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Mental wellness

May 18, 2018

4 simple steps you can take to curb your cell phone addiction

Reducing screen time can improve your productivity, relationships — even your mental health. These realistic tips can help ease your phone addiction.

How’s this for a paradox: While writing this one sentence, I stopped to check the “likes” on a picture of my trench coat label I’d posted to Instagram. I dove into the Twitter replies to my “Why is Pitbull at a wealth conference?” tweet. I stopped to banter with three of my closest friends on WhatsApp. And, finally, I muted my notifications so I could at last get around to writing this article on . . . kicking a smartphone addiction.

Clearly, it’s easier said than done.

Why are cell phones addictive?

Today, many of us are conditioned to respond instantly to the chirps and buzzes coming from the computers we keep in our pockets. We see, hear or feel a notification and our first instinct is to whip out our cell phone and take a look at whichever app is asking for attention — even though, in many cases, it’s nothing urgent.

If you’re like me, you likely find yourself checking your phone notifications every few minutes — and often that check turns into a scroll through my favourite apps to see what else is happening in the news or with my social networks. With the endless scroll functionality on apps like Instagram and Facebook, there’s no “stop” button — I can easily scroll away 30 minutes, just mindlessly looking through photos, videos and statuses.

What is cell phone addiction?

When you’re noticing that your phone is getting in the way of getting work done or enjoying your downtime, or it’s taking a toll on your relationships, then you might want to start thinking about ways you can reduce your screen time.

Cell phone addiction or overuse has also been connected to insomnia, as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression. A 2017 San Diego State University study found that teenagers who spent more time on social media were more likely to suffer from mental health issues than those who spent more time on screenless activities such as sports, homework and reading. This might contribute to a high incidence of mental health challenges later in their lives: More than half of working Canadians suffer from mental health issues, according to a recent Sun Life Barometer survey.

Here are four strategies to help you reap the benefits of smartphones while minimizing the downside.

1. Turn off cell phone notifications

Go into your notification settings and turn off all social notifications except the ones from friends and relatives you are close to. Yes, that includes Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube. No, your social media contacts who occasionally like your tweets or posts don’t count. The goal here is moderation — to turn social media from a constant, exhausting, distracting interaction into a medium of truer connection that you engage with on your own terms in a time, place, and manner of your own choosing. Give yourself the gift of control over your social media, not the other way around.

2. Stay in the here and now

Do you go to dinner or a party to spend time with your friends and family? Or are you there to deepen your relationship with your phone? If it’s the former — and trust us, that’s really the only acceptable answer here — then put down the phone. Otherwise, you risk signalling that whatever post, feed or article you’re currently perusing is more important than your relationship with the real, live human being currently in your presence. If you’re with friends, focus on them and set aside your phone.

And if the lack of attention is coming from the other direction? I have a friend who has been known to reach across the table and pluck a smartphone from friends’ hands. That might be a little too aggressive, but there’s nothing wrong with gently reminding people that you came to be with them, not watch them be with their phones.

3. Go grey on your apps

Human beings are attracted to bright lights and colours and, as you may have noticed, apps are not only very bright, but they’re also a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, orange and blue. That’s no coincidence: This presentation is designed to draw us in and monopolize our attention. Which is fine, so long as you recognize what’s afoot. Turning all your apps to greyscale can reduce the constant temptation to click, click, click.

4. Slow your scroll on social media

One of the reasons we’re so addicted to certain apps is because they’re built to keep us scrolling. You can get lost forever in Instagram, Facebook and Twitter because of the scroll. Want to avoid getting caught up in oodles of cat photos and new fashion finds? Move all scrolling apps to a secondary screen so it isn’t second nature to click on them after you read your email or check the time. Think of it as out of sight, out of mind.

Another, somewhat more radical solution: Put away your smartphone in favour of an old-school “dumbphone” — a flip phone or extremely basic mobile for calling and texting only.

If you find that your smartphone is getting in the way of your work, home life or sleep, but you’re having trouble kicking the habit, check out your workplace benefits. Expert, confidential help may be available through your employee assistance program or wellness program.

I get that you love your smartphone — many people feel that way. But if your goal is to have that device enhance rather than control your life, a smart, targeted approach to reducing your screen time can pay major dividends. In exchange for a few minutes off the grid, you have an opportunity to build real-world relationships, achieve goals and improve your mental health.

And that’s worth more than any number of likes and shares.

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