Your Cell Phone Addiction: How to Spend Less Time With Your Mobile Phone

When it comes to our mobile phones, it sometimes feels as if we can’t live with them…. but can’t live without them. Having a mobile phone makes life easier in myriad ways. It helps us find directions, provides a constant connection to family and friends, and is always available if there is an emergency. The phone is also great for creating a diversion. You can play games, read the news, send text messages, listen to music, and even watch videos.

However, there are downsides to the constant presence of your cell phone. Digital devices are hard on your eyes because they contain significant amounts of blue light. Although blue light from your phone is not as serious as light from the sun, physicians are concerned about the long-term impact of exposure to blue light from screen exposure. If you spend a lot of time up close and personal with your mobile phone, you may experience fatigue, irritation, dry eyes, headaches, and eye strain.

Research also shows that your screen time has a huge impact on how your children handle their own time in front of screens. A study from the University of Guelph in Canada shows that there is a correlation between the amount of time kids spend with digital devices and how their parents use digital devices. The study showed that a kid’s viewing habits were influenced by how the parents used their own phones and tablets, identifying things such as awarding kids screen time for good behavior and permitting screen time during mealtime as warning factors leading to an excess of sedentary behavior. The research suggested that the best way to influence children is to cut your own screen time.

All of this suggests that you need to take a break from looking at your cell phone. This is easier said than done. For most of us, our cell phone is a lifeline and a diversion from everyday life. Riding the bus or subway? You probably read articles and send text messages the entire time. Waiting for an elevator? You may find yourself looking down at your phone. This is by design. A Google product manager admitted that phones are engineered to exploit the slot machine effect that exists in our brains. In essence, the brain wants dopamine – the molecule that stimulates happiness – and our phones provide a quick hit.

Here are some strategies for what to do the next time you reach into your purse to grab your phone.

There’s an App for That

There are plenty of apps that promise to help you cut screen time. Apple’s iPhones have a Screen Time feature that will limit the number of hours you spend on the phone. InMoment tracks your screen time on social media accounts and allows you to set limits on your social media use. App Detox examines your app use and sets time limits on how often you use them. Although these apps are perfectly serviceable, using your telephone to help you not use your telephone feels like you’re missing the point.

Moreover, keep in mind that tech companies are aware of your addiction and don’t want to stop it. Apple just removed over a dozen competitor apps that helped people and parents limit screen time. We don’t know if Apple is trying to force you to stay tethered to the phone or simply trying to destroy its competitors, but either way, you should look outside of tech to get you back on track. I personally have been using QualityTime for my Android — it gives me a digital diary of how I use my phone and lets me sit limits for various apps. It’s pretty surprising to see just how many hours you focused on say, Candy Crush, or Facebook over the course of a day.

Ignore Your Phone When You Are At Dinner, Lunch or a Coffee Break

It should go without saying that the phone should be off limits when you are enjoying a bite to eat with other people. However, we’ve all seen people glancing down at their phone while they are supposed to be socializing – and admittedly, many of us have done this ourselves. Focus on the people who are sitting at your table.

But what if you are all alone? Isn’t that the best time to have the company of your cell phone? It depends on how badly you want to cut your screen time. We suggest avoiding your phone when you are taking a Starbucks break. Sit with your own thoughts for a while, not mediating them with the phone. If you absolutely cannot stand to just sit and think, then make sure you have a book, magazine or newspaper to read. This may feel strange at first, but reading will take you out of the omnipresence of the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of social media, and that may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Turn Off Your Notifications

These days, every tech company promises up-to-the-second notifications for anyone who wants to contact you. Your cell phone will ping every time you get an email, text message, or mention on social media. You can even sync your phone with a smartwatch, which does much more than just tell time. Now you can be notified of an incoming text message, call, or email just by glancing at your wrist! Although this seems cool in theory, all of this is distracting and ultimately unsatisfying. How important are we that we need to see an email the second it comes in?

Instant notifications are meant to leave us feeling always connected… but at what cost? Do you really need to be aware of what is happening at work every minute? Do you need to be notified when someone replies to your text about the weather? Probably not. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when it was possible to go several hours without being connected to anyone or anything who was not in the same room with you. And that is totally ok. Turn off your notifications unless you are truly waiting for that important call or email. If that seems like too much, then set some limits, such as turning off notifications after you leave work, and waiting to turn them on until you are at the office, sitting at your desk.

Disable “Raise to Wake”

You may not realize it, but your phone has a setting that encourages the phone to light up when there is a notification. This can actually be highly distracting, especially when you are driving. One the iPhone you can actually turn this off. Simply go to Settings, select Display & Brightness and then toggle “Raise to Wake” to the off position. Disabling this is one more way to stop your brain from thinking “I need to check my phone!”

Get a Real Alarm Clock and Put Your Phone in the Other Room

Sleep is important, and mobile phones are disruptive. A recent study showed that three-quarters of Americans sleep near their phone, with many putting the phone in or next to the bed. People who sleep with their phone nearby are twice as likely to say they experience anxiety or fear. They are also likely to wake up 2-3 times every night.

Many people use their mobile phones as an alarm clock. Don’t do this. When that alarm goes off and you grab for your phone, your brain takes over, craving the dopamine hit that comes from looking at things on your phone. I started using a a traditional alarm clock and it made a big difference. 

Enjoy the Tabloids 

If you find yourself glancing at your phone just to get through the line at the grocery store, you need to detox. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-digital diversions to keep you entertained. The tabloids and celebrity magazines in the checkout lanes are there to keep you informed about the latest celebrity drama and the ongoing escapades of Bat-Boy.

This brings up another key thing to consider: there are plenty of interesting things in the real world that will keep you away from your phone. Take a walk without looking at your phone or taking a picture. Head to the library and get a book on something that interests you. Invite a friend for a quick coffee rather than getting into an extended text conversation. You’ll be glad you did.

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