Adam Birney / Android Authority
Smartphones can be incredibly productive tools for certain tasks, but sometimes we can get a little too attached to the point of obsession. Nearly everyone nowadays owns a phone, and the rise in use seems like a natural necessity to navigate modern life.
But an increasing number of people are finding it stressful or even unbearable to live without one. Doctors have started calling this behavioral addiction “nomophobia,” as in no-mobile-phone-phobia or the fear of being without a mobile device. Here’s what you need to know about phone addiction and some tips and tricks from the team here at Android Authority to help combat it.
What the scientific research says
Some may be skeptical that phone addiction is a real thing. But several studies on the heavy use of these devices should raise eyebrows. Here are just a few shocking statistics to consider.
You may still think, so what if so many people can’t put their phones away? Isn’t it up to them to choose how they spend their time? Of course, people are free to make their own choices, even if it is choosing to have a phone instead of wearing shoes. But our capacity to choose becomes clouded when interacting with something that literally rewires the brain.
Our capacity to choose becomes clouded when interacting with something that literally rewires the brain.
The nature of addiction involves an inability to control usage, a compulsion to use without being conscious of it, and persistence to continue using despite harmful consequences to oneself and others. For example, someone who smokes cigarettes may know the dangers and want to quit but simply can’t without support. Similarly, overcoming phone addiction often involves awareness and a plan to taper use with the encouragement of others.
The consequences of phone addiction
If you don’t think phones can be as bad for you as cigarettes, you may be surprised. Chronic phone use has been shown to alter our brain chemistry, such as causing GABA dysfunction (a neurotransmitter in the brain that produces a calming or euphoric effect) and a loss of Grey Matter in the brain (a part of the central nervous system responsible for enabling individuals to control movement, memory, and emotions). Researchers have noted that both brain changes are highly similar to those who struggle with substance use disorders.
People with phone addiction showed lower gray matter volume in the insula and temporal cortex, areas that are “robustly associated” with substance addictions.
But it’s not just ourselves that phone addiction harms. We can become so distracted by our phones that we often fail to see the most basic things, sometimes at great cost to others. One extreme example involved security camera footage from San Francisco public transit, which revealed that a shooter could pull out his gun and handle it at length without anyone noticing before he eventually shot a fellow passenger. Being distracted from our immediate environment can mean the difference between life and death.
Tips and tricks from the AA team
Here at Android Authority, phones aren’t just a hobby, they’re a full-time job. Still, our team members are aware of the harms they can cause and have built strategies to help them avoid addiction. I asked them to share their best tips.
The advice given can be broken down into three basic strategies: limiting notifications, taking purposeful breaks, and thinking critically about how you use your phone. Here are some quotes from the team on each method to fight phone addiction.
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Our smartphones are designed to be hard to put down. The technology purposely keeps us engaged by using colors, sounds, and vibrations for notification alerts. Selecting which apps can deliver notifications or silencing them all can help prevent distraction. Here’s how some of our team members control their notifications.
“I turned off audible notifications a long time ago, and I’ve never turned them back on. I live my life, and when I am ready to dive into the phone, the messages are right there for me to deal with. While I still spend a lot of time on the phone, for work and leisure, I do not allow notifications to distract me when I am not on the phone. I’m much happier for it.”
I choose when to pick my phone up and engage, not the other way around.
“So far, I have only taken one step to actively reduce my phone usage, which is to put my phone on Do Not Disturb all the time. Only phone calls and alarms can ring — anything else is silent. That greatly reduces the urgency to check my phone every time it dings or pings or hums or drums.”
“My phone is on do not disturb 100% of the time. I choose when to pick it up and engage, not the other way around. Likewise, I disable all but key messaging app notifications on my smartwatch and limit cross-device syncing (e.g., getting phone notifications on my laptop).”
Take deliberate breaks
Zak Khan / Android Authority
Setting aside a time of day when you do not use your phone is a great way to give yourself a routine break from your devices. Here’s how and when some of our team members make sure to put their phones away.
