It’s hard to admit, but these days, there are few things more terrifying than having your phone out of reach. And despite the well known significant and disturbing effects it has on our mental and physical health, our obsession—if not addiction—to the phone, prevails.
“A major source of stress in today’s world is the necessity to adjust to the rapid change necessitated by smartphones,” explains Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D., a professor of mind and body medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Sixty to 90% of doctor visits are due to stress, which evokes a series of genetic and physiological changes that can be tremendously harmful to health if sustained, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate, and muscle tension.” Directly contributing to heart disease, high blood pressure, all forms of pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, PMS, and even infertility, Benson emphasizes that our excessive use of smartphones is causing dangerous, and even life-threatening, levels of stress on a daily basis.
And while society has a ways to go in fully coming to terms with this sobering truth, it’s become enough of an acute issue that one of the driving forces behind it all saw the need for addressing it head-on. Enter: Apple’s “Screen Time,” a new iOS 12 feature that not only creates a daily and weekly activity report showing the total time spent on each app, but also counts how many push notifications are received, and how often the phone is physically picked up. And once the reality of phone, and in turn, social media addiction inevitably sets in, a user can take back the reigns with the “App Limits” tool and control how much time they spend on certain apps by setting a limit. Users also have the option of restricting use of certain apps based on the time of day with “Downtime,” a feature that blocks notifications by placing a badge over flagged apps.
But just as crucial as taking a break from your phone is how you spend your time off it, stresses Benson. “[Screen Time] puts you in control, which allows you to better allot your time and focus,” he explains. “The key [then] is building in a counter-response to the time you put in on your smartphone. Not only are you protecting yourself, you’re going to feel better.” Benson calls it the “Relaxation Response,” a term he coined in his pioneering book of the same name, which is essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight response that stress causes within the body. Meaning, you will release chemicals and brain signals that return the autonomic nervous system to its normal setting by slowing it down. The ideal way to achieve this is through 10 to 20 minutes of daily activity, like exercise or meditation; anything that breaks the chain of everyday thinking through repetition of movement or a series of breathing.
Light Watkins, a Los Angeles–based meditation coach (Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is a former client) and author of Bliss More, also underscores the importance of honing in on relaxation as a skill. “We’ve been so indoctrinated to feel that we have to be doing something all the time and that rest is the enemy of productivity,” he explains. “Therefore, we grossly under-appreciate the positive effects that rest can have on our perceptual acuity, our ability to be able to do less and accomplish more, and to make better choices.” And given today’s social constructs, Watkins believes that an essential part of learning how to regularly unplug is understanding the symptoms of withdrawal you might experience, particularly those catalyzed by social media platforms.
“One of the reasons social media is so addictive is that it’s presenting the mind with what it’s looking for: newness, difference, and a contrast to normal life,” explains Watkins. “That doesn’t mean you should stop looking at social media—instead, increase the amount of time you’re spending settling the mind into happiness or sourcing the happiness within.” The reward? You’ll have an easier time managing the balance between productivity, social media, and the other things you may be tracking, he says.
Whether you’re using “Screen Time” to prevent nightly zombie scrolls through Instagram or to cut down on the glut of smartphone usage in general, there are countless ways to reap the benefits. What’s most important is that the tool is broadening your perspective and inspiring you to carve out enough time during the day to recharge—and feel confident that you’re not missing out while you do so. “Once you practice being instead of doing,” says Watkins, “you can enhance and optimize your life in unimaginable ways.”
This article first appeared on Vogue.com