I’ve had to hit snooze on my social life for the last two weeks because I am, like many of us trying to just get through the end of this year, completely burnt out. The Do Not Disturb button on my iPhone has been a guardrail between me and the people who I love but don’t understand what it’s like to work through a pandemic for nine months. And if you also have anxieties when your battery hits red, if you feel “phantom vibrations,” or are constantly pawing at your phone for fear of missing that one life-changing text, the Do Not Disturb button is definitely for you, too.
“We live life with an unspoken rule: when the phone rings, I ‘turn on’ and respond ASAP,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “We’ve become enslaved to our cellphones without even realizing it. Our bodies and our mind have connected the dots between a vibrate and a pick up, when in reality we have a moment to make a choice—we can see what we received, or we can continue living our life and get to our phone when we are ready for it.”
We are, essentially, programmed to prioritize a machine instead of ourselves, which isn’t new but certainly feels dystopian said out loud. The Do Not Disturb button exists to set up healthy boundaries between you two—a little fence that can keep you from spiraling out.
“By eliminating the unconscious self-imposed sense of urgency, you can be more present in life, more mindful of your feelings, and more in control of your circumstances and experiences,” says Teplin. “By slowing down, we enable ourselves to feel empowered and can better set expectations for the upcoming moments.”
It also allows you to make better choices as you navigate your core duty of that moment, whether it’s cooking dinner, homeschooling young children, trying to squeeze in 15 minutes of yoga, or God, even just watching The Crown. And while you don’t need to be successful at watching The Crown (all you need is a delicious Bordeaux and a powerful disdain for Camilla, IMO), you do want to cut down on distractions to be successful at, say, your job. Multitasking makes for messy work and poor decision-making because it often involves judgement calls made under stress.
“Our ability to focus on one task not only makes us more productive, it makes us more creative and innovative. But first, we must signal this intention to others—and to ourselves,” says Erin Hatzikostas, career coach and co-founder of bAuthentic Inc.”That’s often the hardest, most critical step; once you have the courage to say, ‘Hey, I need to focus for a bit on something important,’ it not only removes distractions, it removes the internal angst we often feel. When you give yourself full permission, space, and grace to focus, magical things happen.”
Still not convinced? Still need a connection to the outside world? Teplin gets this resistance from time to time, and still has ways to set up speed bumps when it comes to phone usage. “Often individuals will respond to me and say, ‘But what if work calls? What if I miss something?’ and I promise, there are settings to solve these issues,” she says. “A quick solve is deciding to pick up your phone at certain intervals of [your] choosing which, again, removes the automatic habit and makes it more of a choice.”
Look, everything is spiraling out of control right now, and it’ll be a while until we course correct. In the meantime, we can regain our agency and protect our mental health with small defenses against that infernal machine.
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