Do you pick up your phone in the middle of conversations or important tasks? Do you find yourself feeling anxious after spending time on your phone? Do you have certain websites or apps that can take your attention for hours, giving you little in return? Do you consider your internet habits and phone usage to be bad for your mental health? If you wouldn’t give another person a large amount of attention without reciprocation, or allow them to make you feel anxious / jealous / upset, then why should this little device in your pocket be any different? Because of social media and the internet, many of us are in a toxic relationships with our phones – and that needs to change. Here are my tips for making friends with your phone, and making the internet a positive space for you.
The internet has developed at an incredibly quick pace, and unlike pretty much every other important invention in history, it was not figured out and perfected by the time we were of age to use it. We are the first generation of people who are dealing with social media, influencers, influencing, and living in a world where you’re available 24/7. We’re all figuring it out as we go and we make the rules – which is part of the problem, because anyone can put out anything they like on the internet. But this is also part of the solution! While we can’t remove every trace of negativity from the internet, we can curate and design our own version of the internet on our phones, and take control of how we let it impact our lives. We can ‘Marie Kondo‘ our phones, and get rid of every app, social media account, and website that doesn’t spark joy in us.
When I first started out on Instagram, I occupied a tiny space on the internet with a small amount of followers that liked me and liked my stuff. Then my little pocket of the internet started getting bigger and the follower numbers grew. They started to include people who didn’t like me, or my content, and would take joy in telling me this. Almost immediately after my following went over 10k, negative messages and feedback started coming in and I didn’t know how to deal with it. My friends, who had been through this before, helped me to deal with how I absorbed and responded to this negativity, and I’m so grateful I had people around me who helped me. Speaking to other people and getting guidance from people who had been there before me is what helped me a lot. So I want to do the same for anyone else who is finding that their pocket of the internet is anything but purely positive.
This post is for anyone who feels that their relationship with the internet or their phone is not good for their mental health. You can’t dump a phone like you can dump a toxic boyfriend, especially when you depend on it for so much. So instead, lets try to make this relationship as harmonious as possible!
Curate your social media
Your first step in detoxifying your phone is to unfollow, unfriend, mute, or block any social media accounts that generate negative feelings in you. Influencers you hate-follow? Unfollow them. Friends you feel envious of but can’t unfollow? Muted. People who are critical of you online? Blocked or restricted. Your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend that you can’t help but check a lot? If she doesn’t know you then just block her. That means you can’t check her account anymore. Same goes for a celebrity you like to check on in a negative way. They won’t know they’re blocked, but it means you can no longer check in on them and feel bad.
Rather than go through my whole follower account and decide who sparks joy or not, I spent a few days refreshing my home feed and muting / unfollowing anyone who brought up negative feelings. It was mostly extremely thin fitness influencers and influencers whose unsustainable habits would make me a bit mad when I saw them (posing with plastic Starbucks cups, promoting only fast fashion etc). It was mostly big influencers and accounts that wouldn’t have known I exist, but who occupied valuable real estate in my head each day.
I spent about a week really focusing on removing / muting any accounts like that on Twitter and Instagram, and I noticed the difference immediately. Both platforms are infinitely more enjoyable to me, and I really enjoy using them both. I follow people who I like, who I learn from, and who motivate me to do better, without making me feel worse. I follow people because I just love how they tell stories, because I love their relationship, their style, or their personality. I follow people for positive reasons and that in turn makes me feel positive. It also means I engage more with comments and DM’s because I feel happy, and I’m sending this positivity to the people I follow.
Creating your own happy space on social media starts with clearing out the things that clutter your feed, mind, and emotions. Go to your feed now, and start detoxing! Once you have removed the negative influences in your feed, it’s time to replace them with positive ones. In the final section, I recommend apps and accounts that I love to interact with each day.
Switch Off Your Notifications
In this age of the internet, our phones can feel like a needy child that’s constantly screaming to be picked up. It pings, it buzzes, and cries out to get your attention – and before you know it, you’re checking apps, scrolling through news, and you’ve lost another hour of your day. The next task in your phone detox is to switch off those incessant notifications that grab your attention when you’re with your family, your friends, or when you’re trying to sleep.
The problem with notifications is two fold. They divert your attention from the task or conversation you should be focusing on, and they keep your attention because once your phone is unlocked, you usually end up checking other apps and losing even more time. Notifications remind you your phone is sitting there, filled with conversations, messages, information, and direct access to people all over the world. Once they go off it’s almost instinct to unlock your phone and scroll.
Right now, I don’t have any notifications that require me to unlock my phone – I switched all of these off. The only notifications I get are calendar invites for travel planning calls, and sales notifications for this site. The calendar notifications keep me organised, and the sales notifications make me happy! Most importantly, neither require any action from me.