“I consciously ignore my phone on weekends and during family or friend outings. I can look at the always-on display and see if there’s anything urgent (spoiler: nothing really is), and when I’m wearing my Pixel Watch, I get a vibration only from a few very select apps. My phone is nearby if I need it, but it’s not a priority then. The silent notifications help a lot.”
“I don’t look at my phone at all until after I’ve showered, eaten breakfast, and taken my daughter to daycare. A small declaration of “me time” each day before The Internet intrudes and messes it all up. Whatever is on there has gone unattended to while I was asleep anyway, so an extra hour or two isn’t going to make much difference.”
“I started placing my phone in a drawer in the evenings when I spend time with my wife to stop myself from randomly checking it and getting lost on Twitter or Reddit.”
“One way is by just placing my phone in a completely different room in the house before going to bed. It’s hard the first few days, but if you stick it through, you get into the habit of not checking your phone right as you’re trying to fall asleep.”
Become conscious of your usage and go easy on yourself
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
Breaking any kind of addiction is hard and won’t happen in one day. But taking small steps each day and being aware of how and when you use your phone is ultimately one of the best strategies for establishing healthy digital habits. Here are some insights from our team on how they consciously monitor their mobile usage.
“My phone addiction ebbs and flows. There are days when I barely touch my phone because I’m enjoying some relaxing time with my husband/family or I’m working at my desk (another screen, ha!) and days when I can’t seem to put the phone down. I have learned to accept the good and the bad of these, knowing that they balance out eventually.”
“I found that placing a widget on my home screen that shows the total time I spent on the phone that day is useful. Most days, it’s at least two hours, going up to three or four, which is way more than it should be to me. Especially considering I spend most of my day in front of my computer anyway.”
“While Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time are fine additions to popular platforms, I think they also have the potential to outsource responsibility a bit (e.g., by looking at your stats, you’re somehow “doing something” when in reality you’re not. Also, their very existence on your phone means you’re, um, still on your phone).
Just as phone addiction slowly escalates, fighting that addiction becomes easier over time too
I think it’s better to self-reflect on what and how you use your phone and be honest with yourself. If you know why you do something, it’ll be far easier to change your bad habits for the better. Plus, spending some time thinking critically about how you use your phone at least means you’re not actually on it.
And finally, a word of wisdom: Just as phone addiction slowly escalates, fighting that addiction becomes easier over time too. I used to use my phone far more than I do now. But the more you define boundaries, the easier it gets not to pick your phone up compulsively. I can easily go an entire weekend without even touching a smartphone if I’ve got better things to do. But I had to start somewhere.
Read more: A guide to Google’s Digital Wellbeing
That’s all the advice from our team here at Android Authority. To recap, silence unimportant notifications, have a set period of the day or week where you do not use your phone, and use visual reminders such as screen time widgets or Digital Wellbeing to put your phone usage into perspective and set boundaries around your habits. We hope this article helps you understand and overcome any phone addictions you or your friends might face.
Have you taken any measures to limit your phone usage?
The line between healthy and compulsive mobile use can be blurry. Here are a few signs and symptoms of a phone addiction:
- Lying about smartphone use.
- Loved ones expressing concern.
- Neglect or trouble completing duties at work, school, or home.
- More and more time using a phone.
- Accidents or injuries due to phone use.
- Getting angry or irritated if phone use is interrupted.
- Getting up at night to check a phone.
- Reaching for the phone the moment they are alone or bored.
- Phantom vibrations (thinking the phone buzzes when it doesn’t).
- Craving access to a smartphone or another device.
As with any addiction, don’t expect to break a phone addiction in one day by going cold turkey. Gradually reducing your mobile device use each day is the best method. The Android Authority team recommends turning off notifications, taking deliberate breaks, and consciously monitoring your mobile habits with tools like Digital Wellbeing and screentime trackers to help taper off your phone usage.
Short-term effects of phone addiction can involve sleep deficits, lower concentration, stress, and impaired relationships. Chronic, long-term phone addiction can alter the chemistry of our brains, causing GABA dysfunction and loss of grey matter, similar to the effects of substance abuse.
There is still debate among researchers as to how to classify phone addiction, but the behavioral addiction has become so prevalent to be termed “nomophobia,” an anxiety disorder related to being away from one’s phone or the fear of missing out.