Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay
“I believe people are afraid to be still because we’re used to being stimulated.” ~Michael W. Smith
When was the last time you sat alone in silence without anything or anyone to distract you? For many of us, it is difficult to be alone without something to entertain us or to focus our attention on. In its most obvious and prevalent form, the distraction comes in the form of our mobile phones. The real question then should be when was the last time you spent a day without your mobile phone? I accept that we all depend on our mobile phones for a myriad of reasons such as work, staying in touch with friends and family and in case of an emergency. The issue that I am seeing more often in my practice is the inability to put the mobile phone down or to stop constantly checking social media apps for updates. Further, there appears to be almost a fear of being on our own without a mobile phone or some other distraction.
The inability to tolerate quiet moments is something that we are being taught from the world around us. We are becoming a Stimulation Nation. Mass media, as well as current cultural norms, are promoting the idea that stimulation equals life. We are consciously and subconsciously being told that if we are not doing something exciting there must be something wrong with us.
Our phone provides us with an illusory sense of connection with others in the world. Of course, others may be interested in your social media life but the reality is that the majority of people who “follow” are complete strangers. They do not know you in the same capacity that your loved ones know you. By choosing to focus your energy on your phone you are wasting a precious life source. The phone is an instrument designed for communication but in reality, it has become an object that robs us of a meaningful connection to the world around us.
At the end of your life, what will have more meaning to you? Will it be the thousands of filtered images you spent “liking” on social media or the real-life moments you spent with loved ones? Realize that every single moment you spend looking at your phone instead of the face of your loved one is a missed opportunity of having a real connection. Your support group in life should consist of the interconnected arms of the real people you know encircling you with love, not the sporadic connectivity of the world wide web.
So how does one stop feeding the need for stimulation? You have to decide to stop allowing yourself to be programmed. Most, if not all video games and social media apps are carefully and thoughtfully designed to keep you hooked to their programs. It is all very Pavlovian. But, the apps on our phones are not training dogs, they are training us, humans, to keep clicking and coming back for more. The constant and consistent exposure to your phone has programmed your brain to become accustomed to an endless supply of stimulation and it will no longer be able to patiently wait for what is next. There is no idle time, only restlessness if left without new stimulation. This restlessness will cause you to seek new ways to pacify your brain’s need for stimulation in order to avoid the anxiety of silence.
Here are some steps that I use with my patients to help them become accustomed to less stimulation and learn to enjoy S. I. L. E. N. C. E.:
1. Start slowly
Do not rush into this without realizing that it may be challenging. You will need to acclimate to the “noise” of silence. Accept that you may not be able to be away from stimulation for long periods of time, but with patience and dedication, you can learn to wean yourself from the urge of constantly being on your phone.
The most essential ingredient to accomplishing any goal is to start. Set the intention to sit quietly for 10 minutes then gradually increase this time by 10-minute increments. The ultimate goal is for you to be able to spend time away from your phone without feeling that you have to check your phone. The phone should be an accessory in your life, not a necessity.
Listen to the world around you as well as the world within you. At first, the sounds of silence may be a bit distracting. You may experience a quiet buzzing or other noises in your ears or perhaps you will hear your heartbeat. Enjoy the quiet time for self-reflection. If you are taking a walk outdoors, enjoy the different sounds that nature has to offer.
Don’t give up. Be patient with yourself. Many times we are our own worst critique and this causes us to give up. Remember no one is judging you. Focus on the reason why you are trying to wean yourself off your phone. Life away from your phone and other electronic distractions can be more meaningful if you dedicate the time to building healthy bonds and surrounding yourself with positivity.
Nurture your relationships with your loved ones. Perhaps being constantly on your phone has caused some disconnect in your relationship. Take the time to communicate and acknowledge that you have a problem. Together, you can create a system where there is accountability for over using your phone.
Not having your life dictated by your phone or other electronic distraction will free up your time. Why not use your mind to create something beautiful. I believe that everyone has the ability to write and touch at least one person. Just imagine if you used all the time you spend on distractions on honing your writing skills. Perhaps if you unchained your brain from the internet you could write a beautiful poem or even a novel.
Once you have stopped the cycle of having to be constantly stimulated and are ready to exit the Stimulation Nation, put away your phone. Start enjoying your life while interacting and connecting with friends and family without having to disconnect to check your phone.
When it comes to phone use or any other electronic device, moderation is key. Cell phones are an amazing technological development that has benefited many areas of our lives. Unfortunately, it has become too much of a good thing and to some, it has become a bit of a Pandora’s box. You may hold the whole world in the palm of your hand but if you are not careful, your whole world will become limited to the size of your palm. I welcome your comments and would love to hear your insight on this subject.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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