Combatting Phone Overuse & Addiction

Awareness is the first step in the process to shift one's phone habits from being controlled by the phone to controlling it. In addition there are significant health benefits to spending time away from one's phone in silent contemplation, engaging with friends and bathing in nature.

Physical Side Effects:

Tech Neck comes from spending time hunched over your phone which can put up to 50 pounds of pressure on your spine at some angles in 2014 study. In addition, texting while walking contributed to the 27% increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2007 to 2016.

  • Strategy: If you catch yourself hunched over your phone, stand up and pull your shoulders back. Ask yourself whether you need to be on your phone at this moment. If you don't, take a break. Notice how many people are texting and walking the next time you are out. When you feel the urge to pull your phone out and text, notice the sensation in your body and take three deep breaths. If you are walking with someone else, start up a conversation, even if they are on their phone.

Sleep Effects:

Disrupted sleep contributes to multiple health problems including stress response, hypertension and decrease in positive mood indicators. 33% of adults and 47% between the ages of 18 and 24 check their phones in the middle of the night.

  • Strategy: First, buy an alarm clock so you can charge your phone in another room overnight so you won't be tempted to check it if you wake up. In the morning it is better to start your day in an intentional way, in control of the events. Picking up your phone before acknowledging your significant other, taking a moment to recall your dreams, or set your goals, starts your day in a reactive mode where your phone gains control.

Cognitive Effects / Memory:

Digital Dementia is the memory loss that results from one's over reliance on technology for tasks such as remembering phone numbers and directions. You may begin to lose the cognitive ability to do these tasks over time.

  • Strategy: The next time you need to go someplace new, try memorizing the directions and driving without our GPS. When out with friends, dividing a bill or calculating the tip, do it with pen and paper, not your phone.

Cognitive Effects / Focus

Multitasking is not a time saving skill as it is really rapid task switching where the brain takes seconds to return to the original task. Research shows that moving between computer and phone causes one to take up to three times longer to complete a task.

  • Strategy: Put your phone out of sight when working on an important task, and if you notice yourself drifting switching to unintended sites, bring your attention back to your work. This process enhances focus and attention, similar to a meditation  practice.

Mental Effects:

Nomophobia, no mobile phone phobia, creates a physical reaction to being separated from one's phone where heart rate increases often causing symptoms of anxiety sending one into a state of fight, flight or freeze.

  • Strategy: Practice spending time away from your phone. Try adding a little more time each time. Just like a meditation practice builds upon itself, so does time separated from one's phone. Start by leaving your phone in the car when you go into the grocery store or turning it off, out of sight, during a meeting.

Emotional Effects:

Overuse of social media can cause one to compare their internal feelings with the external aspirational images of others on Instagram, Facebook and others. Even being aware of this fact does not negate the imprinting of continual scrolling.

  • Strategy: Consider deleting your social media for a day and noticing any differences you experience. Sometimes it doesn't require you to put down your phone completely, but eliminating some of the apps available on your phone. Another strategy is to put detrimental, distracting or addictive apps in folders that take you time to find which causes you to reconsider opening them.

Phoneliness, phone loneliness is the impact of spending time on social media by yourself, often thinking the connection is the same as a face to face one. Most research shows that those who spend more time with friends on screens are less happy than those who spend more time in face to face relationships.

  • Strategy: Make sure you balance your in person time with virtual time on phones. When people are busy, they often think taking the effort and time to meet with someone in person takes away from their lives. It is the opposite. The time you need face to face time is when you are more stressed and over programmed.

Multiple Effects:

Forest Bathing and spending time in nature can counter some of the detrimental effects of too much time inside on screens. It reduces cortisol levels and stress, as well as improves short term memory, cognition and mood.

  • Strategy: Leave your phone behind and take a walk outside. You can start with  a 10 minute break where you can gaze at trees, flowers, or a natural scene. When you have more time, you can plan for an extended period of time in the woods, forest or near the ocean.

Author: Susan Reynolds, M.Ed is the co-founder of Mindhood, a company that provides daily challenges of mindfulness, healthy digital habits and ways to put one's phone down to people in community including groups in college, organizations and schools.