Miserable & Magical: Step away from the phone

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As much as I wish I was one of those evolved human beings who only checks social media once a day, I’m not. Honestly, who are these people, and can I please borrow some of their self-control or lack of boredom or whatever it is that keeps them from numbly scrolling their time away?

I have a screen time tracker on my phone and when I checked it the other day it said I had picked up my phone more than 100 times that day. Not that I checked social media every time I picked it up, but still. That triple-digit representation of my compulsive behavior was alarming.

I hate how much I use my phone and recently I’ve really been trying to work on it. I’ve gone through these phases before. I’ve deleted apps on the weekend or even for a week or two or I’ve set a time limit reminder that pops up on my screen. None of these worked. The screen time pop-up actually has an “ignore” button. What’s the point?

The thing is, though, whenever I use my phone less, social media especially, I feel so much better. I can think more clearly and I don’t feel as bad about myself. The more I scroll, the worse I feel. I tell myself I’m lazy and have no self-control. Or I ask myself why my stomach isn’t as flat as that girl? Or why I don’t dress as nice as this girl? My life becomes dull and flat compared to everyone else’s.

To me, the people in these pictures have their lives together. They’re doing interesting things while I just watch through a screen, like a secret portal into their perfect lives. What I’m forgetting is that if they’re posting on social media, they’re probably spending just as much time on it as I am. Or they’re taking a million photos trying to get the best shot and feeling frustrated the entire time.

It’s ironic because I usually reach for my phone when I want to feel better. I open Instagram when I’m bored or if I’m avoiding doing something I’m supposed to be working on. I’ve checked it three times since starting this column. *insert facepalm emoji*

If I’m feeling completely unmotivated or if I’m panicking about the future, I reach for my phone even though I know it makes these feelings worse. It’s like a way to hide from whatever I don’t want to confront.

I spent this past week camping at Moosehead Lake again and over the course of four days, I barely touched my phone. I didn’t even want to touch it. I used it to take some photos, but the Instagram app grew some little cobwebs over it. 

As I’m sure you can guess, this felt incredible. I was able to be present and in the moment. I wasn’t wondering if so-and-so had posted anything interesting. I wasn’t afraid I was missing out on something. My world was just me, [name redacted], and the lake.

Without my phone, I feel more connected to myself. My mind can wander and I feel more creative and open. I feel like the best version of myself. 

Of course, when I got home one of the first things I did after smothering my cat with love was check Instagram. 

I’ve been back a few days now and I’m trying to hold onto the feeling I had at the lake. I’m trying to remember what it feels like to not have the urge to scroll and to instead sit with my thoughts. Why is it so hard?

I’m working on finding a balance and cutting myself some slack. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic so I’m not going to cut social media out of my life completely. I need to know what’s going on in the world, and I also need to see smiling people and happy babies and beautiful landscapes. I need to remember that life is still happening. 

And at the same time, I need to remember that my life is still happening. I may not have a job or an idea of what’s next, but I still have a future. But when I doubt that, I don’t want to reach for the quick fix of a screen. I want to pick up my journal or go for a walk, something that keeps me in my thoughts instead of pulling me away.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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