Warning signals you're addicted to your phone and 10 ways to break the habit

Since Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone in 2007, smartphones have become an integral part of daily life. Now, 15 years later, we are all glued to our phones.

Developers focus on creating apps that keep us hooked and notifications that keep us wanting more. And, because we rely on our phones for communication and connection, it can be hard to gauge when our phone use becomes an addiction.

Although being addicted to your phone doesn’t negatively impact your health as seriously as other addictions, it does affect your mental health and physical wellbeing.

Left unmanaged, phone addiction can lead to sleep deprivation, increased stress levels, depression, and anxiety.

Warning signs that you are addicted to your phone

You’re easily distracted

Do you feel as though you need to check your phone the instant you receive a notification? Do you find yourself checking the time on your phone, only to be distracted by something else?

It’s so easy to lose track of time when you’re on your phone. Before you know it, you can easily lose an hour to mindless scrolling.

You feel anxious or lost without it

Does the thought of leaving your phone at home fill you with panic?

This sense of dread has become such a common phenomenon that it's been labelled as “Nomophobia”. While there can be a need to have your phone nearby, it doesn’t have to be with you 24/7.

You worry you’re missing out

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, can mean you’re frequently checking your phone to ensure you’re “in the loop”. Research from REVIEWS.org found that, on average, people in the US check their phones every four minutes. And 71% of Americans check their phones within 10 minutes of waking up.

Your sleep is disturbed

If you’re experiencing trouble sleeping, excessive phone use could be to blame.

Left unchecked, disturbed sleep can affect your memory, your ability to think clearly, and reduce your cognitive and learning skills. All of which can do serious harm your mental health.

Friends and family complain about the amount you’re on it

Unwittingly, our phone use can put a strain on our relationships. We’re probably all guilty of not giving our loved ones our undivided attention when we’re meant to be spending quality time with them, to some degree.

10 ways to develop healthier phone habits

If any of the above rings true, and you are keen to try and reduce your dependence on your phone, here are 10 ideas to help you kick-start your digital detox and develop healthier phone habits:

1. Create “no phone zones” in your home or car and converse with your friends and family face-to-face

2. Avoid using your phone at mealtimes and set them to silent so they can’t interrupt quality family time

3. Keep your phone out of the bedroom when you are sleeping. If necessary, use a regular alarm clock to wake you up, instead of your phone.

4. Turn notifications off. Notifications can provide an addictive rush. The brain likes a steady stream of dopamine, and notifications can cause an unhealthy spiral of spikes and plunges.

5. Leave your phone at home when going on a walk, run, or to the gym.

6. Stop using your phone at least an hour before you go to bed. The blue light of your phone screen affects melatonin production, the hormone that controls your sleep pattern, making more difficult to fall asleep and wake up the next day.

7. Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning. Give yourself time to wake up before you check the news and wait until you start work to check your email.

8. Embrace paper media. Read a book, newspaper, or magazine. Or pick up a pencil and paper to write or draw.

9. Remove the most addictive social media apps from your phone. Make a point of accessing them through a device you don’t carry with you all day.

10. Devote time to hobbies that feed your soul. Replace the games and social media apps with hands-on, real-world activities – meeting up with friends, creating music or art, or doing volunteer work.

Don't expect to break your phone habit overnight. Brief relapses, adjustments, and even withdrawal symptoms will be an inevitable part of the journey toward healthier phone use. So cut yourself some slack and don’t expect too much of yourself too soon.

Should you feel unable to make the changes needed, consider signing up to a digital detox programme, or if you feel you need professional support, reach out to a therapist or your doctor.

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