Compulsive Phone Checking

You want to see something freaky?

Go into your settings and look at your screen time report.

Earlier this year I finally turned off my screen time report notification when it kept telling me that my average weekly screen time was creeping up.

I looked at it today for the first time in a while, and it’s at 1 hour and 28 minutes per day on average. That’s down 29% from last week!

The truth is, picking up my smartphone has become almost a compulsive behavior.

Put Into Perspective

Let’s be generous and say I sleep eight hours a night. That gives us 16 waking hours left per day.

If, on average, I’m spending 1.5 hours per day on my phone, that leaves me 14 and 1/2 hours left in my day.

That doesn’t sound too bad.

But when I compare that to the time I spend doing my hobbies, that’s when it starts to seem like a lot.

  • Reading: I definitely don’t read 1.5 hours a day.
  • Knitting: if I knitted that long every day I’d have serious shoulder pains!
  • Writing: nope.
  • Exercising: it’s about 30 minutes every other day.
  • Playing piano: I play for max. ten minutes if I’m lucky.

And remember: 1.5 hours is down 29% from last week! What was I DOING last week??

Checking the Phone Compulsively

I wake up, I check my phone. (The first pickup today was at 7:35am.)

My phone lives in my back pocket or sits next to me on the counter. It follows me upstairs, downstairs, outside… To the bathroom…

(Don’t tell me you don’t do it!)

Any change in pace or activity, any lull and I whip it out.

Mostly I’m on WhatsApp and Instagram. On WhatsApp I’m at least interacting with family and friends.

But on Instagram, it’s just mindless scrolling. I shoot past post after post, pausing occasionally to unmute and watch a video, or to like something.

The worst part is, though, that I’ve clicked on some Instagram ads. And have even bought off of Instagram ads!

Each time it happens I get SO ANNOYED with myself! I’m behaving exactly as Mark Zuckerberg wants me to and making him money with each stupid purchase.

Gah! Damn the man!

Why the Compulsive Checking?

I’ve been wondering about this. What is causing me to constantly reach for my phone?

Why am I mindlessly scrolling? Checking for messages I know have not come? Looking for likes when I haven’t posted anything?

What does it give me? Is it escapism? Am I doing it out of boredom?

Maybe it’s just become a habit, like twirling my hair. It certainly feels that mindless most of the time.

Looking for Contact?

Or is it that I’m desperately looking for contact?

I’d have to delve a little deeper into my screen time data to see if the pandemic has had much of an impact on my phone use.

Since we’re not seeing much of anyone, the phone is my only point of contact with anyone outside my household.

Perhaps this compulsive phone checking is simply an expression of loneliness.

What To Do?

1 .Forgive myself:

It’s okay to be desperate for contact in these socially distanced times. I think we can all relate to that.

2. Set some ground rules for phone use:

Not at the table. Not when I’m spending time with my Chico or the kids. Never in the car. Leave it downstairs at bedtime.

3. Delete Instagram:

I’ve done this before, and it was good. I still used my phone a lot for WhatsApp and other messaging apps, but at least I stopped the mindless scrolling (and stupid purchases. Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg!).

4. Wear my watch:

One of the biggest reasons I pick up my phone is to look at the time. Wearing a watch precludes that necessity.

5. Forgive myself again:

Don’t get mad at myself for failing to do any or all of the above. Even being more aware of my compulsive phone checking is a positive step forward.

The Slough of Despond

The Swamp of Despair. The Pit of Gloom. The Dismal Abyss.

You get the idea, yes?

John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond was a place where his protagonist (a rather obviously named “Christian”) wallowed in the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt.

My personal Slough is more to do with my feelings of failure.

What Brings It On

It’s hard to say what brings on these episodes. I find myself sinking into a gloom, as if the weight of something is sitting on my chest.

The smallest tasks become overwhelming. The slightest things become major irritants.

It’s a debilitatingly contradictory combination of numbness and hyper-sensitivity. It fixes me in a gloomy funk and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, or in extreme cases, a few weeks or even months.

Focusing on Failures

This gloomy mood happens to all of us. Many people are feeling it more with the isolation that the pandemic has brought.

When it descends on me I tend to focus on my perceived failures. Which particular failures change from spell to spell.

This time my brain seems fixated on how I have failed to be as well-informed, well-read, thoughtful, spiritual, generous with my time as…

My Mother.

This is not a new way I have devised to punish myself. I’ve compared myself to her often enough in the past.

The comparison has also been made by others, and often times the expectation for me to be like her is very real. I’ve been told of it outright.

It’s unfair. It’s unfair for me to do this to myself. It’s also unfair for others to do it to me.

My mother was an extraordinary woman. There is no doubt about that.

I am also extraordinary in my own way. I’m a woman of remarkable abilities. However…

I am not my mother.

I’m not even all that much like her. I think that’s part of why we got along so well.

While she was alive, I felt no pressure to be like her (at least not from her). We shared the joy of our mutual love, our admiration and our capacity to push each other out of our different comfort zones.

Since her death, however, both I and others seem to have transferred a lot of what she was to me.

A spiritual mentor of hers writing to me as he would have to her. A friend of hers expecting me to share all my mother’s knowledge of literature. A family member expressing dismay that I do not take the same joy from cooking as my mother did.

And then there are my own feelings of failure at not being such an active participant in my community as she was in hers.

The list goes on.

Gloom or Grief?

It’s almost as if I knew better who I was and what my place was before my mother died.

Losing her, I have lost some of my sense of self.

It’s hard to say if what I’m feeling is a “depressive episode” or simply grief. More than three years on, it can still sneak up on me.

I miss her. I also miss who she helped me to be.