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How to break up with your phone

Five steps to set yourself free from smartphone addiction

I am addicted to my phone. Sometimes I find myself reaching for it with no real reason in mind and before I know it I’m sucked into scrolling through Instagram until I get a WhatsApp message or a Facebook notification. I can sit down to watch a programme and spend half of it picking up and setting down my phone, which leaves me feeling dissatisfied and somehow lethargic.At least I can comfort myself that I’m not the only phone addict around—and probably not the only one in the room. The average person touches their phone over 2,600 times a day, according to a study by research firm Dscout.

My tipping point came just the other day. I briefly glanced up from my phone on the London underground and realised that every single person in the carriage with me was also glued to their phone. It was a strange feeling to realise that not one of us was open to what was going on around us in the moment. Our phones and other tech devices have become a distraction for every pause in our day.

I have fallen into a dependent relationship with my phone and it’s time to break up. I’ve tried and failed before so, in order to make it stick, I looked into expert approved tips to rebalance your relationship with your phone—guess what I used to look them up…  

1. Kick start new habits with a digital detox
Experts advise that you set aside a weekend to go completely tech free. I roped in my husband and we decided we would switch off our mobiles and leave the laptop alone from Friday evening until Monday morning. We even shook hands on it in a cheesy attempt to be breezy about the whole thing—no big deal, right? I was nervous already.  

We both spent the weekend reaching for and then remembering we weren’t using our phones, which made me mindful of the number of things I use my phone for. I discovered a new found appreciation for the ways that smartphones can make our lives easier, from checking travel to booking cinema tickets. But I also realised just how much I go to it out of habit. Where normally I would have buried my head immediately in my phone—if I was waiting for a friend at a café, for example—I looked around and took in my surroundings more. It was surprising how good it felt to be free from the constant call of my phone.

If you want to go a step further with your digital detox you can even go on specially designed detox holidays. Companies like the Healthy Holiday Company and Digital Detox Holidays offer a range of trips with the emphasis on unplugging.

2. Set your boundaries 
The rule of setting boundaries applies to both the way you use tech devices and how you manage others’ expectations. Experts suggest that we create rituals to help us manage how we use the phone, such as turning off push notifications and only looking at messages at set times in the day.

Setting boundaries with my phone was one of the most impactful rules I put in place. It is freeing not to feel like my phone has me under the thumb and knowing that there were set times in my day when I would read and respond alleviated the separation anxiety.  I explained what I was doing to manage people’s expectations about how quickly I’d be able to get back to them. I’m usually lightning flash about replying so I didn’t want anyone to think I’d been abducted, but to be honest I don’t think anyone really noticed the difference except me and no disasters occurred as a result of my slower response time. By putting some boundaries in place, I’ve realised just how much my reactivity to my phone had created a sense of urgency, which was never really there.  

3. Create achievable targets 
The idea behind this rule is to remind you not to set yourself up to fail. Like forming any new habit, putting unrealistic expectations on yourself is likely to leave you feeling demotivated and make you want to give up at the first hurdle. If you like scrolling through Facebook on your commute, build it into your week. Work up to a phone detox by switching off your phone for one evening, for example.

A someone who is always giving up on giving up sugar, this rule made a lot of sense to me. I decided to look at my phone once in the morning, afternoon and evening. This felt like a doable target, but it also made me aware of the number of times I reach for my phone for no reason throughout the day. As a result, I’ve become more able to avoid the trap of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and Facebook.

4. Designate phone free zones 
Scientist and writer Catherine Price has written a book to help us break up with our phones in 30 days. Price advises choosing a few places where you won’t use - or maybe even bring - your phone. I chose to make phone free zones of the dining table, the bedroom and the bathroom—yes, I really would take my phone in there.  
I won’t lie, at first it was hard—like knowing there is a packet of Maltesers in a draw that you can’t touch. But FOMO actually morphed into a feeling of freedom from distractions. I feel like I’m more present with people and in myself as a result—and definitely quicker in the bathroom.  

There are also sound health benefits to be had from keeping your phone out of the bedroom. The light from phone screens can disrupt your circadian sleep rhythm, keeping you awake when you want to go to sleep. Constant interaction with your phone throughout the day increases stress and raises cortisol levels in the body, which can have an impact on the body even during the night.

5. Give people your full attention 
The key to quality relationships is to have real engagement and communication with others and, according to Price, our phones get in the way of feeling true connections and emotions with people we care about.

It’s such a hindrance to healthy relationships that Price has coined the term ‘phone snubbing’ to describe what happens when we people check their devices in the middle of a conversation.

I have been ‘phone snubbed’ countless times and have definitely done it to others too.
Keeping my phone out of sight and making the time I spend with others into quality time has improved my friendships so much that I will never go back. I’m definitely a better friend as a result of this change and I feel like my friends now know me better too.

Breaking up with my phone was hard to do and we have remained firm buddies. I have learned that our smartphones can be helpful and fun additions to our lives, but only so long as they don’t run them.

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