Today I am answering a reader’s question. Bethany asked the following, “Do you have any tips for staying off technology when you’re sick and don’t feel like doing anything? I know I should just let myself rest, but doing nothing is hard and gets boring. I’d love to hear any tips you may have!”
This is a great question, and I appreciate your willingness to let me share my response on my blog. I’m going to start by explaining why technology, particularly smartphones, can be a good thing but why we also need to be concerned about technology, and then I will answer your question about how to stay off it, especially when sick.
My parents gave me my first smartphone a few months before I turned 14. I was becoming more independent and volunteering at an assisted living facility, and I needed a way to contact my family when away from home. As it turned out, I quickly lost that independence, quit my volunteer job, and spent years mostly in bed. During that time, I spent a lot of time on my smartphone. I was too sick to sit at a desktop computer and rarely had the energy to sit up in bed with my laptop. Instead, I used my smartphone, often while I was in a fetal position.
My smartphone was a blessing and allowed me to stay in contact with friends and family. I could write emails and texts on my phone, and my phone was good at guessing what I wanted to say and populating words, which was helpful since brain fog often left me struggling to spell. Sometimes I used speech-to-text. I also regularly did Google image searches on my phone, and looking at pictures was a good distraction from my symptoms. As I gained more mental energy, I even listened to podcasts while resting with my eyes shut and sometimes used Duolingo. My smartphone was a blessing.
But it was also a curse.
I eventually found myself sacrificing nap time to respond to messages on my phone while in bed that could have waited. I found myself anxiously researching my diseases on Google and reading articles and forums that discouraged me. When I got Facebook at age 20, I installed it on my phone, but the notifications and urge to check what was new with my friends was a constant distraction. When I had insomnia at night, I would often draft blog posts or respond to messages, but the blue light from my phone was stimulating. It would have been better for me to listen to calming music or to use strategies such as counting backwards from 5,000 or listing a positive word for each letter in the alphabet to help me get back asleep. I use the latter two strategies now when I have insomnia and find them surprisingly helpful.
I’m not here with a message that everyone should get rid of their smartphone, but we must remember that smartphones are designed to be addictive. In fact, Catherine Price, the author of How to Break Up with Your Phone and The Power of Fun, compares smartphones to slot machines. Furthermore, think about how many apps on smartphones are free. Why are those apps free? Usually because they are selling your attention to advertisers. Also, think about how many times you were reading an ebook on your phone, but then saw a notification that distracted you from your book or about how many times you were reading a web article but then got distracted by an ad. There’s a reason our comprehension is better when we read words printed on paper. Our brains can often tune out people talking, the sweeper being run, and many other household noises and allow us to focus on our book, but it is much harder for the brain to tune out the ads and notifications that pop up on our phones.
However, it’s not just smartphones that can be problematic. In fact, your question was about technology in general. Much, if not all that I have written, applies to any wireless device that is essentially a minicomputer, such as tablets. Television also presents problems, but I am focusing this article on smartphones and similar devices.
Now that I have established some of the pros and cons of smartphones and similar devices, let me answer your question about how to stay off of technology when sick. I think overuse of smartphones and similar devices is especially problematic for those who are sick because they are often stuck in bed, low in energy, and it takes energy to plan and execute activities. Often, it’s easiest to just pick up our phone or turn on the television and then wonder where the last 45 minutes went. This leads me to my main point in answering your question: be intentional.
One doesn’t lose 50 pounds by simply saying, “I want to lose weight!” One has to exercise, eat healthy, and perhaps treat health conditions that are contributing to the weight problem. It takes intentionality to lose weight, and it also takes intentionality to limit technology usage. In the case of limiting technology, we need to perhaps install the Freedom app, which can be used to block apps and websites during certain times, and/or delete apps that we find distracting. You can also put apps in folders to keep you from mindlessly opening them. Next, we need to identify what apps serve us and that we wish to continue using. Then, we need to intentionally replace the time that we would normally waste on our screens with time spent on something else. For example, last summer, I spent hours in bed crocheting items that I entered in the county fair. Once I found a pattern and yarn, it was easy to pick up my crochet project instead of my phone. Other crafts that can be done in bed include knitting, plastic canvas, and jewelry making. I even have a friend who sets up a table in bed and paints with watercolors. Coloring is another option. You can also buy kits for craft projects, which are nice when you are low in energy and don’t feel like looking for all the needed materials. Magazines and books from the library can also replace screen time. You may also enjoy solving puzzles or writing letters while in bed.
Arguably, the best activities are the ones that leave you feeling refreshed instead of drained. Catherine Price writes about the power of fun, and she defines fun as being a combination of playfulness, connection, and flow. (Flow is a term used in psychology to describe when one is fully engrossed and engaged in their present experience to the point that they lose track of the passage of time, and seeing notifications on our phones constantly knocks us out of this state.) Try to add some fun to your day. Perhaps sing with family members or play fetch with the dog while you rest in bed or the couch. However, while playfulness, connection, and flow are most powerful when together, even these states by themselves have benefits. Be creative, and you’ll find fun activities that can replace your screen time. You may even find as I did when I began to limit screen time and instead embrace other activities that you feel happier and have more energy.
Last of all, remember that you are sick and give yourself grace. Someone in bed with a broken leg will have more mental energy than most chronically ill people and will be able to do more mentally demanding activities. On the other hand, someone in bed with a chronic illness may find activities such as reading to be mentally exhausting. In that case, I recommend trying to stay somewhat mentally active because if you don't use your brain you lose cognitive functions, but at the same time, listen to your body. Limited time watching YouTube or movies can sometimes actually be beneficial. They can help to keep your mind off your symptoms and to pass your time while requiring minimal mental energy, and they can enable you to save energy for other activities.
I wish you the best and hope this advice is helpful!