For Whatsapp, email, social media, and any other apps, my notifications are completely off and I choose when I want to check these. This means I spend 20 concentrated minutes on my phone replying to things, instead of being constantly distracted by it for hours. I also took WhatsApp and Instagram off the home screen on my iPhone, so that I wouldn’t get distracted by that little red notification number if I was opening my phone for something else. I have to scroll all the way to the final screen to get to both apps. This little change meant that whenever I did unlock my phone, I didn’t instantly go to Instagram or Whatsapp (which are the two apps that stole my attention the most).
One thing that made a huge difference for me was turning off vibrate on my phone. Again this was another cry for attention from my phone that would work 100% of the time. Switching vibrate off was honestly the best thing for sleeping, because previously I would wake up to a buzz and wouldn’t be able to resist checking my phone. Even if it was just a notification about something unimportant, I would still unlock my phone and start to scroll.
My phone is now on silent 100% of the time, notifications are off apart from the above, and there’s no vibrate – so my phone cannot take my attention unless I choose to give it. I can still get calls if something is important, but for everything else it will get my attention when I’m ready to give it.
Set Time Limits On Negative Habits
One great new feature on iPhones and Android phones is the ability to set limits on your internet usage. You can either block a website completely from your phone, or limit how long you can spend on a particular app or website. Here is how to do it with an iPhone, and with an Android.
These limits help you to break the cycle of mindless scrolling and avoid lost hours on those apps and websites that suck you in for long periods of time. They also help me to stop using sites that I know aren’t a positive space for me.
This step on your detoxification is to identify which apps negatively affect you – either through making you feel bad or just taking up a lot of your time and attention. Delete any apps that you want to stop using, set limits on those that are healthy to a certain extent, and set limits on websites too.
Set a 5 or 10 minute limit, and when you get the reminder to stop scrolling, check in with how you feel. Do you feel like just seconds have passed? Do you feel in a worse mood or headspace than when you opened the site? Do you feel OK, but know that any more time spent on this site wouldn’t be beneficial to your day? Focus on how these sites and apps make you feel, and limit them or block them as you need.
Filter your news sources
For a lot of people, social media isn’t what causes them the most anxiety – it’s reading the news. Between Brexit, Trump, global warming, and Covid-19, the world is a depressing place right now. And this means big business for newspapers! People are greedily devouring every article they can get about about the dramatics around the world, and some papers churn out more and more dramatic articles to get clicks.
If reading the news makes you feel anxious – think about this: Do you really need to read it? Do you need to know everything that’s happening in the world right now? What will change if you don’t? Probably nothing. If your job doesn’t depend on you knowing what’s happening that day, and you can’t do anything to change what’s happening, then it’s just a form of self harm checking those headlines each day. Give yourself a break from all news apps and sites for a week, and see how you feel.
If you want to keep up to date on world events, choose to get your news from reliable, quality news sources that give you reasonably worded, not sensationalised articles. Here are 10 reliable news sources you can read instead of The Sun or The Daily Mail (more on that below).
Don’t read the Daily Mail
This needs a separate point because it’s so important. If you have a the Daily Mail app on your phone, delete it, and set a limit for how long you can spend on it in your phone by following the steps above.
The Daily Mail is a source of anxiety, pressure, and extreme misinformation that is largely ignored when talking about toxic spaces on the internet. I used to read this app constantly, and it was probably the most used app on my phone at one point. Now I try to never go on it, but in the middle of the night or on a long bus journey when I feel I’ve read everything else – I inevitably open it up. I set a 5 minute limit on my phone to make sure I don’t get sucked in to reading it again.
The main thing I noticed when I stopped reading the Daily Mail is how it had warped my opinions of things. I cared so much about things that do not matter. I had ideas and opinions about people that I knew nothing about outside Daily Mail articles, which were largely very negative. I had very strong feelings about people and issues, but no facts to back these feelings up. I didn’t like certain politicians, but I couldn’t tell you their policies or anything about their voting records. There were celebrities that wound me up just by looking at them, but I didn’t know why.
Now I see that those opinions came from reading constant negative articles about these people on the Daily Mail, and dipping into the comments to read them ‘just for fun’. I thought I was reading harmless news about the Kardashians’ outfits, but the headlines and content were seeping into my mind and changing how I thought about things. Now that I don’t read it, I can see how much it impacted my thinking.
Do you have strong feelings about Harry & Meghan? About Greta Thunburg or Jeremy Corbyn? Do you say things like ‘I don’t know what it is but I just don’t trust her’ about strangers that are routinely disparaged in the Daily Mail? Then it’s time to delete that app and stay off the website. If I don’t know a person, I don’t have a strong negative feeling about them – and that’s a much more positive place to be!
Fill Your Phone With Positivity
The first part of detoxifying your phone is removing the bad stuff, but the second part is just as important: adding some more good stuff! You’ve whittled your social media feeds down to those who make you happy, and you’ve deleted apps that take your time without giving anything back. Now let’s make your phone a more positive space, so that when you have a little time on your hands, you’re not drawn back to the dark side of the Daily Mail or looking up your boyfriend’s ex on Instagram. Here are my positive apps to add to your phone!
