Recently, we explored our modern-day addiction to cell phones. Just look around you, outside, in your own home, even at work – there’s not a person over two who isn’t glued to their device, completely ignorant of their surroundings.
The days of looking both ways before crossing the street are over. We don’t mind taking our lives in our hands as we cross the street looking one way: at our phone. We no longer pull over and ask a stranger for directions (heaven forbid we have an actual conversation with another person). Why keep our eyes on the road when we can keep it on our maps app (and all the incoming calls and texts while we’re at it)?
It’s no accident that we’ve become addicted to our phones, with more plug-in stations designed to accommodate and encourage phone use. Unfortunately, this phone use is usually during times we shouldn’t be using our phones (e.g., driving, spending time with friends). Wifi is now so ubiquitous, it’s seen more as a right than a privilege.
Our phone packages may not have Tony the Tiger as its mascot or be loaded with sugar, but they’re loaded with the electronic version of it: apps, likes, hearts, colors, sounds, message alerts.
Equating these features to sugar is not a mere analogy, but rather, a measurable comparison. Continual phone use alters the brain’s chemistry, in particular, the functioning of our neurotransmitters. Each “reward” we get from opening a message or seeing a “like” spikes our dopamine (just as sugar does), setting us up for addiction. Additionally, with repeated phone use, we upset the delicate balance of GABA (a neurotransmitter which produces feelings of calm and helps us control anxiety).
These volatile spikes and dips in brain chemicals are almost identical to what scientists see with sugar consumption. In either case, we can end up with depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Excessive phone use also decreases human interaction and independent thinking, while increasing loneliness, insecurity, stress, and risk of suicide.
Not to fear – a phone addiction is not beyond help. And unlike chemical addictions which may require complete abstinence, breaking our cell phone habit does not mean we must give up our phones entirely or forever. Rather, we must learn to set healthier boundaries in order to have a more productive relationship with our phones.
Here are 10 things to try when setting out to break your phone addiction:
- Leave your phone at home for short outings. Sure, we wouldn’t leave home for the entire day without bringing our phone with us, but start off small. When going out for errands, a jog, or to see a friend, try leaving your phone at home. If you really think about it, you don’t need your phone in any of these scenarios. Challenge yourself to be without it and use the opportunity to be more present in what you’re doing.
- Turn your phone on silent, or better yet, off for a little while. We jump and react to every little buzz and ding our phone gives off. We’re slaves to our phones. Consider minimizing the temptation to be at your phone’s beck and call by turning off the sounds or turning off the phone entirely. You can always periodically check your phone to see what calls and messages came through.
- Leave your phone in another room when going to sleep. This will help you be less tempted, or at least able to reach for it in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.
- Turn off all notifications on all apps, excluding absolutely urgent notifications. Although, I’d be hard-pressed to find any notification that is truly urgent. All emails, dating app messages, Facebook likes, texts, and voicemails will be delivered and saved for you, whenever you get to them. But do you really need to be alerted of everything the moment they happen?
- Use an actual day planner, alarm clock, calculator, dictionary, or flashlight. Part of the addiction to phones is that they’re barely used as just phones – they’re technological Swiss Army Knives! Consider using original tools for your needs, to limit your dependency on your device to do everything for you. For those who say, “But I need my phone on my bedside table as my alarm clock!” No. No, you don’t. There are devices that do just that which don’t emit harmful blue light.
- Delete social media apps. If you find yourself compulsively seeking out validation from likes or comments, try removing social media apps from your phone. You can log in via a computer when you want to post something or stalk your friends. And rest assured, you can always redownload the apps later.
- Trade in your smartphone for a flip phone (so it actually functions as just a phone). Having your phone function as a phone (and nothing more) helps limit distractions and inhibits checking your email 50 times a day. At first, not having immediate access to the internet may elicit panic, but there’s something eerily calming about succumbing to patience.
- Give yourself internet/social media/email hours. Rather than using your device carte blanche, consider putting limitations on the times of day or amount of time you use it. Just as you would not eat sugar all day long, but rather, save it for dessert, setting specific windows for phone use can help you curb the addiction.
- Ask a friend to hold you accountable. While giving up or reducing any vice, having support is a key element to success. A trusted and reliable friend can check in, remind you, and hold you accountable as you become less attached to your phone.
- Put things in perspective. We take for granted that our phones do everything for us, but that hasn’t always been the case. Try to imagine previous generations carrying all these tools around and constantly staring at them. How ridiculous to see someone walk down the street with a desktop computer, typing on a keyboard. Equally as ridiculous as penciling reminders to yourself in a notebook while crossing the street, or whipping out a telescope from your purse to track constellations.