Phone addiction is by no means on par with other forms of addiction. But it’s becoming a problem for many Americans who can’t put the device down for more than a few minutes at a time. On average, Americans check their phones 96 times a day (or once every 10 minutes). A 2021 survey found that approximately half of respondents spent 5 to 6 hours per day on their phones for personal use (not work-related matters). Of that phone time, 147 minutes per day is dedicated purely to social media usage.
Besides taking away valuable time from other tasks, cell phone addiction can lead to other physical repercussions such as shorter attention spans. Because cell phones make accessing social media apps so convenient, there’s also a mental health component to spending too much time on your device. Studies show there’s a direct link between social media usage and feelings of envy, insecurity and negative self-image, ultimately resulting in depression.
The Science Behind Phone Addiction
Before we can discuss how to get unaddicted to phones, it’s important to understand why people find their smartphones so compelling in the first place. It’s easy to say you need to use your phone less, but phones are an essential tool for modern life. Resisting the urge to pick yours up and look at it isn’t always easy.
Apps Are Designed to Be Addictive
Smartphone apps are designed to be addictive. Social media apps have algorithms that learn what each user likes and show them more of that content in bite-sized chunks that are easy to consume. When users post content, they’re rewarded with a dopamine hit as the app pops up notifications telling them, “Someone liked your post” or “Well done, you’ve had 10 upvotes!”
These rewards come quickly and easily and are combined with gentle nudges to remind you to check the app regularly. Even learning apps such as Duolingo are gamified with points, rewards and reminders to keep users checking in at least once a day. With educational products, this could be considered to be a positive. However, with social media, these reward systems simply encourage people to spend more and more time feeding the algorithm, giving the platform even more knowledge about what content the user wants to see.
Social Media Addiction Can Have a Sinister Side
For most people who are researching how to reduce phone addiction, the motivation is simple: They want to stop wasting so much time “doom-scrolling” or messing around on social media apps. However, there’s a sinister side to phone addiction. Those who are living with depression may be more prone to internet addiction and at greater risk of becoming politically radicalized, for example. If you’re in that position, the question of how to stop looking at your phone is even more important because your smartphone isn’t just a tool for wasting time looking at pictures of cute cats. Rather, the phone and the apps on it are pushing you into echo chambers that could isolate you from your real-life support network, feeding any symptoms of depression even more.
Beating phone addiction would be easy if people could simply put their phones in a drawer and forget about them. Unfortunately, with apps being the standard for banking, public transit and day-to-day communication, this isn’t an option. Individuals who “aren’t on social media” often find they miss out on local news and social opportunities and may feel isolated from their peers.
To achieve a goal of using your phone less and breaking obsessive use behaviors, consider implementing the following practices for how to stop phone addiction.
1. Carve Out Time To Unplug
To break your addiction to checking your cell phone, the first step is to set aside time when you intentionally aren’t near your electronic devices. This can be challenging during the work week, so many people may find a Saturday or Sunday is the best day of the week to take a break from the screen.
Put your phone in airplane mode for a few hours, or turn the sound off so you can’t hear notifications coming through. If you’re worried about making yourself unavailable to others, you can leave your ringer on for emergencies but place the phone in another room where you aren’t tempted to touch or check it.
Occupy this time away from the screen with activities that bring you joy that you don’t normally have time for. It’s a great opportunity to read a book, take a bath, go for a hike or connect with nature in the garden. Let your mind wander and unlock your creativity without the constant stimulation of a digital screen.
2. Keep Your Phone Out of the Bedroom
To reduce dependency on your phone, you need to take care of yourself, and that starts with a good night’s rest. A 2019 study found that using a smartphone within 60 minutes of bedtime negatively impacts sleep quality.
Avoid the temptation to check social media late at night or in the early hours of the morning by keeping your phone out of the bedroom entirely. Charge it in your office or the kitchen overnight and create a safe space in your bedroom that lets you mentally decompress.
3. Change Your Phone Settings
You might’ve noticed that even when you aren’t receiving calls or text messages, you’re still getting notifications from various apps on your phone. In particular, social media apps like Instagram and Facebook want you to engage with the platforms and will send notifications regularly of things you might find interesting to entice you into opening the app.
For someone trying to break their phone use habits, these notifications are a hindrance. The best course of action is to look at the settings on your smartphone and make changes to your notifications permissions. Disable notifications from social media apps and any others that are regularly lighting up your screen unnecessarily.
4. Take a Social Media Hiatus
In the United States, mobile visits to social media sites make up 79% of all traffic. This means the majority of Americans are accessing apps like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok from their cell phones. Therefore, cutting down on social media usage generally means reducing time spent on your mobile device.
One of the main reasons young people in particular check their phones so frequently is FOMO (fear of missing out). FOMO has become a significant problem with social media, causing users to refresh constantly because they don’t want to miss someone’s post, story, video or other type of update.
To free yourself from FOMO, try taking a total hiatus from social media apps for a set period. You can set a password to access your apps that only a friend knows, or you can simply delete the social media apps from the device and re-download them when you’re ready to resume usage. You might find your phone is suddenly much less interesting and therefore not as appealing to check frequently.
5. Set Measurable Goals
Set achievable and measurable goals for yourself, such as reducing your screen time by 1 hour per week for the next month or only going on social media for 10 minutes each day. If you’re taking a social media hiatus, hold yourself accountable by going on Instagram stories and sharing how long this hiatus will be. If you say you’re going to be off social media for a week, people will expect you to stick to it and may have questions if you return sooner. This can be a good deterrent from breaking your resolve to stay off the apps during this period.
Setting quantifiable goals will help you feel like you’re making progress in your journey to break phone addiction.
What If You Compulsively Can’t Stop Using Your Phone or It Causes Anxiety?
If your phone usage reaches a point where it’s affecting your ability to function on a daily basis and is inducing negative emotions or conditions like anxiety, you may need help beyond implementing these tips. Like any other addiction or obsessive behavior, talking to an objective third party can be comforting and help you develop the tools to cope with situations when they occur. This is where CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other forms of talk therapy can be useful.
Get Help With How To Stop Phone Addiction
If you’re interested in talking to a therapist about how to stop using your phone so frequently or how social media usage is impacting your mental health, Restore is just a phone call away. Our counselors are ready to help you on the path to recovery and will work to develop a treatment plan that suits your needs. Call us today at (877) 594-3566 for more information or assistance on how to limit phone use if it’s causing anxiety.