From sleep curfews to locking yourself out — how to ditch your smartphone

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IS your smartphone turning you into a handset zombie?

A Japanese study has found hitting the high street while on our mobiles is turning us into the walking dead.

Is your smartphone turning you into a handset zombie?

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Is your smartphone turning you into a handset zombie?Credit: Getty

Scientists discovered just a few texting pedestrians can make an entire street a “jumbled mess” and is a major source of accidents.

Life coach Hilda Burke, author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says although smartphone addiction can be a cause of accidents, it is bad for your mental health too.

She adds: “The smartphone itself isn’t addictive. It’s a gateway to the internet – a portal to so many things wherever you are.

“It often stems back to dopamine, that chemical that is released in our brain when we are engaging with pleasurable things or the anticipation of pleasurable things.

“That’s why we check our Instagram posts to see how many likes we have. We think we’re going to get something that really strokes our ego.”

Hilda shares six tips and tricks to break free from your mobile.

And try our quiz to find out if your mobile use is getting a bit out of hand.

  • The Phone Addiction Workbook (Ulysses Press) is available at Waterstones for £13.99, or Amazon priced at £10.40

Admit the issue

WITH any addiction, admitting you have a problem is a huge step in the direction of trying to resolve the issue.

This is not about shaming or berating yourself. It is purely to gather information about how you use your phone.

Become aware of your mobile usage and track how much you are on

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Become aware of your mobile usage and track how much you are onCredit: Getty

Become aware of your mobile usage and track how much you are on.

Most smartphones will have a function where you can discover how much you are using it. But if not, download apps that will help you monitor your use.

Try to observe when you are using your phone a lot and when you tend to put it down.

Many of my clients say they pick up the phone when they are feeling lonely or bored as a coping mechanism.

Noticing these patterns may help you see what prompts you to use your device and think about other activities you can do instead.

Sleep curfews

THERE is such a big link between phone use and poor sleep.

Part of that is due to the blue light emitted by them that produces serotonin in our bodies and makes us think it is time to get up and go.

The content we read on our phones before bed can stimulate us

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The content we read on our phones before bed can stimulate usCredit: Getty

What we need before bedtime is dim light so our bodies release natural hormone melatonin that sends us off to sleep.

The content we read on our phones before bed can stimulate us as well.

If your boss emails you in the evening asking for a meeting the following morning it can be ominous.

But worrying about it all night and not sleeping will make you less equipped to take on the challenge of the next day.

Impose phone curfews for an hour before bed and an hour after waking up.

Set boundaries

WHEN your partner feels you are not listening to them, it can create disharmony in a relationship.

It is just as important for friends. Those relationships are as easily affected by phones. Lead by example and ask for what you want.

Relationships can be easily affected by phones

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Relationships can be easily affected by phonesCredit: Getty

Pre-pandemic, when I was out for dinner with my friends, I would ask them not to check their phones at the table.

Now, more than ever, the little social contact we have with our friends and family is so important.

If you are on a Zoom call or out for a walk in your bubble, you want whoever you are with to give you their full attention and vice versa.

A lot of couples I work with agree to commit to realistic times they can put the phone down and connect with each other.

It’s important to agree timings both of you can stick to.

Wait training

GOING phone-free might seem like the easiest way to battle phone addiction – but I’m against this for novices.

It’s just too big a jump for most people and setting too high a goal is risky.

Going phone-free is too big a jump for most people and setting too high a goal is risky

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Going phone-free is too big a jump for most people and setting too high a goal is riskyCredit: Getty

If you crack and check your phone, you will feel like a failure and think you have an unfixable problem.

My suggestion is to try “wait training” by carving out phone-free time and starting out small.

When I began to cut down my phone use, I’d leave it at home for 45 minutes while I walked my dog.

We are so used to instant gratification with our phones but you will soon start to see the benefits of taking a small amount of time with your mobile out of reach.

You will feel more relaxed and less wired. This positive reinforcement will spur you on to go for longer periods.

Lock yourself out

OUR locked screen is a really valuable asset. It is the first thing we see when we reach for the phone.

In 2016, a survey by research company Dscout found we touch our phone 2,617 times a day – but I imagine that figure is much higher now.

Our locked screen is the first thing we see when we reach for the phone

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Our locked screen is the first thing we see when we reach for the phoneCredit: Getty

When we grab our phones the compulsion is often unconscious.

Strategically choosing an image for your locked screen background can help break this pattern.

If, for example, you wish you spent more time engaging with your children, set your background as a picture of you playing with your kid.

When you reach for your phone that picture will make you question whether that text, social media notification or email is really that urgent.

Lead by example

KIDS are much more susceptible to addiction and they respond better to hits of brain chemical dopamine, which influences mood.

Give a child a bag of sweets and they will eat the whole thing.

If your child is using their phone too much, it is likely that you are too

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If your child is using their phone too much, it is likely that you are tooCredit: Getty

For good or bad, kids live in the moment, while most adults will recognise that it’s not worth the sugar comedown.

It’s up to parents to help them manage impulse control and put in rules to make sure they do not overdo things.

I don’t work with kids but I do work with parents. What comes up a lot is that children will model their behaviour based on what their parents do.

If your child is using their phone too much, it is likely that you are too. This is a case of do what I do, not what I say.

Try to think of phone-free activities you can do with your children.

Tell-tale signs you are out of control

DO you have an unhealthy relationship with your mobile handset?

Dr David Greenfield, from the US Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, has created a test to see if your phone use is getting out of control.

Take our test to find out if you have an unhealthy relationship with your mobile handset

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Take our test to find out if you have an unhealthy relationship with your mobile handsetCredit: Getty

And remember, if you are worried about how much you are on your phone, always consult a GP.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you find yourself spending more time on your cell or smartphone than you realise?
  2. Do you find yourself mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your cell or smartphone?
  3. Do you seem to lose track of time when on your phone?
  4. Do you find yourself spending more time texting, tweeting or emailing as opposed to talking to people in person?
  5. Has the amount of time you spend on your cell or smartphone been increasing?
  6. Do you wish you could be a little less involved with your mobile?
  7. Do you sleep with your phone (turned on) under your pillow or next to your bed regularly?
  8. Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets and emails at all hours of the day and night – even when it means interrupting other things you are doing?
  9. Do you text, email, tweet or surf while driving or doing other similar activities that require your focused attention and concentration?
  10. Do you feel your use of your smartphone decreases your productivity at times?
  11. Are you reluctant to be without your phone, even for a short time?
  12. Do you feel ill-at-ease or uncomfortable when you accidentally leave your mobile in the car or at home, have no service or have a broken phone?
  13. When you eat meals, is your smartphone always part of the table place setting?
  14. When your mobile rings, beeps or buzzes, do you feel an intense urge to check for texts, tweets, emails, updates, etc?
  15. Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your phone many times a day, even when you know there is likely nothing new or important to see?

Results

1 – 2 yeses: Your behaviour is normal but that does not mean you should live on your smartphone.

3 – 4 yeses: Your behaviour is leaning towards problematic or compulsive use.

5 yeses – or above: It is likely that you may have a problematic or compulsive smartphone use pattern.

8 yeses or higher: You might consider seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist who specialises in behavioural addictions for a consultation.

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