How To Stop Looking At Your Phone All The Time

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
I’m attached to my iPhone. As in, sometimes I feel as though it will be stuck to my palm — sealed with hot glue and some cute Lisa Frank stickers — forever. And, the advent of products like the Apple Watch (and the wearable-tech ring that tracks your text messages from the brunch table) suggests that most people share a similar intimacy with their devices.
But, many of us take our device use to extremes: Research shows that the hours we spend on our phones screw with our mental health, make us significantly less productive at work, and bring us a whole lot of undue stress.
And, new research suggests that women are particularly attached to their devices. Jim Roberts, PhD, a marketing professor at Baylor University, says that female college students are more likely to spend time with their phones than male students are. In a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, Dr. Roberts found that the women polled spent a whopping 600 minutes (10 hours) on their phones per day, while men spent only 448 minutes (7.6 hours) on their devices. What were they doing all day staring at those tiny screens? Female users spent most of their time on social networking sites, especially Pinterest and Instagram.
On top of that, a few recent surveys suggest that nomophobia — a catchy abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia” — especially plagues female phone owners. Last year, Time Inc. confirmed the “unbreakable bond” between mobile devices and their female users, 60% of whom called their phones the “most important device” in their lives; only 43% of men agreed. And, in March, ratings company Nielsen released data on Americans’ smartphone app use, determining that women spend an average of 30 hours per month on mobile apps — an hour more than their male peers.
“Access to a computer or device is like owning the keys to a 24/7 candy store,” explains cyber-psychology specialist Michael Fenichel, PhD. Although it doesn’t qualify as an addiction in the true medical sense, our obsession with social media gives us particularly salient rewards with very little effort. Still, phone use isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve come to rely on phones because they make our communication so much more efficient — so quitting cold-turkey could backfire for many of us. Which is where talk about plugged-in moderation or disconnecting comes in. For both health and social reasons, behavior experts are firm believers in scaling back our phone use.
Fortunately, there are tried-and-true ways to techno-cleanse, and they don’t require a complete change of habit. Refinery29 rounds up expert-approved ways to wean yourself off the digital juice.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Track It
“The first step towards self-improvement is acknowledging you have a problem,” says Dr. Roberts, who recommends use-tracking apps such as Moment, BreakFree, RescueTime and The Mobile Flow. Apps like these alert over-texters to the number of minutes they spend typing, fetching, and refreshing per day. With the help of hourly and daily alerts and gamified prizes, they maximize user productivity and serve as a welcome reminder that, no, we probably shouldn’t spend 600 precious minutes per day playing Candy Crush.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Black It Out
Like many time-pressed smartphone users, I’m known to call and text friends from the Stairmaster, prying the phone from my ear only to slurp water from the gym’s fountain. The result is yet another hour of unexpected screen time. But, Sophie Jones, a digital strategy consultant, has an easy suggestion for distraction-free exercise (and distraction-free activity on the whole): airplane mode. “Call me old-school, but I actually leave my phone in do-not-disturb mode for the majority of the day,” she says. “It keeps me focused on what's in front of me — and there's always a great string of messages when I go to check it.” Dr. Fenichel offers a related reminder: “Many devices still have an ‘off’ button.” Amazing.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Enforce A Break
On my busiest days, airplane mode just won’t cut it, and self-control doesn’t come with an on/off switch. I’m always discovering new ways to distract myself, scrolling through old photos, refreshing emails, even using the calculator tool to sum up my spending. Which is why Dr. Roberts recommends designated tech-free time slots: pre-planned meals or stretches of time when smartphones aren’t permitted. “There should be times in your day when you're not distracted by technology,” Dr. Roberts explains.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Store It Away
Trust me; no amount of staring or clicking (or psychotically turning a phone on and off) can will a message to arrive. Which is why Liz Landen, a writer and editor, relies on her own method of moderation: stashing away her phone so it’s completely out of sight. She isn’t the only person who believes barring her phone from her surroundings is the key to digital detox; former Self editor-in-chief Brandon Holley uses a milk tin as a cellphone lockbox, in which she plants her device during family time. As for Dr. Roberts, he uses a so-called "phone prison" — a jail-cell-like carrying case — to ensure that family time is phone-free. In my experience, a pillow works just as well.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Banish It From The Bedroom
According to a recent report by the Huffington Post and polling agency YouGov, 64% of millennials fall asleep with their cell phones nestled under their pillows. And, a whopping 80% have slept with their phones planted next to their beds. All this may sound practical, but there’s nothing useful about sending half-awake texts that you don’t remember in the morning. The solution: Maintain a phone-free bedroom — no chargers or cords allowed, either. If Arianna Huffington can do it, so can you.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Be Mindful
It’s easy to bring your phone along for a quick errand, grasping it tight or stashing it in your bag for no real reason. But, reality check: Do you actually need to use it at the laundromat? Experts say simply questioning why we need our phones throughout the day is enough to remind us of our dependence. Says Dr. Fenichel: “Make yourself the boss, not the device!”