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7 reasons to break your smartphone addiction

If you’re never without your smartphone, you may be missing out on a more peaceful, fulfilling life.

“Both the content on your phone and the act of checking it frequently can trigger a stress response, which releases cortisol into the body,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Too much cortisol can lead to anxiety and eventually, chronic disease.”

Why are smartphones so addictive?

“When we check our phones, our brains release a small amount of dopamine,” explains Buttimer. “Dopamine motivates us to take action and each time we hear a notification, we check our device. The problem is this dopamine boost is temporary and leads to a letdown. Our brains want more dopamine, which triggers the habit of checking our phones constantly throughout the day.”

The good news is if you limit how often you use your phone, you will notice life-changing benefits, including:

  1. Less anxiety and stress. With less stimulation from calls, texts, social media updates and “urgent” emails, you may have less chronic stress and anxiety.

  2. More clarity. “Implementing healthy boundaries with your phone use will help you think more clearly all day long because you aren’t bombarded with communication and overstimulation,” he says.

  3. Deeper connections with others. When you put your phone away, you’ll improve your relationships because you’ll be present and able to focus on the other person and hear what they are saying.

  4. Sharper critical thinking and creativity. Think of the last time you wanted to remember a fact, but couldn’t. There’s a good chance you said, “I’ll Google it.” While that’s not a terrible thing, immediate gratification shuts the door on critical thinking and wonder, says Buttimer.

  5. More mindfulness. Smartphone overuse can significantly decrease mindfulness because it distracts us from the present moment. Suppose you’ve had a vacation planned for months and when you arrive, you spend your time taking and posting photos on social media. “A photo is fine, but it doesn’t recreate the moment,” says Buttimer. “You miss that sense of wonder and enjoyment you get when you are present.”

  6. More gratitude. “We may be grateful for our lives, but then look at social media and see someone else’s vacation, new home or well-behaved children, and compare those things to our lives,” he says. The constant comparison can lead to discontentment and unhappiness.

  7. A healthier body. Less screen time can help you sleep better and be more mindful of your meals. Getting enough sleep and eating healthfully are two of the most important aspects of your physical and mental health.

How to break your smartphone addiction

Start with moderation, advises Buttimer. You’ll be more successful if you don’t take an all-or-nothing approach.

  • Monitor how often you reach for your phone. Consider downloading an app that tells you how many times each day you check your phone.

  • Turn off notifications. The constant alerts can create unrest and even fear (“What could this call be about?”). When you turn off the distractions, you can focus on completing the task at hand.

  • Set your phone aside during meals. When you nix the distraction, you can savor your food and pay attention to your body’s cues so you don’t overeat.  

  • Enjoy phone-free mornings. You want to start your day with clarity and it’s hard to do that when you are bombarded by news, texts and alerts. Instead, enjoy a cup of coffee, read a book, pray or meditate, or fix a healthy breakfast. You’ll have a better day when you start your morning on the right foot. 

  • Limit screen time 30 minutes to an hour before bed. You’ll sleep better when you limit the light from your screen and overstimulation from your phone’s content.

Once you’ve implemented these small changes, take on a bigger challenge, such as going phone-free one day a month or enjoying social media-free weekends. 

“Think progress, not perfection,” says Buttimer. “Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes progress.”

Learn more ways to reduce stress and anxiety from Living Better experts.