Phones seem so innocuous- a handy way to stay connected with friends and pass the time on the internet. But the truth is that they can be highly addictive and while generally safe, phone addiction can cause serious problems in life, including negatively affecting your studies.
An average middle aged person will check their phone on average every 12 minutes. That’s around 80 times per day. That number increases for younger people to around 150 times per day.
We all feel from time to time that we should use our phones less, or the tablet or laptop less. But that is easier said than done.
Why Smartphones Can Be Dangerous
Technology is designed to get us to use it, to make us interested in what it has to say. Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple profit from their apps and products drawing you in and you becoming addicted, to an extent.
Phone ‘addiction’ isn’t a true addiction in the same sense as drug addiction of course. Nevertheless, phone addiction can cause harmful effects to your life and its definition corresponds to a lot of how typical addiction is defined.
Addiction can be defined as compulsive use despite harmful consequence, causing failure to meet work, social or family obligations and sometimes tolerance and withdrawal. The tolerance and withdrawal definitions are what differentiates phone addiction to drug addiction, as phones do not require more use each time they are used to be effective, nor is there a physical withdrawal when you go without your phone for an extended period of time (though that isn’t to say that there won’t be an emotional withdrawal).
For students, this can mean putting aside your studies to focus on your phone too often. To allow your test scores to worsen and to spend less time communicating with others face-to-face.
Now, the important thing for you to remember if you feel like you have a smartphone addiction is perspective. Any addiction can be damaging and recovering from one will often feel worse, but if your personal or academic life is suffering because of it, there is no reason why you can’t fully recover from it and get back to where you were before, or someplace even better.
Just be conscious of yourself and remember that there are other pleasurable ways to spend your time, even if they don’t always feel that way.
It Isn’t Your Fault
Apps nowadays operate similarly to modern video games, which themselves share a lot of similarity with gambling, an addictive vice in itself. Apps will in essence give you consistent small rewards for a small amount of effort, which become more difficult to obtain the more rewards you are successful in getting.
It’s like dangling a carrot in front of someone, but allowing them to have small, frequent bites. Except in this case, it’s more like dangling a cake in front of someone and no matter how many bites are taken, the cake never ends.
Take Facebook, for example, whose little red notifications and little jingles tickle the reward centre of our brain. They make you feel like you’ve done something well. When you first open a Facebook account, you add who you know and you get lots of these rewards. But the longer you have it, the more is required to get a lot of likes on your photos or statuses.
Every app is demanding your attention in this way all at once, and each earns from being under your focus.
Once this is understood, it can become easier to realize you are not tied to your phone in any real way, and it’s borne out of habit more than anything else.
‘Am I Addicted?’
Addiction can be a tricky thing to define, especially if you are trying to define that for yourself. So consider if any of these points relate to you.
- You may be addicted to your smartphone if:
- You spend more than 6 hours per day on your phone
- You feel compelled to check your phone at least every few minutes
- You lose track of the time when using your phone
- You find yourself not eating or sleeping as a result of phone use
- You get angered by your phone easily
- You will put off social responsibilities because of phone use
- You fall asleep using your phone
Obviously, some of these won’t be unique to smartphone addiction and smartphone addiction itself will have a lot of crossover with other mental issues, such as depression or anxiety. We therefore strongly recommend you speak with a trained medical professional if you feel that your life is outside of your control.
What to Change
Life changes will always be made up of smaller day-to-day changes and sometimes a small change can affect your life in meaningful ways.
So if you feel you are using your phone too much, there are some straightforward methods for changing that.
-Set aside a fixed time for using the phone
If you truly wish to avoid using your phone too much, you should make a pact with yourself. Say to yourself firmly that you will only use your phone for certain periods of the day, with strict time limits.
The danger with a phone of course is that it is a device that can sometimes be necessary in emergencies. You have to avoid using that as an excuse unless the situation you are in is truly dangerous or life-threatening.
-No phone use at certain times
You can limit yourself by time and you can also limit yourself by situation. Avoid using your phone when eating, on the toilet, watching TV or with friends. Lock it away somewhere if you feel you might be tempted to use it in one of these situations.
