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How to Break Free From Your Phone

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistMay 22, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

The Internet is a marvelous invention. Computers, smart phones, wireless networks, and social media allow us to connect with one another in ways we never could before.

But as our lives have become saturated with screen time, the downsides of having technology everywhere are more apparent. It’s easy to get hooked on our screens, leading to dangerous behaviors like texting while driving. And if you’ve had a loved one who is constantly on their phone, you know the toll technological intrusions take on relationships. Yet, we may engage in some of the same behaviors ourselves, so powerful is the pull of our phone.

Researchers have investigated the potential pitfalls of using online technology; some of the key findings include:

  • Greater Facebook use is linked to decreases in happiness and life satisfaction.
  • More technology in the bedroom is tied to worse sleep.
  • More smartphone use at home leads to greater work-home conflict.
  • Burnout is more likely the more time we spend on our phones and computers.
  • Seeing others as more successful or happier in their social media posts leads to lowered self-esteem and greater anxiety.

Social media apps in particular can be addictive because they’re designed to draw us in. For example, each time you post something, there’s a chance you’ll get positive responses, which are rewarding to the brain. But the reward is on an intermittent schedule, meaning you don’t know when it’s coming. You might have just checked your phone but perhaps in the last 60 seconds someone liked or commented on your post—and so you check again.

Consider your own relationship with technology, and social media in particular. How do you feel when you use it? Is it life-giving? Does it intrude on the rest of your life?

If you’d like to increase the time you spend engaging in real life, consider the following strategies, adapted from my book, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple.

  • Designate daily technology-free zones, like meal times.
  • Turn off notifications so your phone isn’t clamoring for your attention.
  • Minimize the number of apps you use, since each one gives you more reasons to be on your phone.
  • Turn on your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” function when you need a technology break.
  • Leave your phone at home sometimes.
  • Uninstall social media from your smartphone so it’s less readily available.
  • (Make sure you’re sitting down for this one.) Trade your smartphone for a traditional cell phone. I know it’s an extreme option, but I found it liberating when I did it for three years.

It’s easy to feel like “a whole world awaits us” on the Internet, and yet the scene never really changes when we’re glued to a screen. Instead, look for opportunities today to lift your eyes to life around you.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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