health

"I've discovered an unusual phone setting that's vastly improved my mental health."

Nothing brings me more joy in a foreign country than free Wi-Fi.

I never pay for data or any sort of phone plan overseas. Rather, when travelling, I turn my phone to airplane mode when leaving the wi-fi-comfort of my hotel or hostel.

This is nothing groundbreaking. Airplane mode, for those of you who don’t know, takes your phone offline. Turning it off saves you from forking out a gargantuan amount of money on international roaming costs. It’s nothing new, and unless you’re evading tax and also on a seven-figure salary, I’m sure you do the same.

Airplane mode can be found on iPhones at the top of the settings menu. Image supplied.

Recently, I travelled to London, where I put my airplane mode game into hyper-drive. I would make sure to flick my phone to airplane mode before leaving my hotel. I made it my mission to not pay for a single kilobyte of upmarket, well-dressed, British data.

As a result, I wouldn't receive calls or texts while out and about. No Facebook notifications, no Instagram stories, no Tripadvisor reviews of nearby restaurants filled with spite and malice.

Between the hours of 8am and 6pm, my phone was, essentially, a brick. A podcast playing, photo-taking brick.

And I loved it.

Returning to the hotel at the end of each day, my phone would light up with missed calls and updates from friends and family and it was like a drug. A hit so full of ecstasy and overwhelm I elected simply to bathe in my popularity. I had no idea to whom I should respond first.

It was fantastic.

Of course, the amount of correspondence flooding in at the end of each day was no different to the amount I would've received had I left airplane mode off. I was, however, noticeably happier on a day-to-day basis.

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There was no stress. No angst. No panic or FOMO (fear of missing out) or melancholy.

Noticeably absent, a drowning sort of loneliness I experience here at home when I check my phone and discover that no one has sent me anything. Opening my phone to a screen void of notifications is stressful. Am I liked? Is no one in the world thinking about me right now? Not a single soul?

As is the curse of an anxious mind.

Bring airplane mode into the picture, however, and the story changes.

Instead of having a lack of notifications 'because I'm boring', or 'because no one cares', I have no notifications... simply because I'm not connected to the internet. It's physically impossible for me to receive anything. Millions of people might be trying to reach me, and I'd have no way of knowing either way.

It's a thought that's nothing short of liberating.

When self-consciousness and ego are off the table; when we aren't concerned with what we might be missing out on, or who in our lives is or isn't thinking about us, our appreciation of the present develops; our ability to be in the moment increases.

For someone like me, far more distracted by what I'm missing out on than what I'm actually doing, the discovery is life-changing: by pressing a single button atop my settings menu, I'm a happier human being.

"By pressing a single button atop my settings menu, I'm a happier human being." Image supplied.
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I do wish it wasn't the way. I wish I was better at separating from my phone and that the thought of being 'offline' for six hours was one I was fully comfortable with.

But the reality is, it's not.

For millennials, socialites, and anyone who relies on their phone for work, it's not that simple. A mobile phone - and all the social capabilities it withholds - is as much a part of us as our arm or leg.

It's podcasts and emails and train timetables and period calendars.

It's a distraction on the morning commute, and it's breaking news alerts at all hours of the day.

Separating from it is simply the opposite of what feels natural.

Listen: Jessie Stephens tries her absolute hardest to spend a week without her phone, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after audio.

In the past, however, back here at home, doing what feels 'natural' - keeping airplane mode off, to ensure I'm always accessible - has resulted in nothing more than deep-seated anxiety; a sugar-hit of relief each time my pocket vibrates with a text message or Facebook notification, followed by two hours of depression and angst when it doesn't.

So this time, flying back into Sydney airport from a crowded and sweaty London Heathrow, I made myself a promise:

I will continue to use my mobile phone as if I were still overseas.

When it's lying around, I will put it on airplane mode. When I leave the house and slip it into my pocket, I will put it on airplane mode. Each night, before I fall asleep and each day, sitting around at work... I will put it on airplane mode.

And so I have. In the two weeks since returning home, I've been using my phone as if I were overseas: leaving it in airplane mode majority of the time, only turning airplane mode off to let correspondence flood in once or twice each day.

Several messages have gone unanswered; I've been marginally late on breaking news; I've had no sense whatsoever as to how many likes my Facebook posts or Instagram photos of my breakfast have received.

But I'm still alive. And I can't remember ever being happier.

I've still been able to listen to podcasts and music and check the time and take photos. My phone is still a pocket-sized wonder of technological engineering.

It's just a far less intrusive one.

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