Smartphone addiction - how to cut back

Your smartphone can keep you up at night for a couple reasons. The light of the screen makes it hard for your brain to get sleepy, and notifications can buzz and beep you to waking up. Even with notifications off, however, you might also develop a fear of missing out (FOMO) if you’re not in direct contact with your phone.

The anxiety of knowing that you’re missing notifications can be almost as bad as getting them all night. Larry Rosen at Harvard Business Review suggests that this exercise can help reduce that need to be in contact with your phone, especially right before bed:

During the day, practice not reacting to incoming alerts or notifications like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Don’t check your phone every time it beeps. In fact, turn off notifications and check on a schedule to retrain your brain’s neurotransmitters (particularly cortisol). Start by checking every 15 minutes, and gradually increase that to 30 minutes or more.

Tell your friends, family and colleagues that you may not be able to respond to them immediately, but you’ll get back to them within a certain amount of time if you’re worried about it. The key is to intentionally ignore all notifications. Let it buzz so you can shake your need to always be checking it.

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  • I've actually started to keep my phone on mute-only for the past couple of month just to ger out of that habit of checking my phone whenever I hear a sound. It helped tremendeously with my smartphone addiction, although I have a fair way to go still.
  • You hit straight on the nail with the Pavlov's dog simile. It becomes ridiculously reactionary to want to see new text messages come in during the day. It's been one of the many reasons I have been trying to shy away from technology over the past few days other than for work purposes. You have to remove the joy of the stimulus in order to realize how futile it is to stare at a screen all day. Removing that power gets you to the next step.
  • Some people actually laugh whenever I talk to the about smartphone addiction, but I feel like it's a new addiction and some people aren't aware of it. People begin to depend too much on their phones and can't live even a few hours without an internet connection. There are so many things that smartphones can do that it's almost scary, but people should learn how to control their devices and not the other way around.
  • I love smartphones and the hardware that make up these devices. However, I rarely use my phone for that much, despite having one that's pretty powerful. The best thing that some people can do is downgrade to a low-performing phone that won't accommodate their desire to play games, or use tons of apps, and all that. Otherwise, a person should consider leaving the house without their phone more often than not. Phone addiction is a growing issue after all.
  • @jbepp so true, you only have to be on public transport or in a restaurant to see people engaging more with their phones than with others around them. It does make me wonder how people forge new friendships these days - there's not enough natural human interaction occurring!
  • @Shammy putting your phone on the silent function is a great step to stopping the immediate checking obsession. I do it myself - my phone is on silent basically all the time except if I'm expecting an urgent call (ie. a loved one is in hospital and needs a ride home or something). I find sometimes people in my life are surprised when I don't answer everything immediately!
  • @Shammy I've had to do the same thing.  I always have my phone on mute but I've recently needed to turn off some of the notifications, especially email.  I have a high stress job and am essentially on call all of the time.  I desperately need to take proper breaks though so recently I've turned off my notifications so that I don't get interrupted.  My job might be high stress but nothing is life-or-death so it needs to wait.

    I still use my smartphone far too much though.  As @kassie1234 mentioned, the light is very disruptive to your sleep patterns.  One of my friends has one hour technology free before bedtime.  I would like to give that a try sometime soon!  At the moment though I am perhaps a little too attached to my devices.
  • Smartphones, tablets and other gadgets are huge addictions and to cut back it's just a matter of finding alternative and healthier options. We need to get back to reality. 
  • @stronglikeaknox That's good for you! Since it's a high stress job I hope you take good care of yourself on your spare time and also don't be stressed by your cellphone too much. You need to focus and notifications can be quite distracting to say the least.
  • @stronglikeanox my husband has a similar situation, emails come through at all hours of the night. He's not required to respond to the ones that come through at night right away, but for the longest time he just left his phone volume on loud - which woke both of us up! I told him enough was enough - no more phone on loud in the middle of the night!
  • Maybe people can start by reducing their data plans? Smartphone addiction like you said is a new thing and not many people see how it effects their lives. It is an addiction though.

    I've seen kids or adults with their families, during fun stuff, while they are on their smart phone playing games or w/e it is they're doing. Parents need to step up with their children and their phones for one.
  • @khelin that's a great tip, and something that I hadn't even thought of! It would probably save people money too, as well as putting a limit on how much data they are consuming.
  • @kassie1234 It's the same for me as it is for your husband! I work with both a team at home, and on the opposite side of the world. They understand that if I don't reply straight away, but I worry that it will delay their work by at least a day if I don't. The best solution for me is to just turn those notifications off. Hopefully I don't have much longer with this part of my job! Maybe a year...
  • @stronglikeanox very similar situations! My husband is very much the type that wants to make sure he's giving 110% to everything. For a while he would respond to those night time emails too. I always try to remind him he needs to have a work/life balance. And there's no balance when you've been working a long standard day, but are still responding to random emails that filter through at 3am!

