If your phone is beside you as you read this sentence, this article is for you. If you’re reading this on your phone, while listening to a podcast, fielding Instagram notifications, and texting, this article is especially for you. Sorry to say, but that little piece of tech has been proven to reduce your attention span, weaken memory, lower self-esteem, make you less creative and less productive, and increase stress levels. It’s time for a break.
If you don’t believe us, take it from the person who literally wrote the book on it: Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone. In short, our cell phones are “stressing us out, adding to our anxiety, and interfering with our sleep—which in turn screws with our cortisol levels, which in turns leads to increased risk of all sorts of negative health conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart attack, heart disease, stroke…the list goes on,” says Price.
The “smart” gadget meant to make our lives easier is actually making our lives more stressful. “The messed-up thing is that the more you check your phone for reassurance, the more anxious you’ll feel when you’re not checking your phone, which will make you want to check your phone even more,” she says. “It’s a nasty cycle.”
It’s not your fault; your phone is designed to keep you coming back for more. Phones and apps are packed with dopamine triggers. Even more counterintuitive: We begin to release stress hormones when we can’t check our phones frequently. “We feel twitchy and irritable, and we keep reaching for our phones even if we know they’re not there,” explains Price. “In other words, we begin to exhibit signs of withdrawal.” Essentially, our phones are like tiny slot machines in our back pocket.
Plus, it’s just a huge waste of time. On average, we’re spending four hours a day on our phones, according to time-tracking app Moment. That’s about 60 days a year—a quarter of our waking lives!
Since we’re basically addicted, reducing daily usage isn’t as easy as just not looking. That’s where “breaking up” with your phone enters the picture. This doesn’t mean getting rid of the gadget entirely, but rather creating a healthier, more aware relationship with it—minimizing what doesn’t make you feel good and enjoying the aspects that actually do. “Ultimately, ‘breaking up’ with your phone is not about spending less time on your phone,” says Price. “It’s about spending more time on your life.” Here are seven tips from How to Break Up With Your Phone, all in the name of making the separation easy.
Create a physical prompt. Put a rubber band around your phone, or set a lock-screen image that prompts you to ask whether you really want to be picking up your phone right now. (No judgment if you do—the point is just to make sure it’s a conscious decision.)
Practice your Ws. Short for “What for, Why Now, What Else,” WWW is an exercise that’s designed to spark ideas for what else you could be doing in that moment besides checking your phone. Simply ask yourself what you’re picking it up for, why you’re picking it up right now (the answer could be practical, situational, or emotional), and what else you could do in that moment instead.
Disable unnecessary notifications. Go into your phone’s settings and turn them off. Price recommends only enabling notifications for calls, texts, and your calendar. If you’re worried about missing an important email, create a VIP list of contacts and adjust your notification settings so that you’re alerted when a VIP email comes through. And those little red bubbles that show up on your apps are notifications, too (they’re called badges), and should be disabled.
Get a stand-alone alarm clock. If your phone is your alarm clock, you are guaranteeing that it will be the first thing you reach for when you wake up.
Delete social media apps from your phone. This doesn’t mean that you can’t check social media; just do it from their clunkier browser versions instead.
Use apps to protect yourself from apps. App blockers such as Freedom will allow you to limit your access to problematic apps and websites—making it easier to stick to your intentions.
Get philosophical. Your life is what you pay attention to. So how much of your life do you want to spend on your phone?