There’s no debate about it. When it comes to cell phones and other screens, most of us are totally hooked. Studies indicate that the typical smartphone user checks their device 150 times daily — and about every 6.5 minutes! A study by the Pew Research Center found more than half of us check our phones for notifications, messages, or calls even when we haven’t heard them buzz.
The stats don’t lie: our heads are completely buried in our devices. And the mental health consequences? They’re nothing to laugh at. Brain scans show that young people who overuse technology have activity patterns similar to people who are addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Mobile device addiction has been linked to anxiety and depression, too.
Social media is particularly risky for mental health. Ever find yourself thinking you’ll take a quick look at your phone, then spending fifteen minutes scrolling through everyone’s selfies and vacation photos? You’re not alone if you find it sometimes gets you down: research shows that’s the case for 1 in 3 of us. There’s also the dreaded phenomenon of FOMO – also known as fear of missing out.
So what can we do? Our cell phones are a necessary part of our fast-paced lives, connecting us to family, friends, and work. As a travel nurse, you’ve got more reasons than most people to keep your phone at the ready. You might be on call, or you might need to be accessible to your family at a distance. So, yes, you’re probably not going to find yourself living in a tent on the beach anytime soon. Still, there are definitely steps you can take to find more peace by unplugging.
Do an inventory
How many devices do you own, and how long do you use them each day? As with any problem, the first step is identifying it. Is your “screen time of choice” Facebook? Email? Binging the latest Netflix series? Make notes about where you’re spending the most time so that you can identify patterns.
Accept (and value!) the boring
Depending on your age, you might remember a time before we were constantly a-buzz with gadgets. Back then, it wasn’t unusual to spend entire evenings reading, crafting, or even organizing your closet, and being fine with it. Without FOMO, there was no pressure to turn a Wednesday evening an Instagram-able tapas-by-candlelight fest. Enjoy some simple downtime.
Challenge yourself to stay present. Take time to enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells around you. Find a few minutes every day to focus quietly on your breathing. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a science — and it really shouldn’t be. It’s simply a way to calm your mind and let thoughts and feelings flow. For more, see our post on How to Get Started with Mindfulness as a Travel Nurse!
Set limits with your technology use
Determine a time of day you can realistically live without your cell phone. Is it the first hour of the morning? Two hours in the afternoon? Figure out what works for you and use that time to power down. If you know you might need to be reached urgently, put your cell phone in a drawer with the ringer turned up. That way, you’ll have peace of mind in knowing someone can find you while decreasing the temptation to peek.
Take a media vacation
If it’s possible, find a stretch of days when you can unplug, either partially or fully. You might simply delete Facebook and other social media platforms from your phone. Or you might go as far as giving up texting and personal email. Be it a day, a weekend, or even a week (!), you’ll be sure to feel a marked change in your mood.
Bring in the troops
If you’re setting limits with your devices and taking screen vacations, and it’s still a struggle, what’s next? Fight fire with fire by using technology specifically aimed at helping you curb your usage. Freedom can block websites and apps for a window you set, or can even block your internet access entirely. Other options are Self Control, Stay Focused, and Cold Turkey.
Carry a book with you
Remember that thing with two hard sides and a bunch of paper inside of it? Try keeping a book on hand to entertain you when you’ve got time to spare. Skip the phone and enjoy the research-backed benefits of really reading. (And yes, okay — you can use your Kindle, too!)
One way to wean ourselves from technology is to get more active. Whether it’s a new exercise, game, or creative activity, try putting the phone down and getting out of the house. Meet up with friends and acquaintances in person — research shows face-to-face social interactions provide essential mental health benefits.
Make a power-down pact
A sense of accountability helps us reach goals. Find a family member or fellow nurse who’s also looking to unplug. Make a deal to exchange phones during your lunch breaks so you’ll fully enjoy your time off the clock.
Practice lights out!
If you’ve always been a reader, you probably remember the days of hiding with a flashlight under your covers. We grown-ups are still guilty of sneaking a peek at our cell phones after lights out. Resist the urge to look — the light from screens majorly disrupts sleep. Instead, avoid the screen two hours before bed. You’ll give your brain a chance to produce melatonin on schedule and get the rest you need.
While it’s a bit of an adjustment to get used to life unplugged, it’s definitely an experiment worth trying. You’ll probably find yourself feeling calmer, happier, and freer. Take a deep breath, put that phone down, and give it a shot!
Looking for more on how to protect your time in travel nursing? Check out our tips to create more time in your day.