I’m Heather, a novelist, mother, and one-time cell phone addict. The addiction lead to wrist pain and mild depression. Here’s how I snapped out of it, and how you can, too.
It’s not easy to admit this, but for two years, I was addicted to checking my cell phone for new texts or social media posts almost every half hour.
It turns out I’m not alone in this addiction. According to the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) data, 79% of adult smartphone users have their phones with them for 22 hours a day, and 80% of users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up every day.
My reasons for falling into the addiction were simple. I work from home, and had my phone in front of me at my computer between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. in case I got an urgent text or call from my teenage daughter or husband, or a family member in need.
As a novelist I have a set writing schedule. I usually write in the morning for four hours. I work with short breaks, getting up every now and then to stretch or pour myself a coffee. Since I manage to get books written and published on time and market them, and have done so for five years, I didn’t think I was the type to get addicted to social media, or at least, the act of checking social media for any new activity. Since I got my new phone in 2016, I have spent about a half hour every evening interacting on social media, and I was happy with that limit.
I didn’t realize I was going over that limit. A washroom break would lead to fifteen minutes on the phone. A quick check to see if “anything interesting” was happening with my friends on Twitter became a half hour trapped inside the Twittersphere. I would joke about cooking dinner while on Twitter — and burning it. My kid and husband were happy, and I was a successful author. I was managing to balance everything just fine. I didn’t think it was interfering with my life in a negative way.
It wasn’t until Apple introduced their new Screen Time feature in iOS 12 in the fall of 2018, and then Instagram added it to their app in 2019 that I started using the features and realizing just how many hours I spent on my phone.
It wasn’t until Apple introduced their new Screen Time feature in iOS 12 in the fall of 2018, and then Instagram added Your Activity to their app in 2019 that I started using the features and realizing just how many hours I spent on my phone. My phone screen time each day was four to five hours, and at my height of trying to gain new readers on Instagram, I was using Instagram for an hour a day!
Before I go into why I didn’t want to spend that much time on social media, let me say that I enjoy social media for both work and play. I have come to love many people I’ve met online; some have even become friends I’ve met in real life.
However, being on social media can be draining. It’s like being in a bar; sure, you can meet some cool new friends, but you also can’t control who’s going to come up to you, spill a drink on you and say something nasty. There’s also the whole “Look At My Amazing Life’ aspect of social media. To each their own, but after 10 years using social media for both work and pleasure, I’m moving into the phase of Living My Amazing Life instead of posting about it. I’m still using social media, but I’m vigilant about how I’m using it. I told a friend the other day that I try to make sure my posts educate, entertain or inspire. If what I’m about to post doesn’t do one of those three things, I stop posting.
When I think back to when I was at my happiest in life, it was when I was climbing the pine tree at the back of our cottage to spend time alone up in my tree fort. I’d chew Hubba Bubba gum and read Archie comics and write stories and poems. I’d look out at the lake and commune with nature. I then climbed down and went for a swim with my sister, or had a great conversation with my parents. I was most happy at about eleven years old, when cell phones didn’t exist.
There are so many trees to climb! ~Author Heather Grace Stewart
In early March while on vacation, I caught myself checking my phone several times in an hour, and I just got fed up with myself. Why couldn’t I focus on the moment I was living right then — a special family time — instead of what other people were doing? I wanted to find a way to feel eleven again, and I had a feeling it was just within my reach. I knew that if I wanted something to change, I had to make a drastic change. I unplugged from social media by taking every single social media app off my phone. When we got home, I started putting the phone in its charger in the kitchen, where I could still hear it if it rang, instead of in front of me at my desk.
On day one, I kept a journal of how I was feeling. It made me sick to my stomach to learn I was wanting to check my phone. I felt out of the loop. I felt disconnected. I felt angry that not using social media made me feel that way.
By the end of day two, however, I was feeling a sense of relief. I couldn’t believe how much more free time I had! By the end of March, I had finished my fifth novel and sent it to my agent.
After a month of using social media only on my desktop and only at a specific time each afternoon, I began to realize which app I loved the most (as Marie Kondo says, does it spark joy?) and decided to put Instagram back on my phone, but I allowed myself only 15 minutes a day with their Your Activity feature. My phone Screen Time is now down to 30 minutes a day, but that includes texting and calls and email for my work.
The change was like a light switched on in my life; one I hadn’t even realized had been off.
The change was like a light switched on in my life; one I hadn’t even realized had been off. It did take a few weeks, but I noticed that good friends began texting me or even (gasp!) calling more to catch up, instead of hearting my posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I had so much more free time, I was able to take up hot yoga, and that in itself has been life-altering. I’m spending more time cooking and enjoying it; I’m going for walks and spending quiet time just watching the birds in the new feeder in our backyard. I never bring my phone to the breakfast or dinner table anymore. My husband and daughter don’t either. The other night, we shared a big bag of Hubba Bubba gum while watching AGT together and pausing the show to tell each other stories. Then my husband pointed out we had a visitor, and together, we watched a skunk dig for grubs for fifteen minutes in our yard. We marveled at his technique and worried where our old cat was at the time. We put bets on whether he’d get skunked or not (he didn’t — he was happily asleep on a comfy chair on our front porch). To me, that time together was more interesting and weirdly bonding than anything I’ve seen on social media this year.
I still check the desktop versions of a few social media apps once every 24 hours for business purposes, but there’s no “crazy itch” to do so. It can wait.
I have so many trees to climb.