Conscious Consumption

Conscious Consumption: How Aimless Device Use Can Lead to Stress and Anxiety

Originally published on November 6, 2020

Device Use Today: Anything But Conscious Consumption

Here’s a question for you: What’s the first thing you do after you wake up each morning? If you’re like most folks, I’d guess you reach for your phone and check your texts, emails, and social media apps. If you fall into that category, that’s certainly not an indictment on you — I often do the same exact thing. But it is something we should talk about, as doing so can have a negative impact on our mental health.

So, just what’s the problem with reaching for our phones first thing in the morning? Good question. It’s that doing so subjects us to potentially stress-inducing posts, messages, and pieces of content before we’ve even had a chance to warm up or get in a state conducive to properly handling such stress.

I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. These are the frightening news stories, the urgent emails from our bosses, and the social media posts showing, once again, how we’re not as cool, fit, or attractive as our peers. Not exactly something we all dream of waking up to, I know. Yet, still, every morning, there we are, reaching for our phones again.

Just as we wouldn’t go to the gym, turn the treadmill all the way up to full speed, and hop on, we shouldn’t jump out of bed and reach for our phones right away. Instead, we should take time to warm up and prepare for the day or challenge ahead. We should be conscious and methodical in the use of our devices, even if that means still checking for emergencies first thing in the morning but pushing everything else off until after we’ve had our tea or coffee.

Doing so allows us an opportunity to be in the right state of mind to handle potential, device-driven stressors. It also prevents us from starting our mornings in fight-or-flight mode and carrying that negative energy around with us for the rest of the day.

Of course, simply knowing what we should do doesn’t guarantee we’ll change our behavior, nor does it always explain why we should. That’s why we have to ask ourselves another, potentially deeper question: Why do we willingly perform the digital equivalent of hopping on a speeding treadmill every single morning?

The answer, as I’m sure you can imagine, is simple. One way or another, we’re attached to our devices and the information they bring us. Possibly even addicted. They give us something to do when we’re bored, numerous methods for keeping in touch with people, and even more ways of staying informed on current events.

As such, we’re trained to open them up, refresh our favorite apps, and see if the proverbial slot machine reels have granted us a digital prize in the form of exciting texts, empowering emails, or inspiring social media updates. Frustratingly enough, this leads us to yet another problem.

As is the case with actual slot machines, sometimes our devices provide a payout, and, other times, they take our money. Just as we can receive exciting texts and emails, we can also scroll past harrowing news stories or simply not find anything new at all. It’s this not knowing what we’ll find that keeps us coming back time and time again.

Since our phones are usually right next to us, it’s almost as if we’re locked in the casino 24/7 and the slots are tempting us day and night to give them another spin. As you can imagine, this is dangerous for a couple of reasons.

The first is that we never know what we’re going to find when we open our phones and refresh our favorite apps and websites. When we jump from app to app or site to site, we can quickly come upon information we didn’t want to find or that causes us stress. This can throw us, emotionally, off course, for minutes, hours, and sometimes, even days.

The second reason why constant device use is dangerous is that it leads to massive amounts of distraction. It’s really hard to get anything done or connect with those around us when we’re constantly checking our phones. It’s also really hard to accomplish anything when our incessant clicking leads us to long videos or movies and pushes what we thought we were going to do that night into the future.

Thus, the real problem with reaching for our phones — not just in the morning, but in general as well — is that such an action is usually an unconscious one. Luckily, however, you’re reading this post, which means I have your attention for the moment. That gives us the opportunity to turn this potentially destructive behavior around. We’ll do that through what’s known as conscious consumption.

Implementing Conscious Consumption

When we open our phones on a whim and start hopping from one app or site to another, we run the risk of coming face-to-face with information we hadn’t planned to digest. As you can likely guess, this is the opposite of conscious consumption. This is unconscious consumption.

As I alluded to in the previous section, unconscious consumption can derail us and prevent us from being nearly as productive as we’d promised ourselves we’d be that day. After all, it’s hard to be efficient when our devices are booking proverbial appointments on our calendars without our express permission. Sometimes, the next thing we know, we’ve streamed two unplanned films and stayed up an hour past our bedtime.

Though the exact ways by which we implement conscious consumption are going to look different for everyone based on their lifestyles, there are a few guiding principles we can apply so that we all experience less stress and anxiety as a result of unplanned device use. I’ll cover three here.

The first one goes back to what we talked about earlier — we should do our best not to use our phones first thing in the morning. We don’t need all that stress before our bodies have even had a chance to warm up. Instead, let’s trade that stress in for a cup of tea or a hearty breakfast. Those messages and notifications will still be there after we wake up fully, and we’ll be more prepared to face them head-on once we’ve done so as well.

The second is that we should plan breaks from our devices. This can take a variety of forms as well. For example, we can place our phones in airplane mode for short periods of time. We can also put our devices in the next room, out of arm’s reach, where we have to decide to stop what we’re doing and go get them if we want to use them.

Another way we can take breaks from our devices is by only opening our phones during specific blocks of time or when we have notifications that require our attention. Remember, aimlessly scrolling on apps and websites is what’s most likely to lead to stress, fear, or anxiety. It can seriously be the Wild Wild West out there. Best to not wander out in the first place.

One final way we can be more conscious with our digital consumption is to turn off notifications for or delete any apps that are repetitively causing us stress. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can delete our email apps just because we don’t want to answer our bosses, however. Instead, what I’m talking about here are our negatively-slanted news apps, our comparison-heavy photo browsing apps, or anything else that makes us feel fearful or inadequate. We already have enough stress in our lives, let’s not add any more.

Staying Away From the Slot Machine

Though our devices can obviously be sources of fun, excitement, and joy, they can also create undue stress in our lives. Sadly, when we’re constantly reaching for them without even thinking about it, we’re subjecting ourselves to even more sources of this kind of stress.

As you likely know already, what we put in our minds has a massive impact on our mental health. When we think fearful or disempowering thoughts, we’re going to feel fearful or disempowered. The same goes for what we consume, digitally. When we devour negative news stories and constantly see pictures of folks who remind us that we’re not good enough, we’re going to feel stressed out and overwhelmed as well.

As we’ve seen in this post, the key to warding off that potential stress is to use our phones more consciously and methodically, to not give our slot-machine-like devices the chance to lure us in so often. After all, there’s a reason those gambling machines act and sound like they do — those sights and sounds make them more attractive and addicting to us.

Sadly, our phones operate in a similar fashion with their dings, chirps, and notifications. Thus, our best bet, if we want to avoid the undue stress these devices cause, is to decide exactly when we’re going to play and predetermine when the right time to walk away will be. Just as is the case in a real-life casino, that’s the only way we won’t lose our shirts and our emotional stability in the process.

Thanks for Reading! Want Even More Strategies for Overcoming Stress?

Then head on over to some of my previous articles. Here are some of my most recent ones, if you’re interested:

Somatic Mental Illness: Sometimes It Starts In the Body

Anxiety and Presence: Why Living Outside of the Here and Now Breeds Fear

**Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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