    A year should go by quickly for you (hopefully!!) - I'm sure the other side of your team that are on opposite ends of the world do understand. It's not practical to expect a reply within a split second!
  • Wanna hear something crazy? I don't have a cell phone. Of any kind. I've never had one and I don't plan on ever having one unless I just don't have a choice. 

    I wrote a blog about my dislike of cell phones for The Huffington Post. Here's the link if you want to read it:

  • @DeanD that was an awesome read. My favorite part...

    "I despise how they distract people. I can't stand how everyone feels the need to always be connected, no matter where they are."

    It's so true. Sadly I think my generation (I'm just in my early 30's) are some of the "most connected" yet most lonely if that makes sense.
  • Thanks, @kassie1234. People either like it or think I'm crazy. (Truth be told, I am a little bit crazy.) ;)
  • @DeanD not crazy at all, I'm just envious that I haven't reached that point yet of being able to not have a cell phone at all. I'm definitely not at the point where my smartphone is tied to me, or anything like that - but I do find it creeps in to situations where I shouldn't be paying more attention to my phone than I pay to the people I am spending time with!
  • I want to be supportive here, but I'm getting frustrated with every compulsion and bad habit being called an addiction. I'm not saying that these things don't deserve help but I think the abuse of the word addiction is harmful to the understanding and treatment of actual clinical addictions and drug abuse.
  • @kassie1234... I'm so amazed at how people are just slaves to their phones. The other night, my 84-year-old mother was over for dinner. We're sitting at the table, her cell phone rings, and she just picks it up and answers it like it's no big deal. When did people become so obsessed with being connected? It boggles my mind. 
  • @DeanD I have a group of friends actually that are conscious of this - when we go out for a meal everyone puts their phones in a pile in the center of the table. You touch your phone? You're paying for everyone's dinner.

    It definitely makes us mindful of using our phones - of course the financial incentive shouldn't be the only thing keeping us from touching them, but it's just a way of us trying to be more mindful of actually chatting to one another instead of anyone else who isn't there with us then and there.
  • @JohnB I totally understand that you might not see it in the same vein as other addictions - and as someone who battled with alcohol myself I can see your point. But I also think it's a hugely growing concern. Sure it's not something we're orally consuming, snorting or injecting into our veins, but it's altering the way we think, and the way we interact with others. It's the first thing so many people do when they wake up, the last thing they do at night, people wake up at all hours of the night and can't get back to sleep because they need their fix.

    So yes, I don't think it's addiction in the traditional sense. But 100 years ago neither was cocaine, you know? Times change and I think the view we have towards addiction (and the substances/things which can cause addiction) changes too.
  • Interesting points about the pavlovian effects of notifications.
    You may have seen my other posts here, where I talk about the negative effects of screen time before bed.
  • I can't believe some people are so addicted to their smart phones (and texting) to the point they keep them up at night. It's kind of sad. To be honest, I thought that was more of a children's thing, but it seems that it affects adults as well. I was never hooked to my phone and I cannot relate to them, I don't even get text messages.
  • @nergaahl I'm sure in a lot of cases it could be attributed to anxiety or something like that. I'm no doctor but I see parallels between things like childhood separation anxiety and the anxiety people get when they don't have access to their phones. I definitely think adults can be prone to it too.
  • @kassie1234 Well that's an interesting theory. Also, I wonder: Are people who feel the need to constantly receive messages insecure on any level? Maybe they want to receive "validation", or feel that someone cares about them. I believe this contributes to their self esteem somehow.
  • @deand i just read that you don't have a cell phone. good for you!! :)

    i used to be addicted to it...not anymore. i could live without it really, but i would miss it.

    my computer, on the other hand, would be difficult to give up. ;)

    @nergaahl i used to be in a relationship where we text almost constantly for 5.5 years and it was toxic. it was an addiction and bad habit....i chose to NOT be like that in another relationship, and i'm not!!!  i think work hours maybe one text or two is fine...but let them have their space!!!  :)  
  • The smartphone is the new prop, when ever people don't have anything to do they pull out their smartphone. If you go to bus stops coffee shops anywhere, it isn't long before you see everyone haunched over that small screen.
  • I've been there and what I find works for me is occupying my mind with other things. Get busy! If you're busy doing something else, you won't sit on your phone for hours on end. We must take up things that are productive.
  • I've had to set boundaries on my smartphone use. There are two resources you might find helpful. The first is telephone meetings of Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous . They have meetings daily. The other resource is the Reddit nosurf community.
  • Thanks for sharing that info, @wwr. I hope the boundaries you've set are helping you!
  • @wwr Hello and welcome! Thank you for sharing that information. I'm glad that you set some boundaries for your smartphone use. I believe many people could benefit from this.
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