Six digital tips for better mental health in the smartphone age
Several studies have linked excessive smartphone use with depression and anxiety, particularly among young people. This has been put down to a number of factors, including poorer sleep, a lack of ‘real’ interaction and comparing our lives to those we see on social media.
This has prompted some to undergo a ‘digital detox’ by turning off their tech completely. But if that’s too big a leap, you or someone you know might benefit from these tips, which will help you turn down the noise, and tune out the negativity, from your digital life.
1. Try ‘Night shift’ mode on your phone
iPhones, and several other phone models, have a ‘night shift’ mode. This setting, when enabled, changes the brightness and colour of your screen at a daily time of your choosing.
Studies have shown that blue light from phone screens tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, which reduces production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Night shift removes this blue light and gives your screen a softer, yellowy glow. While this removes the most harmful type of light, it’s still wise to give yourself a screen break last thing at night.
2. Use ‘Do not disturb’ mode to tackle loneliness
It might seem paradoxical to suggest using a ‘Do not disturb’ function to reduce loneliness. But a recent article in The Independent reported that, whilst technology is connecting people virtually, in reality this can lead to a distancing from one another.
This is supported by a study by professor Jean M Twenge, who found that loneliness has increased by 40% since the dawn of the smartphone era.
Many phones have a ‘Do not disturb mode’, which will turn off your notifications to make way for quality time with friends and family.
3. Try an app to help you take a time out
Checky is a free app, available on Android and iOS, that gathers data about your phone use, showing you how many times you check your phone in a day. Or if you want to go a step further in your digital detox, there’s Offtime (iOS and Android), which lets you temporarily block certain apps and filter your communications.
Forest (£1.99, iOS, Android) is a delightful app that encourages you to give yourself a break from your phone. The concept is simple: a tiny shrub gradually grows into a glorious tree over 25 minutes. If you leave the app to check your phone, the tree dies. As you grow yourself a little forest you earn virtual coins. When you cash them in, the company behind the app plants a real tree.
4. Ignore Instagram ‘Explore’
A 2017 BBC article reported that Instagram is the ‘worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health’. Many Instagrammers use photo enhancement tools and selective angles present an image that’s difficult to achieve in the real world.
If you’re a regular Instagram user, think about whether the accounts you follow make you feel good about yourself. If not, unfollow them. It may also help to avoid Instagram’s ‘Explore’ feature. That’s the section that can be found when you click the little magnifying glass. This feature pulls in images from accounts that you don’t necessarily follow, giving you less control over what you see.
5. Unfollow without unfriending
We’ve all got the odd Facebook friend who doesn’t make us feel great. But if you don’t want to go so far as to ‘unfriend’ them, you can use the ‘unfollow’ button instead. Go to the person’s profile, and at the top of the page you’ll see a ‘Following’ box. Simply hit ‘Unfollow’, and their stories will stop appearing in your timeline. They won’t be alerted to the fact that you’ve done it.
6. Mute certain words, hashtags and phrases on Twitter
If you want to avoid certain subjects, news stories or phrases on Twitter, you can do so via the ‘mute’ tool. Go to your settings, click on ‘notifications’, then ‘mute’. You can select words, phrases or hashtags to be filtered from your feed. It’s not failsafe, but it will help you to reduce the amount of unwanted content in your feed.