At the expense of our sleep schedules, vision, and attention spans, smartphones have all but repurposed themselves as a detachable bodily appendage. With our thumbs always poised for action, we rely on these cherished two-by-five-inch devices for nearly all of life's many occasions—from ordering carryout after work to searching for a partner to share your life with. For better or for worse, we turn our gaze downward to the handheld world we've created for ourselves, rather than interacting with what's in front of us.
While the influence of smartphones and technology at large is undoubtedly ubiquitous, it isn't necessarily all positive. Yes, technology has fundamentally altered the way in which we communicate, evolve, and relate to one another on a human level, but it's also given rise to a slew of issues spanning from the emotional to the physical. Sure, we wouldn't have GPS, self-driving cars, or Twitter without technology and the internet, but we also wouldn't have trouble seeing and sleeping, elevated stress levels, and higher instances of anxiety and depression, particularly in teens and young adults.
Some even believe that technology and social media have played a role in the unwilling abstinence of the millennial generation, which speaks to the internet's pervasive influence on digital natives' communication skills. That being said, there are many upsides to technology and social media; the challenge is in striking a healthy phone/life balance that works for you. What follows is a list of rules designed to turn your smartphone into a life enhancement, rather than a life replacement.
No phones at the table
Perhaps one of the first casualties of the technological revolution, engaged family mealtime, is now a lost art. This slow disintegration started with the mainstream popularity of the family TV and has since been perpetuated by the iPhone, both at home with family and out to dinner with friends. That being said, I stand by the primitive idea that sharing a meal with friends or family should be enjoyed sans-smartphone, despite my personal struggle to break the habit. To ease the transition, try asking your friends to stack their phones in the middle of the table during dinner, or simply leave your iPhone in another room. As a traditionally social time, enjoying meals without your phone is an important distinction to make when cultivating a balanced relationship with technology.
Leave work at work
With our nonexistent work/life balance, checking work email outside of the office has become increasingly commonplace. But unsurprisingly, this "always on" mentality weighs heavily on our mental health. In fact, recent research out of Lehigh University found checking work email after hours is actually connected to feelings of emotional exhaustion, and it can even lead to burnout and familial struggles. That said, building some strict boundaries surrounding work-related phone activity is at the heart of cultivating a healthy phone/life balance. Whether you set a nightly phone alarm to remind you to sign off, or you remove your work email from your phone altogether, work-related rules are a must. Try the Way of Life app to help you break bad habits and start anew.
Log off when you're out
When you think of the areas of your life that have been most affected by technology, communication and socializing probably rank high on the list. This is universally true both at work and in the real world, where texted communication has become the status quo. Naturally, these are the areas of life in desperate need of reparation; just look around any coffee shop, hotel lobby, or busy restaurant.
The truth is, sipping cocktails while staring at your phone not only takes you out of the moment, but it also closes you off to new friends and potential love interests. While there are certain times when checking your phone is appropriate (like when your friend is in the bathroom during dinner, for example), most of the time it's used as a crutch for social awkwardness or discomfort. Try leaving your phone undisturbed in your purse, or, if you're brave enough, leave it at home for the night.
Optimize your iPhone
With the mounting research against the iPhone's harmful blue light, as well as peoples' growing concerns about work/life balance, UX designers have finally caught on. The new iPhone iOS 10 software, for example, has a new "night shift" mode that, when turned on, dims the normally harsh blue-white light to a softer orange—perfect for evening browsing before heading to bed. There's also the "do not disturb" mode that allows you to turn off all email, text, or call-related notifications for as long as you want. Take advantage of these unique features at your disposal now, especially when going out with friends, enjoying a meal with family, or embarking on a digital detox.
Limit social media use
It goes without saying that almost all of these aforementioned issues associated with technology are partly rooted in social media. In fact, there's substantial scientific evidence that the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, can actually lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem in users. Closely related but admittedly less serious is the rise of FOMO, or the omnipresent fear of missing out, which has also been linked to social media usage.
While social media has grown increasingly lucrative in the past 5–10 years, maintaining a healthy separation between you and your online self is essential. Not only can heavy social media use have a negative affect on your mental health, but it can also engender a false sense of connection with others. "We sense and respond to others using mostly nonverbal information … all of which is taken away when we interact with a screen instead of a person," explains Dr. Kendra Knight, professor of relational communications at DePaul University. "While a lot of great and useful information is conveyed via social media, some of the connection is lost because our bodies are far behind technological advancements."
How do you cultivate a healthy phone-life balance? Share your tips below, and take a phone break with our favorite relaxing essentials.