Anastasia Dedyukhina’s TED talk in which she explains our technology addiction, I found it really worrying. Am I like this? Is social media controlling me? Immediately I felt guilty about having my phone on my desk and looking at it every time it buzzed.

However, Anastasia had some wise words: it is our relationship with tech which must change – we need to control our use of it, rather than have it control us.

So how do we do that? This is what Anastasia had to say…

  • If you do just one thing, disable notifications from apps so that you don’t need to be distracted constantly by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Disabling notifications means you are in greater control of when you do and don’t check social media.
  • Create technology-free zones such as your bedroom, dining room and bathroom. We need spaces in which we can give our brains a chance to process information and have a rest.
  • Make use of blocking apps that you can activate at times when you want to stop yourself clicking away from your work and into social media.
  • Try to manage people’s expectations. Don’t reply to emails immediately and then people won’t expect you to. If you want to receive fewer emails, send fewer!
  • Stop multitasking! Have your phone out of sight when you are working on your computer and focus on one thing at a time.
  • De-clutter your smartphone. Use folders and pages to ensure it takes at least 3 clicks to reach social media apps.
  • Slow down! Wait at least a few minutes to reply to something… then you will have assessed whether it is that important that you need to deal with it straight away or whether it can wait.
  • Read a book. It’s good for concentration and reduces stress levels by 68%.

So as many a good dietician will tell you – it’s not about cutting out, it’s about cutting down. Last night, I decided to move both my phone and laptop away from where I sleep, opting to read a book whilst in bed instead. Now after one night I am not sure that it made much difference to my sleep, but I do know that I felt far more in control. I didn’t wake up and immediately start scrolling through Facebook because my phone was not in reach, meaning I had a far healthier and positive start to my day. And that’s only after one night!

Don’t get me wrong, social media can strengthen our real life relationships, remind us of happy times, engage and inspire us. It is just about taking those steps to change our relationship with it to ensure that we are using it in the healthiest and happiest way possible!

By Ilana Mann