How to beat your smartphone addiction

Article3 mins08 October 2019By Amy Cooper

Essential tool, or unhealthy dependency? Here’s why switching off your smartphone can reap health benefits.

These days, there’s very little your smartphone can’t do. Transport, household management, wellness, exercise, banking, payments, shopping, dining and even socialising– a single device puts the world at our fingertips.

No wonder that 89 percent of Australians own one, checking it as often as 130 times a day. 

The consensus of studies worldwide is that we’re spending as many as four hours per day on our phones, and that it could be an increasingly unhealthy dependency. 

The human brain and body, say experts, are not designed for a life online. From poor posture to behavioural issues to accidents caused by smartphone use while driving, the downsides of hyper-connectivity are disturbing.

Last year, a group of Queensland university researchers identified a significant rise in addiction-like symptoms associated with smartphone use; respondents reported separation anxiety when apart from their phones, despite also experiencing sleep disturbances and reduced productivity due to frequent smartphone interruptions the researchers dubbed ‘technoference’.

Angela Lockwood, occupational therapist and author of Switch Off: How to Find Calm in a Noisy World, says: “It’s important to remember that smart devices were designed to make life easier for us. However, in our pursuit of this ease, we’ve handed control over to our devices, making our lives so dependent on them we feel we can’t function without them. 

“Dependency on anything does not serve our health well, so it’s time we take the control back. When we do, we will see our health, relationships and happiness improve.”

In our pursuit of making our lives easier we’ve handed control over to our devices, making our lives so dependent on them we feel we can’t function without them.

Angela Lockwood Occupational Therapist and Author
Reclaim the moment

It’s a forlorn and familiar scene: a group of friends or family glued to their smartphones, oblivious to each other. This ‘digital zombie’ behaviour, says psychologist Patrea O’Donoghue, is one of the most troubling smartphone side effects. “By trying to be connected online, you’re disconnected from what’s happening in front of you,” she says. “We’re missing out on those real, face-to-face connections.”

For many, smartphone use has become a default activity during every spare moment, she says, and it can be a tough habit to break.

O’Donoghue recommends having strategies prepared for overcoming the urge to kill time on screen in situations such as waiting rooms or queues. “Try mindfulness exercises, focussing on breathing or just letting the mind wander, which is a beautiful thing and very important,” she says. “Walk in nature, tap into your five senses, or enjoy a face-to-face chat.”

Do a digital detox

After witnessing numerous clients struggling with digital overload, Patrea O’Donoghue was inspired to try a full digital detox during a work break. After a device-free week she noticed significant wellbeing benefits.

“There was a lot of relief, and a sense of extra calm,” she says.

It freed me up to make so much more of my downtime. I could be fully in the moment - free to socialise and be totally present with those people.” Now she recommends at least one unplugged day each week.

She also urges clients to keep their bedroom device-free. Deloitte’s 2017 Mobile Consumer Survey revealed that 35 percent of respondents check their phone within five minutes of waking up in the morning – and that’s far too soon, says O’Donoghue.

“I think it sets the tone for the day, that you’re highly reactive to consuming information that’s come in. Instead, use that opportunity to be creative, reflective, contemplative - or exercise.” 

Shrink your social media

The average Australian aged over 14 spends almost six hours on social media every week, according to Roy Morgan, with the average 14 to 24-year-old female clocking up a hefty two hours a day. 

“It’s a massive timewaster,” says O’Donoghue. “I encourage people to be ruthless and halve their Facebook friends list to reduce the incoming information.”

She also recommends setting strict windows for social media use. “Quarantine when you’re going to check your social media apps, or it can be a time-sucking device.”

Make tech work for you

It might sound counterintuitive, but your smartphone’s own technology can help control your digital dependency.

Start by enabling the Screen Time function in your settings, allowing your phone to track your activity. As well as time spent on screen each week, the function reports how long you spent in each app, and on which websites. 

Numerous apps can help you unplug. Mute replaces the dopamine hit derived from social media ‘likes’ by congratulating your reduced phone use with feelgood messages such as “Boom! You’re smashing it today – only 40mins screen time!” 

Popular apps Space and Moment offer exercises, group challenges, information and research all aimed at helping you take back your time and return to real life. 

Read on for more insights

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