When the alarm goes off in the morning, what’s the first thing you do?If you’re like most Americans with a cell phone, the first thing you do in the morning is check your phone.
It may be the texts that you check first or the emails, or maybe it’s the social media sites that get your first-morning attention. Whichever it is, it may be setting you up for increased stress and anxiety in your day.
A recent study found that people check their phones on average, every 10 minutes and experience very real separation anxiety when they are disconnected from their devices.
7-8 hours of sleep serves as the largest block of time we are without our device, and more often than not, it’s anxiety about this separation that causes us to reach for our phone the moment we’re awake.
But maybe we should rethink this.
I recently read a riveting article written by Tristan Harris, who used to work at Google as a design ethicist. He studied the potential negative effects of technology on human beings in order to design devices that could protect the human mind rather than hijack it.
He uses the word hijack because his research found that devices like our cell phones are designed to appeal to the addictive part of our brains, bypassing our willful reasoning and making us crave the digital reward of notifications, texts, emails, and likes.
As I read this, I thought of the increase in anxiety I’ve seen in my practice over the past few years. The women seem to be more wired and tired than ever before. Is it possible that increased cell phone use increases anxiety?
Then I thought about my own life.
In the past 5 years, I’ve noticed an increase in my anxiety. Part of this has definitely been the constant accessibility others have to my time, my attention and my thoughts through the cell phone I nearly always have in my hand.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this constant digital connection begins first thing in the morning.
Tristan Harris writes:
“When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.”
In other words, when we wake up to our phone, it’s easy to wake up feeling behind, even before the day has actually started. This is a very real trigger for the brain to signal the anxiety alarm. It may be subtle, but it most definitely is there.
It could be email, texts or social media that grabs your attention. A quick glance at Facebook before you get ready in the morning can have a negative influence on you as you care for your body and get ready for the day. My teenage clients especially struggle with feelings of inadequacy and record high rates of anxiety and depression. Social media comparison often leads to high levels of dissatisfaction about their own appearance.
We want our young women to be gazing at their own image in the mirror without a measuring stick in the form of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook images they’ve just viewed moments before.
We don’t have to be teenagers to experience the same kind of depression fueled by comparison. It happens to moms too, when they see the accomplishments of others, and smiling happy families who look like they have it all together.
A mom looks at a couple of picture perfect posts and then walks out of the bedroom into the chaotic morning which is how most families operate. Without even realizing it, she can feel discouraged and behind.
Our expectations are created by what we see and admire and pay attention to. If our attention is being hijacked, we need to be aware of it.
I’m not trying to vilify social media or email or any other part of the miracle of cell phones, but I am asking you to notice how we can be more aware of all of these influences on our well-being.
Let’s have cell phones, tablets and computers work for us- rather than against us.
Consider these 3 steps to help you avoid the morning cell phone hijack.
- Create a 30-minute “device-free” zone before bedtime.
Switch to “Do Not Disturb” and commit to not look at emails or texts in those precious few minutes before bed. By doing this you’re allowing your brain to have space to settle down and prepare for sleep. Any texts or emails that come through late in the evening can wait until the morning. Training others to respect your boundaries can be difficult at first, but with time, everyone will come to understand that you still like them, even if you don’t return their text or email at 11 pm.
- Disconnect from your phone at bedtime.
Plug your phone in to charge somewhere other than your nightstand. I know this is going to be hard. But it’s worth it. It’s one of the important steps to creating boundaries so that you are in charge of your phone and it isn’t in charge of you. You may need to drag out that old alarm clock, or even buy another one so you aren’t lured into the idea that you have to have your phone by you so you can wake up in the morning. Having that phone in your hand as you turn off your alarm in the morning is the slippery slope that leads us into all things digital before our feet even hit the floor. Give your sleepy head a break and let it wake up a bit first!
- Set a boundary around your precious morning time.
Once you awaken in the morning, practice stretching out the time before you check your phone. Get up, go to the bathroom, kiss your husband and maybe even brush your teeth before you pick up your phone. And when you do, consider delaying checking your email until you have a chance to do the things YOU want to do in the morning. Once others have the attention of your brain, you might find that you’ve lost the focus to do some really important things that get your day started off right.
All of these suggestions are part of setting healthy boundaries and protecting our lives from stress.
After looking at my own phone and email behaviors, I’ve started a strategy to reverse my electronic slippery slide. My phone is now plugged in across the room, making it just a little more challenging to check email before bed and first thing in the morning.
I admit that I’m still dealing with the withdrawals of the last-minute check for texts or emails. But since I’ve “unplugged” before bed and delayed my plugin until later in the morning, I’ve noticed a decrease in stress. I feel more in charge of my mornings and just a little calmer at night before I go to bed.
Modern science and cool devices are certainly a blessing to us, but they can carry a dangerous edge to them. It’s our responsibility to stay in charge of our lives and not allow our attention to be hijacked.
Our attention is possibly the most important power we possess.
We need to guard it wisely!
I’d love to hear how you manage your phone around bedtime and in the morning! Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.