Are Smartphones Really Addictive & Depressing? They Don’t Have To Be—Here’s How

January 19, 2018

The other day, a friend mentioned to me that she was considering going “old school” and getting a basic cellphone. I asked her why and she said that it was because she was simply sick of being on her phone all the time. “It has so many useful functions on it though!” she pined, to which I told her that the answer to finding balance when it comes to engaging with your phone isn’t by forcing yourself to suffer with lesser technology. It’s about being smart in smartphone use.

It can feel like a part of us at times, our phone, because it’s there to help us with every step of our daily lives. From keeping our social lives “in tact” (the greatest misconception of our time IMO) to helping us get to where we want to go, to allowing us to handle our finances, to recording how many steps we take each day. It’s an undeniable aid in many respects, but can easily overwhelm us and disrupt our sleep, ruin our relationships and even age our skin.

If you too are reaching a desperation point like my dear friend, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to keep your phone and enjoy it for its many useful functions without running the risk of feeling like it’s gradually becoming an extension of your limb and taking over your life. Here are some simple swaps you can make.

Read an actual book before bed – It sounds simple, but it’s shocking how many people browse through social media or use another app directly before intending to sleep. Staring directly into a phone suppresses melatonin levels which is an absolute requirement for deep sleep. Do that thing that you know you should be doing and pick up an actual book and read that before bed. As a little-known added bonus, it’s been proven to make us more empathetic, which is always a good thing in what can feel like troubling times.

Don’t check your phone in the night – You wake up in the middle of the night needing a bathroom break and casually check your phone for the time and – out of habit more than anything – any notifications for that addictive dopamine hit. Sound familiar? A study revealed that one in three of us check our phones in the night and this is bad news. As well as the blue light triggering a decrease in melatonin, it also pumps us full of information, disturbing our sleep and causing a nasty concoction of anxiety to brew through FOMO (fear of missing out) and feeling the pressure of being “connected” at every moment of the day (and night). Do yourself a favor and when you’re starting to think about unwinding for bed, turn your phone onto silent, turn the brightness right down and leave it outside your bedroom door. Go one step further and get an app with a blue light filter to reduce eye strain and use this in the evenings as an added measure. Out of sight, out of mind. If you do wake up in the middle of the night, practice meditation or have a cuddle instead.

Journal in the morning – Many of us leap (or crawl) out of bed in the morning, run at our phones and start the daily scrolling. Try mixing things up and having a more meaningful start to the day before the impending inbox takes over and practice journaling. Whether you keep it next to your bed or on your coffee table, create a habit of making a beeline for this each morning (with a cup of tea of course) and write about your dreams, your intentions for the day or thoughts you’re having about anything else. This truly is the path to getting to know yourself better.

People watch and absorb the ambiance – In my opinion, one of the biggest killers of culture has been the smartphone-in-the-restaurant movement. Unlike coffee shops, which have always been a place of busy bodies and workaholics, restaurants – particularly upmarket spots – are sacred places of indulgence and meaningful connection. Introduce a phone to the party and you are instantly sending out the wrong signals. A study has shown that putting a phone on the table makes you less likeable. Plus, getting distracted by your phone instead of perusing the menu and taking all those pictures of your food can be frustrating for restaurant staff. Whether you have the conversation or try to do things more subtly, lead by example and leave your phone in your bag while you treat yourself to something delicious and catch up with friends. You might just notice something interesting in your surroundings in the process.

Puzzles for a strong mind – While in the bath, waiting for a bus or in transit on the plane, consider keeping a puzzle book at hand and avoiding eye strain. Puzzles like sudoku help prevent cognitive decline, keeping our minds strong and fending off conditions like Alzheimer’s. This is an excellent alternative for those who struggle to read for long and will quickly help your body relax.

Draw the line at home – Depending on who you live with, this conversation will go down slightly differently. Regardless, we can all agree that it’s healthy to have allocated downtime when it comes to smartphone use. A bit like scheduling relaxation time into a busy schedule, make sure that there’s a phone ban for certain activities, be it family meals, watching a movie with boo or board game nights with your housemates. The single most important thing we have in this life is our relationships to those that we love, so be sure to nurture them with your full attention on a regular basis.

Do you struggle with smartphone addiction? What are some changes you could make today?

Also by Kat: I Went A Month Without Eating Processed Food—Why It Was *Almost* Worth It

Related: 5 Ways to Avoid Smartphone Neck and Vision Strain

5 Ways To Get Great Sleep Every Night

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Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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