Before you roll your eyes at this story, thinking it’s yet another symptom of the supposed epidemic of millennials being glued to their phones, know this: Many people with social anxiety take refuge on their phones not because they’d rather be texting than engage with the world IRL, but because they’re anxious. And being on your phone is a socially acceptable way to disengage.
“My phone is my social crutch,” commented Carry K. in a post about nervous habits of people with social anxiety. “Any time I talk to someone I have to scroll through the nothingness on my phone. When I hang out with people, I avoid awkward silences by getting really interested in it.”
So if this is you, right now (Hey! We hope you’re okay. Thanks for reading.), we have some suggestions. It turns out that, instead of aimlessly scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed, there are some quick things you can do to help ground yourself and then eventually get back to where you are — hopefully feeling a little less anxious.
Ahead, some “productive” things you can do when you need to take a phone break in a social situation.
This story was originally published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.
Breathe with a calming GIF.
If you’re feeling a little panicky and need to take back control of your breath, following along with this popular 8-second GIF can help. Count along and take a few minutes for yourself, really focusing on the movement. Perfect for a quick “bathroom” break.
Write out your worries on your phone in a note or in a blank text.
If you’re looking at your phone because you have thoughts racing through your head, get them out! Even if it’s word vomit, it might feel good to get all those thoughts out of your head.
If you have headphones, meditate for 10 minutes.
Check in with your support system.
If you have a go-to person, now’s the time to check in. Even if they don’t respond, just getting your feelings out to them might make you feel less alone. And of course, if they respond, they might be able to offer some much-needed words of encouragement.
Play a mindless game – but time yourself.
Angry Birds. Candy Crush. Whatever the kids are playing these days. Let yourself do something mindless, but try to limit yourself to 10 minutes — especially if you’re at an event with friends. Consider it a quick grounding exercise to help your mind get back on track so you don’t get too lost in the game and too disconnected from what’s going on around you. After 10 minutes, reevaluate how you feel, and see if you feel comfortable putting your phone down.
Save a photo album on your phone with good memories and your favorite images.
Make a special photo album that’s full of good memories, people, and places you love. (Maybe call it “Emergency Photos.”) Or even fill it with silly memes and cartoons — anything that will make you smile or feel loved, and that could help give you some perspective when you’re stuck in an anxious moment.
Watch The World’s Most Relaxing Film.
The name speaks for itself. Good to watch, with or without sound.
In your notes or in a blank text, type out five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.
This is a classic grounding technique for people who experience anxiety. By using your phone to take note of what’s happening around you, you can get better situated with your surroundings and, potentially, more comfortable.
Write yourself a nice email of things you think you’ll need to hear when you go into work.
While you’re on your phone, send yourself an encouraging email of things you’ll need to hear first thing in the morning at work. Sounds corny (it’s a little corny), but it can help give your brain some motivation to think positively. You may be a little happier when you see it over your first cup of coffee.
Mark something you have to look forward to on your calendar.
When you’re feeling anxious and stuck at a party or in a public place, it’s easy to feel like this moment will never end. So rather than dwelling on how you’re feeling now, take a second to think of any fun things you have planned for the future. Someone’s birthday? The premiere of a new show? If you can’t think of anything, create something to look forward to, even if it’s a Netflix date with yourself or a visit to your favorite coffee shop. Look forward and remind yourself there will be life after this moment.
Use a reminders app (or Google Calendar) to set yourself up with some little nudges you might need to remember throughout the day, such as taking your medication or taking a break at work.
Read an article about something you care about — but not something that will stress you out.
Though stepping away from the news cycle may be a smart move for those with anxiety, reading one article about a topic you know you’re interested in (especially if it’s good news) might be the distraction you need.
Tell a friend/family member/mentor how much they mean to you.
While you’re staring at your phone, you might as well use its powers of communication for good. Text a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, reminding them why they’re great. Who knows? They might be on their phone looking for some encouragement, too.
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