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How to End Your Addiction to Your Phone

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June 21, 2023
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Boston Evening Therapy Content

Can't Stop Picking Up or Letting Go of Your Phone?

If you’re worried about missing a text message on your cell phone or not knowing your friends’ minute-by-minute postings on Facebook or you reach for your phone as soon as you wake up, if might be time for you to admit you’re hooked.

So many of us joke about being unable to be away from our cell phone even for a few minutes, but there are increasingly worrisome revelations about the constant need to be connected.

It might be time to make a choice, for your mental and physical health.

Are you going to take control of your time and attention? Or are you going to continue to let your phone control your life, possibly interrupting the natural healing power of sleep or causing lingering anxiety?

Create A Healthy Relationship with Your Phone

Science journalist Catherine Price captured attention with her 2018 book, How to Break Up with Your Phone:The 30 Day Plan to Take Back Your Life. She suggests that the first step is to become of aware of how and why we are so attached to these hypnotic little miracles of technology. Price reminds us to recognize that phones and apps are designed to be addictive.

The time we spend on our phone “...damages our abilities to focus, think deeply, and form new memories,” says Price.

She doesn’t advise a simple ‘cold turkey’ plan like throwing away your phone. She encourages making your smartphone a positive part of your life instead of an invader with no boundaries.

Price offers guidelines to create a healthy relationship with our phone. Here are a few she suggested in an interview on ‘Here & Now’ on WBUR:

  1. Begin by getting a sense of how much time you spend on your phone.This can be done by using a tracking app such as Moment or one called Quality Time for Android. That will bring the reality of your relationship with your phone into actual minutes, or more likely hours, out of every day.
  2. Put a reminder on your phone. This could be a rubber band or lock the screen so you have a minute or two to think, “Why am I on my phone now?” or “What’s so important that I have to be on my phone at this very moment?” This technique can help you wait a few minutes or an hour or until after work. It helps decrease the sense of urgency. At times when you are expecting an important message, you’ll be more attuned to what must be dealt with in the moment.
  3. Take a 24-hour separation. Pick one day each week where you turn off your phone for the entire day. Read, walk, talk to family members and friends, pay complete attention to whatever you are doing. See how you feel after that one-day of being freed from being a prisoner of your phone.

Growing Concern about Phone Addiction

Price is among the growing group of writers, mental health professionals, parents and educators sending up red flags about the increasingly unhealthy dominance of smartphones in our lives.

David Greenfield is a psychologist trained in addiction medicine at the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Greenfield classifies this urgent need to be on our cell phones as, “a behavioral addiction, not a substance addiction.” If it interferes with daily life and healthy functioning, the behavioral addiction needs to be addressed.

How to Break the Cell Phone Addiction

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction offers guidance on how to break the cell phone addiction. Here are some of the suggestions.

  1. Do not have cell phones in the bedroom when going to sleep. The presence of the phone increases the stress hormone cortisol.
  2. Never use a cell phone or any screen within an hour of bedtime. Research shows that can affect circadian rhythms and disrupt our healthy sleep patterns.
  3. Never have the phone on the table during meals at home or in a restaurant. A cell phone is not a utensil required for eating. Pay attention to those you’re sharing the meal with and the food you’re eating.
  4. Consider ‘graying out’ the screen of your phone. The lack of enticing color will make it less attractive.
  5. Turn off as many notifications as possible. This will help to alleviate the compulsion to check your phone constantly for many details which are neither urgent or important.

As with all mental or physical health concerns, seek help from a licensed professional if unhealthy functioning in daily life or other signs of distress are noticed.

Price, Catherine, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Here and Now, WBUR, March 1, 2018

Roose, Kevin, “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain,” New York Times, Feb. 23, 2019

Greenfield, David, “Smartphone Compulsion Test,” Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, 2017

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