-Turn the colour off on your phone
One technique for companies to keep you tied to your phone is to make apps really colourful and satisfying to look at.
By setting your phone to greyscale, your phone will become less enticing and more difficult to mindlessly look at. Your phone will become more unpleasant to look at, but that’s the idea isn’t it?
-Turn notifications off
A phone is designed to capture your attention often, to pick it up and check it. Do this too often though and it becomes a habit to check, even if there are no notifications. So turn them off for everything apart from the most essential apps and leave your phone on silent or ‘Do not disturb’ mode at times you try and avoid using your phone.
-Take a break
If you feel really compelled to use your phone, just do something else. It particularly helps if you go somewhere where it is more difficult to look at your phone. Go to the gym, for example, or go on a bike ride. Find some other thing to focus on.
It is necessary for your phone to make calls. Messaging can also be necessary under some circumstances. But outside of that, how many apps on your phone are actually needed? Games, extraneous messaging apps, social media and others can really be deleted. How much positive impact are they having on you? Why keep them?
-Travel to places with no signal
This can be a bit more challenging, but if you can find somewhere near where you live that gets no phone signal, on a mountain trek or in a forest for example, take some time each week to travel there and just be without your phone. Appreciate the nature, read a book, eat a picnic or something else.
If there is nowhere nearby, perhaps try planning your next holiday around a place where signal is poor. A camping trip perhaps, or someplace deep in the countryside.
-Archive then delete old chats
Simply deleting your old messages may result in some lost memories someday, so archive them first, perhaps by emailing them to yourself. Then by deleting them, you can reduce the chances of being tempted to look through old conversations, a habit which may result in a deepening phone addiction.
-Pick up a new hobby
It may not always seem like it, but you don’t get a lot of time on earth. So find something you love doing that brings you happiness. You may not be good at first, but with a little practice, you can have something you are really proud of.
Even if you just spend 10-15 minutes per day doing your hobby, before you know it, it can bloom into something revelatory and life-defining. Once you find something to replace your phone habit, you will realize at some point how little you actually you use your phone now.
-Make your password really long
Ok, this may be more of an irritant than anything else, especially with so many mays to unlock phones these days, but it may just do the trick.
By making your passcode/password really long and complex, while also deleting other ways to access your phone (e.g. fingerprint, face recognition, pattern etc.) it can just put that second thought in your head when you pick up the phone, ‘Is this really worth it?’
Also set the lock settings to be as short as possible, 30 seconds for example, so that if you put your phone down, you won’t immediately want to pick it back up again.
-Be more efficient when sending messages
If you get a message, reply, but don’t feel like it’s necessary to repeatedly check. By responding sooner, you won’t feel as though there is as much unresolved business on your phone that means you keep returning to it.
Perhaps set three times a day where you check for messages and reply to them, like when you wake up, after lunch and when you finish work/your studies for the day.
Lots of jobs will require you to check for messages regularly while still maintaining a responsible timetable. This can be good training for that.
-Don’t use your phone as your alarm/watch
Phones come in handy as they solve so many functions in our day-to-day lives, but if they are causing you more harm than good, it may be useful to revert to previous methods of function.
If you use your phone for everything, it’s constantly in your life. So instead get an alarm clock and a wristwatch and leave the phone out of your life.
-Leave your phone in an inaccessible place
Of course you could give it to a friend or family member to take care of, or failing that, just leave it in another room so you are not tempted to continually pick it up and look at it while you are working.
-Track your usage
Make a note every time you pick up your phone, or if possible, how long you are using it for. You will realize how quickly those few minutes will turn into hundreds of hours, by which time it can become a definable percentage of your life spent ultimately doing nothing.
The fact that you are willing to search and read articles such as this one is a good start, as it suggests you recognise that you may have a problem. This is always a good step.
Keep at it, avoiding using your phone when not necessary that is, and continue learning about what steps you can take to improve yourself.
If you are still unable to keep your phone away, it is time you speak to someone about it. Start with friends and family members. If they cannot help cure your addiction, seek professional help.