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I Was Spending Too Much Time On My Phone. Here’s How I Stopped

Surprisingly (and perhaps counterintuitively), a few iPhone features helped.
I Was Spending Too Much Time On My Phone. Here’s How I Stopped

(Phone image: freepik.com)

Like many people, I used to spend a lot of time on my phone. It was the first thing I would grab as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning and it was the last thing I would put down before falling asleep. Even though I was physically present in social settings, my mind would be focused on what photo or video I could capture in the moment for that perfect post. (In my defense, I am an art director.) 

When COVID-19 hit, I was on my smartphone more than ever. Instead of feeling more connected to a community, I felt more isolated and inadequate. At the time, I was struggling in my marriage and with being a mom. My pre-teen son was going through major changes and the pandemic isolation was difficult for him. My relationship with my husband was also strained from being together 24/7 and constantly fighting about differing parenting styles and the financial strains we were experiencing as a result of the lockdown. Everything came to a head and I knew I had to make major changes in my life. Besides seeking professional help, I also made a concerted effort to stop using my phone so much.

The changes I made in the way I used my iPhone weren't major, but in hindsight, they helped lift me out of the lowest point of my life. Today things are by no means perfect, but I no longer feel the need to participate in social media solely for approval and acceptance.

Here are a few of the changes I‘ve implemented to live a healthier, fuller life—with far less screen time. 

1. Going offline and getting outdoors (safely)

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photo of forest and high trees, and photo of the author side by side, used in a post on how to reduce screen time.

I've learned that taking a moment out in my day to be by myself, away from my family, is not a bad thing. During the summer months, I started venturing to remote trails outside of my comfort zone for hikes. Sometimes, I went alone; other times, I hiked with my mom. I never used to look anywhere besides my direct line of sight, but now I’m aware of what’s above or below me. In these moments, I've discovered majestic trees and unique plants, deepening my appreciation for the beauty of nature.

When I started hiking alone, however, I was concerned about safety—but I realized there were easy safety features that I could activate on my iPhone to help alleviate my worries. The first one I set up was Medical ID (in which you can input information on your blood type, any allergies or medical conditions you might have, as well as any medications you’re taking); I also added my emergency contacts to the Health app on my iPhone. 

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an iphone screen showing the medical ID page in iphone that can be used during an emeegency.

Then I activated Emergency SOS via satellite, which helps users connect to emergency services even if you’re in an area without cellular coverage. (One note: In order to use this function, you must have Location Services turned on in your settings.) This function would also allow me to share my Medical ID and notify my emergency contacts if I were, say, to get lost or fall in the woods.

My contacts would also receive a transcript of my conversation with emergency services, as well as a map with my location.

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3 photos of iphone next to each other; one shows a call to 911, the second one shows the screen that reports an emergency, and the last one shows a page of messaging of emergency SOS report.

The second safety feature I activated was Fall Detection, which is paired with the Emergency SOS feature on my Apple Watch. This way, if my watch detects a hard fall, it will contact emergency services if I’m immobile for a certain period of time following the fall (about one minute). If I’m out of cellular range, it will use the Emergency SOS function.

photo of iwatch with a notification that asks if the holder has had a fall and if they want to report an emergency.
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(One thing to know: the Emergency SOS via satellite function is free for two years after activation. After that point, Apple hasn’t yet confirmed whether it will remain free.) 

two photo of iwatch side by side...

Finally, I also paired my iPhone with my Apple Watch’s Compass App to set my starting point as a waypoint. Then I activated the Backtrack in the Compass App to record my route so that I can retrace my steps to my starting point, should I ever get lost.

2. Monitoring my heart rate

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photo of iwatch screen that shows high heart rate.

At the peak of my stress and anxiety during the pandemic, my heart rate would skyrocket. I felt tightness in my chest and I could feel my heart pounding. It became so severe that I saw a heart specialist.

Thankfully, no issues were identified—but the doctor did recommend that I monitor my stress levels, as those instances of rapid heart rate were stress-related. So I decided to use my Apple Watch's Heart Rate app to notify me of low or high heart rates. Since enabling this feature, my watch has alerted me several times. This function helped me become more aware of what I’m doing at the moment my heart rate rises. Consequently, I’m learning how to remove myself from stressful situations to prioritize my health.

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3. Meditating and practicing mindfulness

photo of the author sitting on a yoga rug and looking to her iwatch on her wrist.(Photo: Olivia Van Dyke)

Alongside the Heart Rate app, I started practising meditation and mindfulness daily. I use the guided meditations on Apple Fitness+ (a subscription is required to use the guided meditations, but there’s a free three-month trial period). 

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I also set a daily reminder on my phone to log my state of mind in the Mindfulness app on my Apple Watch. This app allows me to record my mood and emotions—stuff like whether I’m feeling excited or passionate, and why. Then I use the Health app on my iPhone to see how my mood correlates with lifestyle factors like time spent in daylight, sleep and exercise. 

4. Setting boundaries and reducing distractions

photo of an iphone scree shows different modes of the phone.

Finally, one of the most useful things I did to reduce my screen time was setting up  Focus modes on my iPhone for specific activities. I use Do Not Disturb when I'm with friends or family to avoid distractions, Driving Focus to prevent looking at my phone while driving and Sleep Focus to ensure my sleep isn't interrupted by notifications.

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In the past two years, I’ve also radically reduced the amount of time I spend on social media. I thought I would experience FOMO, but it's been fine. If I want to check in on friends and family, I text or call them—and when we meet up in person, I put my phone away.

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