According to research, people touch their smartphones about 2,617 times a day. Clearly, we spend a lot of time on our devices. I never realize exactly how much until I read the screen time report that is so conveniently texted to me – by my own phone! – at the end of each week. Talk about a reality check!
Smartphones are amazing tools and provide valuable resources, but they could also act as the ultimate thief of our time. I have found this to be true in my own life. And to take it a step further, smartphone addiction has become so common that it has an actual name: Nomophobia.
While it isn’t easy to admit my struggle, the statistics reveal that I’m not alone. Many of us are way too attached to our smartphones.
Love at First Sight
It was 2012 and I was holding firm. I had refused to give in to the smartphone sensation. What could I possibly need one for, after all? At the time, my daily life consisted of being a stay-at-home mom. I also had a part-part time gig at my church in the children’s ministry department. Any kind of professional business took place over email, which I could easily check on my desktop computer in our home office. I thought smartphones were for corporate business-y type people. They were not for someone who spent her time as a play date shuttle driver and knew the Chick-fil-a kid’s menu by heart.
But before long, the moms in my circle began to find themselves the proud owners of smartphones. One by one, I listened to them rave about playlists and apps and a camera at their fingertips.
Spoiler alert: I caved.
I instantly understood what everyone was going on and on about. I downloaded all of the best apps. And once I realized that I could access the INTERNET while standing in line at the grocery store? Sign me ALL THE WAY up. I was sold.
And before I knew it, that little 3×6 inch piece of aluminum became the boss of me.
My Constant Companion
When the pandemic began, my already frequent phone usage increased. But I can’t put all the blame on the pandemic. Truthfully, it was a problem way before Covid-19. But being at home all day every day managed to shine a spotlight on my struggle.
During the early months of stay-at-home orders, I found solace in texting with friends, Facetiming, and simply getting lost in a never ending scroll session on social media. Being on my phone gave me something to take my mind off of what was going on around me.
As the weeks went on, we were faced with increasingly difficult issues ranging from murder hornets to racism to a giant Saharan dust cloud. The emotional weight continued to pile up, and my phone was an easy distraction.
So What’s the Problem?
Frequent smartphone use isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We use our phones for more than just connecting on social media. As a writer, part of my job is to research and consume information found on apps, websites, blogs, and other online platforms.
I also stay in touch with friends and family with texts and emails. I listen to podcasts that inspire and motivate me. The built-in calendar and reminders are life saving. There are so many ways I use my phone that it’s no wonder that it has basically become an additional appendage that I have no desire to remove.
But despite all of the practical reasons I remain glued to my phone, there was a nagging voice inside of me that knew I wasn’t revealing the entire truth to myself. I’m attached to my smartphone.
I concluded that my smartphone had become my grown-up pacifier.
My phone soothed me when I felt overwhelmed. And I realized that I spent more time on my phone than any other activity during my day. My extended screen time wasn’t coming from work-related use or research. I found that when I felt stressed, I reached for my phone to escape my big emotions. When the outside world gets to be just too much, I simply open social media or YouTube and scroll ‘til my heart’s content.
Instead of working on processing my emotions, I retreat into a zone of indifference. Mindless scrolling or looking for something funny or entertaining is enjoyable. It’s much more fun than trying to figure out why I repeatedly fall back into my old habits of negative self-talk and chronic worrying. That just reminds me of the fact that I’m living with anxiety, and that’s nobody’s idea of a good time. So, mind-numbing entertainment it is, thankyouverymuch.
Quick! Someone show me a funny video of a dog trying to eat peanut butter because my emotions are untethered and I simply can’t be bothered with processing them at the moment!
Kids Changed Everything
I became painfully aware that I was attached to my smartphone when my children attained smartphones of their own. We went over some basic rules and even went over a contract. It was a wake-up call to me. I was asking them to limit their phone usage when their friends were over, at the dinner table, and in their beds at night. But could I honestly say that I was able to do the same?
I had to take a long look at my own habits and really reflect on the patterns I saw. Every time I reached for a mindless scroll, I began to do a self-check. I discovered that when I was anxious or faced with an overwhelming task, I consistently picked up my phone.
I want to develop healthy ways of coping with stress-induced emotions. It’s important to me that I set a positive example for my children. My greatest hope is to be able to offer them support and accountability, and that means taking responsibility for my own actions first.
So What Can I Do About It?
My teenage daughter recently confided in me that she felt she was struggling with not being able to put her phone down these days. So together we came up with a few ideas that have been effective.
- Put the phone in time out. Move your phone far away from you. I often put my phone in a drawer or in another room. If it’s out of sight, I’m more likely to be able to avoid the temptation to do a quick phone check. I’m also much less likely to pick up my phone if it’s in a completely different part of the house. Call me lazy, but I don’t want to walk across the house just to see if anyone posted anything interesting on their Instagram stories.
- Enable the Screen Time feature. This one requires some discipline. The timer is built right into the phone. However, it also has an option of asking for more time. That’s just temptation sticking its tongue out and mocking me. But I’m stronger than that (most days) and now that I have the timer in place, I’ve been able to self-regulate more effectively.
- Find something else to do every time you reach for the phone. Sometimes it happens when I’m not even thinking about it. Muscle memory is powerful, and I find myself reaching for my phone out of sheer habit more times than I’d like to admit. When that happens, I can choose to take a walk instead. Maybe I’ll clean a room or read a book. I always feel much better when I know I’ve been productive.
- Remove notifications and pop-ups. I’ve disabled pop-up notifications and keep my phone on silent. If I’m not constantly seeing emails and alerts flash on my screen, I’m less distracted and able to focus on the task in front of me. Then I can set aside time during a break to read emails, return text messages, or check for updates.
- Research ways to break the habit. There are so many resources online that share additional tips for breaking the habit. It is so beneficial to be able to learn from others in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Ask for Help When You Need It
I have come to terms with the fact that there is no shame in seeking help when you encounter challenges in life. We are all just stumbling along on this journey, and it’s ok to reach out to others when we’re struggling. If you’re feeling that you might need to break up with your phone for a bit, hopefully these tips can be useful to you as well.
And if you’re in need of a good distraction, try feeding peanut butter to your dog. It will certainly provide plenty of entertainment!