How to Break a Phone Addiction
However you define it, both experts say there are ways to reduce your phone usage.
Take a “quick screen”.
One approach that Dr. Lembke has found very effective in her clinical practice is to completely avoid using all screens, not just phones, for anywhere from a day to a month. This strategy has not been formally studied in screen-overusing patients specifically, she said, but evidence of its use with other types of addictions, such as alcoholism, suggests it can be effective.
How long you decide to fast will depend on your level of use, Dr. Lembke said. The average person may start with a 24-hour fast, for example, while someone with a more severe case of screen overuse may want to avoid screens for longer. Of course, true fasting may not be practical for many people, whether for professional or personal reasons, but the goal is to get as close to total avoidance as possible.
Dr Lembke warned that many people – even those with milder screen overuse – may initially notice withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability or insomnia, but over time will begin to feel better. In her 25 years of seeing patients, Dr. Lembke has noticed that at the end of a month of fasting, the majority of her patients “generally report less anxiety, less depression, sleep better, have more energy, doing more, like being able to look back and see more clearly how their screen use was affecting their lives,” she said. Those who fast for less than a month will still see benefits, she said, although they probably won’t be as dramatic.
After abstaining from screens for a while, she recommended thinking about how you want your relationship with your devices to look like in the future.
Set rules for the daily use of your smartphone.
Besides a fast screen, Dr. Lembke and Dr. Alter recommended finding other, less strict ways to get away from your phone each day. This might mean assigning times of the day or days of the week when you don’t use your phone at all, like before and after work. It can also mean leaving your phone in the other room, keeping it out of your bedroom, or putting everyone’s phone in a box outside the kitchen during dinner time.
“It seems trivial, like an old-fashioned analog solution. But we know from decades of psychology that the things closest to us in physical space have the greatest psychological effect on us,” said Dr. Alter “If you allow your phone to reach you in every experience, you’re going to be drawn to it and you’re going to use it. Whereas if you can’t physically reach it, you’ll use it less.
Make your smartphone less attractive.
You can also make your phone less visually appealing, by changing the screen to grayscale or disabling notifications, for example. Dr. Alter suggested periodically rearranging the apps on your phone so they become harder to find and less likely to get you into a mindless loop of checking and rechecking just out of habit.