Life online can be tricky. We have access to basically all the information in the world, right in our pockets. But while that’s arguably the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to humanity, it’s also really overwhelming! Studies have shown that there’s a clear link between time spent online and negative mental health outcomes. And yet it’s still so hard for us to put down our phones!
One of the reasons we’re so addicted to our phones is because so many of the actions we take online trigger a dopamine response in our brains. And, like with so many other dopamine triggers, we want more, more, more.
Luckily, there are ways you can resist that natural impulse toward “more.” Here are seven signs that it’s time to put down your phone — and how to actually do it.
1. You feel your blood pressure rising.
This one is listed first because it could really apply to pretty much every other tip listed below. Whether it’s reading the news or scrolling through social media, it’s time to put down the phone as soon as you feel your blood pressure starting to spike.
Ask yourself: what good does this action do for me? Is it going to make my life better? Is it going to make the world better? If the answer is “no,” then all you’re doing is getting worked up with nowhere to put that energy. Take a deep breath, put your phone face down, and walk away for a while.
2. You look up and realize two hours have passed.
We’ve all gotten caught up in infinite scroll — that’s literally what it was designed for. But mindlessly scrolling through a social media feed or a news site for hours at a time is a sign that maybe there’s something else going on in your life that needs addressing. Maybe you need to work on some hobbies or figure out some stress reduction activities or even just read a book instead. We promise: Any of those will make you feel better than scrolling IG.
3. You’re ready to cuss someone out on social media.
People say stupid stuff online; that’s just a fact of life these days. But, in therapist speak, you can’t control what other people do. You can only control your reaction to them. Keep that in mind when you come across a particularly egregious Facebook post or an especially ignorant TikTok and feel that surge of anger pushing you to respond.
Cussing someone out might get some of that energy out in the short term, but in the long term it contributes to the overall nasty atmosphere that seems to permeate every corner of the web these days. Is that a digital world you want to live in?
4. You’ve written a strongly worded work email.
Woof, we’ve all been there. Someone did something really dumb at work and you’re mad. You type up a long, angry email to them — or maybe even to their manager.
But before you hit send, try saving it in drafts. Walk away from your computer or set down your phone and go literally take a walk, if that’s an option for you. Just getting away from both your devices and the situation and moving your body might give you a new perspective on the issue.
5. You’re in a deep rabbit hole.
Here’s the thing about internet rabbit holes: They’re designed to suck you by feeding you increasingly inflammatory and shocking content. That’s how companies like YouTube make money and keep you on their sites. And that business model has led to the radicalization of so many groups of people and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories.
So if you find yourself in a rabbit hole, pull back. Start using the critical thinking skills your big brain absolutely has. Because following the Mad Hatter didn’t go well for Alice and it won’t likely go well for you, either.
6. Your neck/back/head hurts.
If any parts of your physical body hurt because you’ve been in one position for too long while staring at a screen of any size, it’s time to walk away for a bit. The internet will still be there when you get back!
7. You’re feeling jealous.
A good habit to get into is paying attention to your feelings as you’re hanging out online. As soon as you start to feel a negative emotion — like jealousy or anger or even sadness — based on what you’re viewing, put your phone down. Turn it off and walk away. Life is hard enough without adding to your misery by voluntarily consuming stuff that upsets you online.