Using Your Smartphone At This Hour Is a Recipe For Stress and Anxiety

Image by Erika Varga from Pixabay

And what you can do to avoid it.

I know you’ve been there. In fact, we all have been there. You get up in the morning, barely bringing yourself to reality after all the amazing sleep you’ve got. You stretch your arm to shut off the alarm that’s ringing on your phone.

As you muster the motivation to get started, you’re tempted to check what awaits you — so you decide to take a quick glance at your calendar and then your email. Hopefully, you don’t see an email that makes you go crazy or anxious.

Anyway, now that you’ve updated yourself on your day, you take an update of the world as well — you know, just to “stay informed.” From here ensues 15 minutes of Twitter and Instagram scrolling that seems pleasurable but keeps you trapped within the sheets instead of starting the day at the right foot.

I’ll be hardly exaggerating if I say that we’re glued to our phones. The smartphones that were supposed to be our smartest servants can also turn out to be bad masters that take our energy and focus away.

Yet, consciously or otherwise, about 80% of smartphone users check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up every morning.

This seemingly harmless habit is quite harmful in reality. You’ll understand why that’s the case by the end of this post and I hope you’ll not be tempted to check your phone at least within the first hour of waking.

Priming Your Brain the Wrong Way

Most of us think that concentration is a state we could switch to anytime we want, no matter what we do throughout the day. In fact, however, concentration is a skill that we need to train continuously. Just like an athlete works towards his goal constantly — through exercise, proper diet, and rest — we need to be aware of the impact of our lifestyle on our concentration.

The simple act of checking your phone in the morning primes your brain for distraction and anxiety for the whole day. The information overload that hits you in the face even before you barely open your eyes significantly reduces our cognitive abilities.

By starting the day with a distracting activity, we set the wrong tone for the times ahead. Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning, says:

“You’ll never recover. Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless… there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes.”

She comes on strong by saying “you’ll never recover.” But that’s actually true. I can attest to that feeling. And even if I do recover it takes tons of willpower and concentrated effort to get back in the game.

Life is already hard enough. Why make it harder by sapping your focus first thing in the morning?

“You Just Want Attention, You Don’t Want My Heart”

What you focus on expands. Where you direct your attention, your energy flows. If you start the day by focusing on social media, messages, emails, news, other people’s (negative) viewpoints, you’re contaminating your mind.

As you start your day after reading this slew of information, these thoughts will always be at the forefront of your mind. Instead of working on your predecided goals and tasks, you’ll be busy juggling balls for others.

Further, the mornings are the best time to prime your brain to instill good thoughts and behaviors. By checking your phone, you lose that crucial window of opportunity when your mind is receptive. It doesn’t take long to figure out that ditching your smartphone in the morning will help you be calmer and mentally clear.

That’s a great way to start the day, indeed.

Cellphone or ‘Cell’ Phone?

By hijacking your attention and throwing a bunch of tasks on your face, your phones can completely absorb your attention and consciousness, making you their servant — or worse yet, a prisoner. That’s probably why they’re called cell phones.

Anyway, while that was a clever wordplay, it is true. Imagine if 50 people entered your house the moment you woke up, each with different demands, wouldn’t you feel overwhelmed? That’s almost the same feeling we have when we let these ‘people’ enter our minds.

Research has also found that high mobile usages were directly correlated to increased cases of depression in people in their 20s. It’s understandable. When all you see is other people’s requests and how amazing their life is (thanks to Instagram), it’s hard to feel good about your life.

Avoid putting yourself in that situation by simply not checking your phone in the morning.

One of The only Things You Enjoy

Technically speaking, the only thing we enjoy in our lives is the release of dopamine and serotonin. And smartphones give us huge dopamine hits.

The trouble with every dopamine-producing behavior is that the more you do it, the more the brain will crave it. So if you check your phone the first thing in the morning, you may think it’s harmless.

But your brain will stimulate you to repeat the same activities throughout the day. The moment something challenging happens at work, the brain will say “I need dopamine.” Then you’ll be tempted to release dopamine using any of the distractions available to you — usually your smartphone.

Winning against the cravings of your brain is tough. A much wiser choice is to not cause the cravings in the first place. How? Obviously, by not distracting yourself in the morning.

It’s All About the Waves

If all the above reasons weren’t enough, I’ve got one more for you. When you wake up, your brain switches from delta waves (deep sleep) to theta waves (daydream state). Then it moves to alpha waves where you’re relaxed yet awake. Finally comes the beta state where you’re wide awake and alert.

When you pick your phone just after waking up, you force your brain to go directly from delta to beta, skipping the theta and alpha stages. However, the theta and alpha are quite helpful.

Scientific American reports that the ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt.” Thus, when you’re in the theta state, the soil is ripe to sow the seeds of success.

Meaning, you can visualize your goals and vision, and inculcate the desired qualities in your life much more easily in this state. This is the time for you to get up, meditate, journal, plan your day, and practice basic brain nourishment.

Wasting this time is the worst thing we can do because it doesn’t come back.

How to Get out Of the Trap

I know that any habit is hard to give up. But fortunately, in my experience at least, checking your phone in the morning is a relatively easy habit to break, if you do it right.

Here are three suggestions to make sure you get out of this habit.

Out of sight, out of mind

If you can, the best way to break this habit is to keep your phone in a different room altogether. This will ensure you don’t reach out to it at least until you wake up completely.

Architect your phone

If you can’t keep your phone away — say you want to use it as an alarm — you should set it in a way that prevents you from using it.

Put it on airplane mode and place it with the screen down so the light doesn’t distract you. By shutting off internet access, you’ll not see a slew of notifications on the screen which makes it 10 times harder to not check them.

Have something to do

Nature abhors a vacuum. Even after you’ve done the above, you’ll have some free time on your hands that needs to be filled. So plan a couple of activities that will help you move towards your goals and start the day in a relaxed manner.

Some ideas include exercising, reading, spending time with family, listening to a podcast, going for a walk, planning the day, having a cup of coffee, etc. I use this time to meditate and exercise.

And even then I avoid checking emails and messages until later (after I’ve done my writing for the day).

Use this app

I know using an app to prevent phone usage sounds counterintuitive but it does work. I use an app blocker called OFFTIME which helps me schedule app blocks in advance. Till 9 or 10 in the morning, I block all apps like WhatsApp, Gmail, YouTube, etc on my phone.

Since I often need my phone for checking my notes and lists in the morning, I had to opt for this solution. But still, it keeps any compulsive behaviors in check and helps me start the day according to my plan and not others’ requests.

Final Thoughts

After reading all this, if you’ve made it till here, I know you’re serious about giving up this habit. So here’s what you should do: write down the exact plan and the steps you’re going to take to stop using your phone in the morning.

It could be putting it on airplane mode or downloading the app I recommended. Whatever it is, write it down so you don’t forget to do it. And when the time comes to check your phone in the morning, you’d be grateful you took the time to prepare in advance.

How you start your day can make or break it. So be sure to start it at the right foot doing the things you actually enjoy.

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Written on July 26, 2021