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Tips to Break Away from your Smartphone

Are you perpetually plugged in? The mobile revolution of today is very different from the days when you were required to sit down in front of a desktop computer.

According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 96% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind (including basic, non-smartphones).
  • Smartphone ownership in America is now 81%. It was 35% in 2011.
  • 32% of adults with mobile connectivity state they are online "almost constantly."

For many smartphone users, the irresistible urge to constantly pick up their device is similar to other forms of behavioral addiction, such as shopping or gambling. The activity releases a small shot of dopamine — the reward or "feel-good" chemical — in various parts of the brain that reinforces the behavior and motivates a person to repeat it, even if it's not healthy.

Group of people taking photos of their food with their smartphone.

Reasons you might want to put the phone down

The average American touches a mobile device more than 2,600 times a day. All that scrolling and swiping can take a huge toll on some of the most important areas of your life. These include:

Productivity — It's impossible to focus on your work and think deeply if you're constantly checking your phone. Studies show that having a phone nearby, even if it's turned off, makes it harder to concentrate and impairs cognitive functioning.

Relationships — You've probably seen couples or families in restaurants seated across from each other, heads down, faces buried in their phones. Real-life intimate relationships can suffer, and so can social skills. Research suggests smartphones make people less able to read emotions and less likely to offer help to strangers, initiate casual conversations and trust people of other nationalities.

Feelings of well-being — Studies on the effects of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram show the more you use social media, the worse you feel.

Sleep — People who use smartphones shortly before going to bed are at higher risk for insomnia. This might be due to the blue light emitted by digital device screens that suppress melatonin, a hormone your body produces to induce sleepiness and control your sleep-wake cycles.

Tips for weaning yourself away from your phone

If you've begun to question how much time you spend being tethered to your smartphone screen, following are a few strategies others have found helpful in reclaiming their lives.

  1. Turn your phone on airplane mode more often and turn it over so you can't see the screen when you're working. Even better, put your phone in another room to achieve optimal cognitive performance.
  2. Turn off push notifications from your social media apps. You don't need to be constantly distracted every time someone "likes" one of your posts or photos.
  3. Put yourself on a schedule. If, like most people, you're in the habit of checking your phone every 15 minutes or less — even if you have no alerts or notifications — commit to a schedule. Maybe you can check your email just twice a day on the weekends. If that's too drastic, start with checking every half hour and work your way up to an hour, and then longer stretches.
  4. Leave your phone charging in the kitchen at night, and don't check it again until morning. Use a regular alarm clock so you can start your day slowly without getting inundated by a flood of messages and updates.
  5. Don't take your phone into restaurants when you're dining with friends or family. Leave it in the car. Let sharing an enjoyable meal and engaging with others at the table be the sole focus of your attention.
  6. Take offline mini-vacations. Set aside a full day or more to unplug totally. Let friends and family know you're taking a phone break, so they don't worry.
  7. Make a list of non-phone-related things you love to do, and tackle one or two during your unplugged period. Read a real book you can hold in your hands, go for a hike or bathe your dog. You might even allow yourself to just stare into space and do absolutely nothing at all for a few blissful moments.

Family in the kitchen.

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