Not long ago I was headed out to meet a friend for dinner. I was halfway to the restaurant before realizing I’d forgotten my phone. Going back for it would have caused me to be late, so I decided to go without. Talk about feeling lost! I spent the rest of the evening battling the strange feeling that somewhat was terribly wrong. Going phone-less for just a few hours revealed an inner anxiety I wasn’t prepared to face. It made me question: could I be addicted to my phone?
Apparently it’s a real thing. Nomophobia is the term that’s been coined to describe the very honest fear many of us have of being without a working cell phone. One study in the UK found that 66% of the participants were fearful of this very thing. A 2020 study found that the average American checks his/her phone 96 times per day (averaging out to about once every ten minutes). This was a 20% increase from 2018. Other experts submit that we actually touch our phone thousands of times per day, causing the question: are we all phone addicts?
Probable Effects. Despite the undeniable fact that technology benefits our lives in many ways, studies suggest that constant phone use may lead to worse long-term memory, a shortened attention span, reduced quality of sleep, lower self-esteem and higher levels of loneliness and depression. Professionals recommend less than two hours of device time per day, not counting the computer time needed for work and school.
Possible Symptoms. If you’re doubtful that your personal phone usage is an issue, it may be helpful to ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Does my phone usage ever interfere with my daily responsibilities? (For example, do I put off school or work responsibilities because I’m spending mindless time on social media or playing games? Do I wake up multiple times a night and experience sleep interruption in order to check my phone?)
- Do I show signs of distress when forced to go without my phone? (For example, do I become anxious, restless, short-tempered or paranoid when my phone is misplaced or my battery dies?)
- Do I find it difficult to relax or have fun without my phone?
- Does my phone use caused social or relational problems? (In other words, have others commented on my excessive phone use or had to ask me to put it away during work or school?)
- Has my phone use ever caused injury or accident? (Do I find it hard to put my phone down when driving or resist checking it at every red light?)
- Have I tried to cut back on my phone use and failed? (Do I stay online longer than intended or often lose track of time spent on my phone?)
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions than it’s possible you may be dealing with some level of phone addiction. Rather than feeling guilt or shame however, recognize that this is a common issue in this day and age, and decide on taking steps towards healthier habits.
Positive Solutions. It’s ironic that the very thing we reach for to bring us comfort and connection can become the very thing that eventually leads to a sense of isolation and loneliness. But there is hope! It’s possible to walk free of all forms of addiction. It simply takes intentional discipline. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Practice digital fasting—whether once a week or once a month—and remind yourself that its possible (and even freeing) to live without the constant compulsion of technology. Going a day or two without a phone may sound daunting but comes as a surprisingly refreshing “reset.” Try it and be amazed!
- Set up “screen time” for yourself. Found under “Settings” on your phone, “Screen Time” allows you to set limits on certain apps and to schedule downtime. When you reach your screen time limit, force yourself to pick up a good book, go for a run or practice piano (in other words, replace a less-than-great habit with a more valuable investment of your time and energy).
- Turn off as many app notifications as possible, realizing they create a constant invitation to pick up your phone.
- Turn on “Do Not Disturb” for the nighttime hours so you can protect your much-needed sleep. (Your friends will adjust to the fact that you’re sometimes unavailable and may learn from your ability to set constructive boundaries).
- Practice “out of sight/out of mind” by literally putting your phone out of reach for certain designated times of day (good examples include study time, work hours or meal time when it’s in your best interest to practice full social or mental engagement with the task at hand).
- Don’t hesitate to reach out for accountability from a friend or counseling from a professional if you feel like the above strategies are proving unsuccessful. You’re not alone in wanting to break your phone addiction and there may be unresolved root issues you haven’t addressed.
We all want to live life fully engaged and present. Practice intentionality with your phone and seize back control of your time and your life so that you don’t miss out on “real life!”