How To Break Cell Phone Addiction

How To Break Cell Phone Addiction

People worldwide use cell phones for various tasks like communication, gaming, and self-care. Excessive phone use can be problematic, causing issues with attention and mood. However, there are ways to break cell phone addiction, like keeping track of how much screen time you engage in and turning off notifications. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Are Cell Phones Addictive?

Cell phones can easily become addictive because of an application’s features, the rewarding feeling of using a phone, and the emphasis on getting users’ attention within an app.

App Designs Promote Addictive Behaviors

Nearly every app on your phone has been expertly engineered to produce responses regarding brain chemistry manipulation to elicit addictive behaviors. The apps may have features such as:

  • Endless scrolling or streaming: Having continuous access to what you’re watching
  • Exposure to likable things for app users: Seeing what you’re most interested in on a feed
  • Mere-exposure effect: Using an app to the point where it’s hard to leave it alone
  • Social comparison or reward: Engaging and expecting positive social feedback
  • Social pressure: Engaging in quick interactions with other users of an app
  • Zeĭgarnik effect/Ovsiankina effect: Tendency to remember interrupted tasks easier than completed tasks

Phone Use Is Rewarding

Psychologists have a term for that irresistible feeling of unpredictability and sudden anticipation whenever you pick up your phone: intermittent rewards.

Slot machines encourage addictive behaviors by preying on the sense that something exciting could happen at any moment.

Smartphones are basically slot machines we keep in our pockets.

Social Media “Sells” Attention

Social media can be fun—but Price pointed out that it’s important to remember that those apps are about more than just sharing selfies.

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“Have you ever wondered why social media apps are all free?” asked Price. “It’s because we are not actually the customers and the social media platform itself is not the product. Instead, the customers are advertisers. And the product being sold is our attention. This is a really big deal because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives.”

Symptoms of Cell Phone Addiction

Different signs that a person might be addicted to their cell phone may include:34

  • Cell phone use as boredom resolution
  • Cell phone use most of the time
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability when they don’t have their phone
  • Inability to limit cell phone usage
  • Problematic use in dangerous situations
  • Relationship loss
  • Repeated familial, mental, physical, social, or work interruptions

Cell phone addiction itself isn’t recognized as an official diagnosis in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), the mental health professionals’ guide for diagnosing disorders. However, some features of cell phone addiction can resemble other behavioral addictions that are listed in DSM-5-TR.

Side Effects

Smartphone overuse affects mental and physical health, social interactions and engagement, and cognitive processing.

Cognitive Effects

Using smartphones can result in more interruptions, cognitive interference, and distraction. Distractions themselves may lead to increased habitual smartphone use.

The cluttered landscape of links and ads and short attention bursts required by scrolling, swiping, and tweeting result in a contradiction: “an intensely focused state of distraction.”

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While that distraction seems like it should be temporary, its effects can be long-term. “This type of frequent, focused distraction isn’t just capable of creating long-lasting changes in our brains; it is particularly good at doing so,” explained Price.

Also, when someone casually checks texts during a conversation, it’s known as phubbing—as in phone snubbing. Phubbing happens quickly as attention shifts from a physical person to a virtual person or account. One study found that phubbing has been associated with:

  • Feelings of ostracism
  • Negative mood
  • Threatened fundamental needs

The same study also found that the effects were worse when phubbing occurred three times compared to just once.

Physiological Effects

One review identified several health issues associated with excessive phone use by adolescents and young adults, including:

  • Decreased sleep duration and quality
  • Eye problems
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Neck pain
  • Problems falling asleep

Psychological Effects

Phone addiction can also affect your actions, emotions, or thoughts. Research has associated this type of phone use with the following conditions:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Anxiety, including generalized and social anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression or depressed mood
  • Impulsivity
  • Low mental and psychological wellbeing
  • Low self-esteem
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Shyness

How To Stop Cell Phone Addiction

You can start by determining a baseline for how attached you are to your phone.

Try the Smartphone Compulsion Test, developed by David Greenfield, PhD, of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. According to Greenfield, a “yes” answer to more than five of the 15 questions indicates that a person likely has a problematic relationship with their mobile device.

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You might also want to consider the following, which can include:

  • Going into your settings and turn off your phone’s notifications
  • Downloading a tracking app, like IOS Screen Time for iPhone and Digital Wellbeing for Android, that can show you the amount of screen time you’ve had
  • Removing your phone from your bedroom to help you sleep

Researchers have also found that engaging in moderately intense exercise and seeking help from a mental health professional for behavioral modification is beneficial.

A Quick Review

Signs that you may be addicted to your phone might include using your phone because you’re bored, feeling anxious without your phone, or being unable to cut your phone usage down.

Cell phone addiction may have cognitive, physical, and psychological side effects. However, you can manage cell phone addiction by, for example, controlling your notifications and monitoring your screen time.


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