[Health & Wellness]

Phone Addiction: How To Know If Your Habits Need Changing

By Lauren Ramakrishna

Anyone who owns a smartphone knows that it’s good for more than just making calls. The high-tech devices put texts, emails, internet searches, social networks, weather alerts, news updates, games, and more right at your fingertips. But sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.

According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans own a smartphone, which is up from just 35% in 2011. And we’re using them for more than just a quick chat. 77% of Americans say they use their mobile phones to go online daily, and a staggering 26% report going online almost constantly.

And there are downsides to constant connectivity. Multiple studies have found a positive correlation between smartphone addiction and depression, including one conducted by San Francisco State which found that students who reported using their phones the most also reported higher levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation.

But you don’t have to let your phone get in the way of your life. Check out these tips to help you assess your smartphone addiction and take steps to curb any unhealthy habits.

The Signs Of Phone Addiction

There’s no specific number of minutes per day that indicates a phone addiction or an overuse problem. But if your phone use starts to interfere with your work, social life, or responsibilities at home, it may be time for a digital detox.

Watch out for a few common warning signs:

  • You feel compelled to check your phone multiple times per hour, like refreshing Instagram to count your “likes”
  • You worry about what you’re missing when your phone isn’t in your hand
  • You feel dread or panic if you’re temporarily separated from your phone, or if its apps or programs don’t function properly.

If you’re wondering how your habits stack up, the Center for Internet Technology and Addiction offers an online Smartphone Compulsion Test. Or you can complete a survey crafted by Iowa State University researchers to rate your level of nomophobia (i.e., “no mobile phone” phobia).

Support For Your Digital Dependency

If your phone use has become a problem that you can no longer ignore, these resources can help. Of course, if you already know you have anxiety and/or depression, you might need extra support from mental health professionals.

  • How to Find a Therapist: a thorough review of the steps to find a local therapist who can help you deal with symptoms of nomophobia (as well as other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression).
  • Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous: a free, 12-step support group that has meetings in-person and online.
  • Camp Grounded: a camp for adults that has a strict ban on digital technology.

Easy Ways To Cut Back Your Phone Use

Whether you turn to your phone out of habit or you have a full-blown addiction, there are steps you can take right now to reduce the hours taking selfies, texting, or refreshing apps. Try incorporating these changes to your phone routine:

  • Turn off notifications. When your phone beeps and lights up to let you know you have a new text, email, or comment, it’s hard not to check it out! In fact, all of those push notifications trigger the same pathways in our brains that previously warned humans about imminent danger (like a predator ready to pounce). If you turn off the notifications, you won’t have constant triggers pushing you to pick up your phone.
  • Set specific times when you can use your phone. If you find yourself checking your phone multiple times per hour, set a rule that you can only check it at the top of the hour. You can still answer a call if it comes in, but you should avoid tapping into your problem apps (like texts or social media) until your allotted time. You may find that you can space out your “check times” even more as you get used to limiting when you can grab your phone!
  • Designate a “home” for your phone that’s not readily accessible. Stash it in a place that makes it more of a challenge to get to it (so, no, it shouldn’t end up on the dinner table or the couch armrest). As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”—or at least putting it somewhere where you can’t mindlessly grab it will help you cut back on your use.
  • Ban phone entirely use during meals and before bed. You’ll enjoy your food more, plus conversations are sure to be richer. The same goes for bedtime—if your pre-sleep ritual usually includes swipes, clicks, and likes, leave your phone just outside the bedroom. Reading a book or a magazine before bed will help you wind down and get better sleep.