Add a mindfulness app to your phone for moments when you are feeling overwhelmed. I use the Calm app, but there are similar options which are outlined here. These apps help you to focus on your mindset and emotions, and take your attention away from scrolling.
I use the timed meditation from Calm when I need a moment to myself, and Tim uses guided meditations from Headspace. If you have a habit of scrolling through your phone before bed, try doing a meditation or listening to a soothing sleep story instead.
This is the app I spend the most time on aside from Instagram, and I’ve made it a space where I go to for entertainment that makes me feel happy and positive. Reddit is a platform for sharing photos, stories, and interesting news articles. Most of the fun of Reddit is in the discussions in the comments, which is where you’ll spend most of your time.
Like any Social Media app, Reddit has its darker corners, and there are plenty of negative threads you can get caught up in reading. But also like other social media apps, you can curate your own experience here to make it as positive a place as possible. Reddit is split into ‘communities’ which are focused on a particular subject. Some communities are cute, some are funny, some are interesting, and inevitably some will be toxic. When you use Reddit, you will only see content on your home screen from the communities you follow, so if you follow positive communities, this will be a positive space for you.
Here are my favourite communities on Reddit:
- Awwwww: This is a sub for photos and videos that make you go ‘Aw’, and it’s my go-to when I want some mindless scrolling that makes me happy. It’s adorably cute animals and lots of animal lovers saying how cute they are.
- Travel: This a community about exploring the world. People post photos of cool places they have been, and I have found so many unusual and cool spots on this thread. Photos don’t tend to be as filtered as in Instagram, and rarely have people in them – it’s purely about the love of travel.
- Am I The Asshole: This hilarious sub is for people who are in an argument with someone and can’t decide who is in the wrong. Commenters read the story and each make a determination on who is the asshole in the situation. The comments are moderated so people don’t get nasty, it’s a very entertaining community to join!
- Mildly Interesting: Exactly what it says on the tin. Those interesting photos or stories that aren’t front page material but are cute / funny / interesting.
- Ask Reddit: People on Reddit ask questions to other people on Reddit! Topics vary, and some are really interesting! These usually stay as a positive space, with a lot of humour.
- Politics: This is where I get most of my information about American politics. It’s a bit of a left leaning sub, with the commenters mostly supporting democratic candidates and not being super fond of Trump. They have banned many sensationalist news sources, and also warn you if an article is from a source like the Daily Mail which is great.
- Get Motivated: Stories to motivate and uplift you! Good for a scroll if you’re feeling a little low.
- Humans Being Bros: Stories of people being nice to each other. Another great one if you just want to see something reliably uplifting.
- Animal Communities:If you love animals like I do, here are my favourite animal subs to follow! DadsWhoDidNotWantPets, EyeBleach, BeforeAndAfterAdoption, AnimalsBeingBros.
Podcasts are great, because there are literally podcasts about any topic from politics to murder mysteries, to celebrity gossip. I listen to podcasts when I run, and when I want to relax and not have any screen time. I can’t concentrate on the podcast while I use my phone, so I listen when I’m driving, or cleaning, or doing a task. They’re a great way to stop you using your phone!
Here are my favourites:
- How To Fail With Elizabeth Day: A show about failure and all the good things that come from it. Elizabeth interviews some really good celebrities on this show, and talks about their top 3 failures in life. It’s humorous, interesting, and quite light considering the topic. The second episode with Phoebe Waller-Bridge is my favourite!
- Comments By Celebs: Hosted by the two girls behind the famous Instagram account of the same name, this is my go-to podcast when I want to listen to something easy and light. They release two episodes a week, chatting about celebrities and what’s going on in in the celebrity world. There are deep dive specials anytime anything happens in the celebrity world, analysing the events and giving a blow by blow account of what happened. They rarely speak negatively about people on the show, to this is a positive space rather than a Perez Hilton style gossip show.
- This American Life: This is the podcast that got me into podcasts, and it has something for everyone. This show is created and presented by a team of journalists, so the episodes are usually really interesting and well researched. Every week an episode is released with a completely different topic, from topical things in the world, to charming old stories. This American Life even has an app to make it easier to search for and listen to episodes. Here is a list of best episodes to get you started – and my personal favourite episode is Dr Gilmer & Mr Hyde.
- Get Around To It: This one makes me happy because my sister hosts it, but I also love it because it helps me to find really good things to watch and read each week. Aoife and Lauren talk about what they have read / watched / listened to this week and what they thought of them. They talk about movies and shows they want to see and some classics that you should pick up. If you ever find yourself wondering what to watch on Netflix, to see in the cinema, or to read – give this a listen.
I hope that this post has helped you reflect on how your relationship with your phone affects you, and how you can improve this relationship. We all occupy our own space on the internet, and if we can all focus on making our individual spaces happier, it will have an affect on everyone we interact with. The internet can be a great place if we make it that, so let’s work on making it better.
Thanks for reading!