WHEN it comes to thinking of ideas on what to write about, I often find them coming to me organically.

They pop into my mind when out walking, talking with people, or seeing something in my day-to-day life that sparks my interest. I mull over things and dissect them. When writing, words form in my head and trickle down on to the page to form what becomes my work.

It is a process I have always loved and, as a writer, it is amazing when things happen this way; perfect really. However, last week – when it came to me thinking about this column – this was not the case. My head was empty.

Despite what was undoubtedly a very busy news week, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop with a million tabs open on my browser and just as many in my head. Bouncing between everything that had happened, I felt paralysed in ways – my mind so full of cached information that I was unable to think clearly.

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I asked myself ‘why’, but really I knew the answer: I had been spending too much time online.

The last few months and weeks have seen so many large scale events happening. To not associate with the incidents themselves and stay informed, as well as the surrounding debates online, felt wrong. The more I did, however, the more I felt I needed to know.

As a result, my screen time over the last month has skyrocketed. As I sit writing this column, my phone, very kindly, reminds me that once again it was up by 29 per cent compared to the previous week.

Then, on the contrary, I realised that I had not done any of the things which help me come up with new ideas and think critically in over two weeks, because I was always ‘too busy.’ Whenever I decided I was finished with a task, I often found myself on my phone again. And so the cycle continued until last Friday.

Last week wasn’t the first time I felt this way. My boyfriend previously playfully referred to it as ‘phone addiction.’ Whenever I sat scrolling on my phone while we watched a movie, checking messages while we ate dinner, or ‘just finishing’ one last task before going to sleep at night. It was a joke; until it wasn’t.

I was finishing my university degree during the pandemic. Like many others, I spent hours – sometimes days – in front of my laptop.

Whenever I wasn’t, I would reach for my phone. I’d find myself compulsively ‘doomscrolling’ through my social media timeline. In my actions, I had found a strange form of comfort, and what previously had been a slight affinity towards reading news and spending time on social media, turned into an all-consuming habit.

That such behaviour isn’t good for you, is not just something I experienced personally. Several studies conducted during the pandemic linked increased time spent on smartphones to anxiety and depression, while more recent studies have shown that even just a week of reduced online activity can help boost mental wellbeing.

Finding the answer on how to spend time online sustainably is not straightforward, however, because of the way platforms are designed to hold our attention as much as possible to make profit. The revolving door of videos I have watched on TikTok without noticing the time is my personal manifestation of this clever design.

Then, the levels of dependency we each have are so different, too. For me, reading and staying connected with news is part of my job. There is a form of guilt I feel not knowing what is going on. Moreover, social media is also an amazing tool to stay connected with people. It is also a source for stories. Switching myself off too much from this world feels impossible (plus, I don’t know if I truthfully could stick to it based on the frustratingly high amount of times I have been on Instagram or TikTok while writing this piece).

HeraldScotland: 'The revolving door of videos I have watched on TikTok without noticing the time is my personal manifestation of this clever design''The revolving door of videos I have watched on TikTok without noticing the time is my personal manifestation of this clever design' (Image: Newsquest)

Still, would I benefit from spending less time online? Absolutely. More phone developers have added features such as ‘sleep time’ or time limits to their software and researchers have suggested the best thing to do to combat negative aspects of online exposure is to regularly create a physical distance to your online feed. So, that’s what I did this weekend.

I spent one day immersed in a story and reading a book from cover to cover; something I have not done in a long time. The next, I spent with my partner. We decided to embark on a ‘date day’, to make up for the fact that I – as I detailed in my last column – ditched him on Valentine’s Day.

I muted my phone and zipped it into my bag. While still on it occasionally, I did not sit and scroll aimlessly – mostly because of my boyfriend’s ‘no phone addiction’ interjections. We spent the full day laughing at my – very mediocre – mini golf skills, and I ended up feeling very different to what I did before.

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The answer of living a happy offline life, while spending time online, seems to be a balancing act – one I have yet to figure out but am working on. Having access and being part of the constant stream of information and discourse that the internet and social platforms expose us to is crucial for me and my work, but so is switching off from these things and enjoying other parts of life sometimes.

In the long run that will be more carefully monitoring my screen time and setting limits for myself and being part of the news cycle in sustainable ways.

For today, however, it is simply going to the park and putting my phone on ‘do not disturb’ for the 30 minutes I plan to spend there, and looking forward to the silence in the knowledge that it’s okay – and necessary – to switch off your phone sometimes.

Daniella Theis is Scottish Student Journalist of the Year