I Have a Phone Addiction and I Can’t Quit Alone

I realized I have a phone addiction when I couldn’t focus on my own children without checking my phone for messages, notifications, or “important” emails.

I tried. I would make my eyes wide in excitement and anticipation, but eventually my eyes would sneak down to my phone. Throughout the day, I would tell myself that I wouldn’t check my phone constantly, but I never managed to keep my own promise to myself.

According to my iPhone, I’ve spent three hours and 34 minutes on my phone today, and I’ve been awake for 11 hours so far. I’ve picked up my phone four times per hour, and what exactly could be so important that I need to be checking my phone every fifteen minutes?

According to the statistics, Canadians are spending more and more time on their phones each year. Half of Canadians digital activity happens on their mobile devices, such as an iPhone or iPad. Canadian Millennials are spending an average of 3.2 hours per day on their mobile devices, one of the highest percentages of smartphone usages out of comparative countries like the UK and the USA.

As alarming as these numbers are, it is my own numbers that are concerning and shocking to me. On an average day, I spend about five hours in total on my smartphone. I know that I use my phone for a variety of purposes, from work, connecting with friends and family, reading the news, listening to podcasts, researching ideas, figuring out what to make for lunch, and how to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen.

But still, these are all excuses for a very real issue - I use my phone too much, and it’s developed into a habit that I can’t simply pull away from.

I spoke with my therapist about my phone habits, and we talked about the fact that using my phone isn’t the problem, it’s why I’m using it. What am I trying to escape, avoid, or drown out? It’s true, when I’m using my phone I feel disconnected, numb, and completely spaced out from the reality of my surroundings.

Research shows smartphone usage is linked to lazy thinking, allowing us to tap out of our creativity and critical thinking. Studies are also linking depression and anxiety to excessive smartphone usage. The problem is, smartphones are designed to be addicting, which means you need to outsmart some of the most brilliant tech-minds in order to prevent yourself from falling down the rabbit hole.

And if you’re like me, and you already have a host of mental health issues, a busy life, and a job that requires phone usage, it’s easy to fall into that trap.

For me, identifying my problem has been one of the biggest steps to finding freedom from my phone. It’s been a slow process, but each month I create small and manageable goals in order to give myself more freedom, my brain more space, and my family an engaged wife and mom.

Some of the habits I have been picking up include:

Leave my phone at home, or out of reach

When we go out somewhere as a famil,y I always try to leave my phone at home, that way I am completely devoted to my family and have zero online distractions. I also try and put my phone on a high shelf for one or two evenings each week, because out of sight is truly out of mind. When friends visit, or if I’m meeting a friend somewhere, I leave my phone in my purse, that way it’s not out and beside me.

Keep updated weekly on usage

I use my iPhone settings, which tells me how much I’m using my phone. This allows me to keep tabs on my usage. I try not to check it obsessively, but it’s a good reality check to look at the statistics weekly, and see where I’m at. The Moment app is also is helpful.

Remove all notifications

A method I recently employed was to remove all notifications from my phone, except for text notifications. Even for texts, I took off all sound notifications. This means that you must intentionally check an app, and allows you to be less accessible and distracted.

Leave my phone downstairs overnight

I have never brought my phone up to bed with me, which has always been a healthy habit for me. This means the final moments of my day are spent reading, or talking to my husband. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought isn’t my phone and checking it, it’s checking in on my kids and getting ready. Many people have rules for when they can pick up their phone, like they must read a chapter of a book first, or they must eat a healthy breakfast. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but that would be a good next step.

Taking an extended break from my phone

I still haven’t mastered this, which shows I am still addicted and have work to do. My goal is to intentionally set aside one day every week where I don’t have any digital distractions, and one week per year that I completely unplug.

Curbing my phone usage has been a years-long battle for me. I’m finally ready to overcome this terrible habit, and break free from my phone. I know I can’t do this alone, like any addiction, I need the support of others to help me get to a healthier place. Right now I have friends who hold me accountable, a therapist who is working with me to help manage my daily anxiety and stress, and a husband who is forgiving, but also believes that I can overcome this.

And finally, I’m starting to believe that too.