Life, Hope & Truth

From the May/June 2021 issue of Discern Magazine

How to Stop Phone Addiction

Modern smartphones have nearly unlimited uses—some very positive. But many people are becoming addicted to their phones. How can you break phone addiction?

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Today our smartphones are far more than the cellular communication devices they were at first.

They are our navigation devices, organizers and planners, alarm clocks, watches, news sources, cameras, photo albums, video players, gaming consoles, books, podcast players, music players, note takers, calculators, personal trainers, personal bankers, credit cards, health monitors, and we could go on and on. It seems the functions of our phones are endless, and app developers continually find new uses for these devices.

The phone seems to be an indispensable part of our life. We may now wonder: How would I ever get anything done without it?

Yet the modern smartphone has given rise to negative behaviors as well. Consider some of the problems linked to overuse of smartphones:

  • Nomophobia: The fear of going without your phone.
  • Textaphrenia: The anxiety you feel when you think you received a text message, but didn’t.
  • Textiety: The anxiousness you feel when you don’t receive or send a text message.
  • Phantom vibrations: The feeling that your phone is alerting you when it really isn’t.
  • Phubbing: Snubbing, or ignoring, someone in front of you to interact with your phone.
  • FOMO: The “fear of missing out.”
  • Snapchat dysmorphia: Wanting to look like your edited digital image, even if it takes cosmetic surgery.

Can you relate to any of these?

These can all be aspects of another condition: phone addiction.

The growing problem of phone addiction

South Korea has one of the highest rates of ownership of smartphones in the world, with more than 98 percent of teens using a smartphone. According to government statistics, around 30 percent of South Korean children between the ages of 10 and 19 were deemed “overdependent” on their phones. Phone detox centers have even been set up to help wean some teens off their phones. 

Some don’t think phone addiction is a real addiction. But phone addiction does have symptoms similar to those of other serious addictions. Some of those symptoms are:

  • Loss of control.
  • Difficulty limiting or reducing the behavior.
  • The need to engage in the behavior continually to get a desired feeling.
  • Interference with the normal functions of life.
  • Withdrawal, or feelings of irritability and anxiety, when the behavior isn’t practiced.
  • Relapse, or picking up the habit again, after periods of avoidance.

Like any addiction, there are levels of severity and often denial. Here are some ways to identify phone addiction:

  • When you get a notification, do you get an irresistible urge to look at your phone, even when driving?
  • Is your phone the first thing you need to look at when you wake up?
  • Do you feel anxious if you don’t have your phone on you?
  • Do you stay up way too late because you’re using your phone?
  • Do you find yourself lost in endless feeds of social media or watching videos?  

It’s important for Christians to not allow anything to control their lives. The apostle Paul encourages us to be “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25).  

How to stop phone addiction

If you feel phone addiction may be a problem for you, here are some ways you can begin to overcome it.  

  1. Don’t take your phone everywhere.

Proverbs 25:16 teaches an important lesson: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.”

Too much of even a good thing can be unhealthy. Taking our phones everywhere isn’t healthy. Our phones are fantastic devices, but overuse can have a negative impact.Too much of even a good thing can be unhealthy. Taking our phones everywhere isn’t healthy. Our phones are fantastic devices, but overuse can have a negative impact.

Adrian Ward, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, performed a study to see the effect of the phone on our minds. The study involved performing tests of memory and attention on a group of 500 undergraduates.

In a set of experiments, students took a test. Some had their phones on the desk, some in their bags, and some had their phones outside the testing room. Some were asked to put their phones on silent, and others were told to turn them off.

The study found that a phone reduced students’ ability to think, affecting their performance. Even if a phone was out of sight, on silent or turned off completely, its mere presence affected how they thought. Students who left their phones outside the room did the best on the tests.

None of the students attributed their performance to the location of their phones. The effect was subconscious.

We can tackle this by deliberately choosing to separate ourselves from our phones. This may mean going to sleep with your phone in another room. Work on going periods of time with your phone off or in a different location.

It is especially wise to keep our phone off, or in another location, when we pray. Jesus taught that it is best to pray privately, and we would not want our phone to interfere with our prayers to God (Matthew 6:6).

  1. Consciously limit social media use.

The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:16 that we need to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”

To redeem something means to buy it back, or to reclaim it. Paul is encouraging us to use our time wisely.

Social media can be a great way to keep connected with friends and family. This is definitely a constructive use for the phone. But other uses can completely waste our time. Most phones today provide screen time reports that tell us how long we’re spending on each app. Are you spending way too much time scrolling on social media? Or on YouTube?

Many apps are intentionally designed to be addictive. They use persuasive design techniques to keep you engaged for long periods.

Some of these techniques are:

  • Tailoring content specifically to grab your attention.
  • Providing pages that have no end (infinite feeds).
  • Continually playing videos on auto play.

There is a software adage that goes like this: If you are not paying for a product, you are the product.

Most social media sites are free to users. They actually make their money by selling advertisements. So, social media companies’ main product is you. They make a profit by selling your attention. So, the more time you spend on your phone, the more money they make. That’s why app developers design their apps to keep you engaged longer.

The need for social approval can be strong. But overuse of social media can cause us to fall into the pitfall of comparing ourselves to other people. Paul warns that those who engage in “comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This pull can be even greater when we are feeling down and see others on social media always seeming happy. For young people in particular, psychologists note a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicides since the advent of social media.

The best way to avoid social approval addiction is to make a conscious decision to limit your time on social media.

  1. Turn off phone notifications, at least the ones that aren’t really needed.

Some push notifications can be very useful—a reminder to do a task, a banking alert that you’ve overdrawn your account or a reminder to do something healthy. These are some of the great functions of our phones. (We are not at all anti-smartphone!)

But many of the other notifications on our phones are useless. Do you really need to know that a friend “shared” another friend’s post? Or that 10 people reacted to … (the notification not even telling you what it is, because it’s baiting you to look and react yourself).

These notifications are designed to keep you looking at your phone.

A study found that Millennials check their phone 150 times per day—that’s around once every 5 minutes! Every time your phone receives a notification, you receive a small surge of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes tension. When you look at the notification, there is a dopamine surge, giving you a sense of relief. This cycle of tension and relief affects our brain and can cause addiction.

This is why it can be helpful to set your phone to accept only the most necessary and useful notifications. This should greatly minimize the number of notifications you receive—and reduce your continual need to pick up your phone. The extra time we save can be used to think and meditate on godly things (Philippians 4:8).

The right to disconnect

France recently passed a new law recognizing an employee’s right to “rest” from work emails. It has been nicknamed the “right to disconnect.” It forbids companies from emailing their employees after hours.

But you don’t need a national law to legislate your phone usage. You have the right to disconnect anytime you choose. If you just do one thing today, such as turning off all unnecessary notifications, it can make a big difference.

If your phone is controlling your life, now is the time to take back control.

About the Author

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil

Isaac Khalil is husband to his lovely wife, Natasha, and father to son, Eli and daughter, Abigal. He loves to spend time with family and friends doing various things like watching movies, playing chess, playing board games and going out. He enjoys studying biblical topics and discussing the Bible with his friends. He is also a news junkie and is constantly reading and sharing news connected with Bible prophecy.

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