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Are You Addicted to Your Phone?

Kids aren't the only ones who suffer from overuse, experts say. Here's how to cut back

A woman looks at her phone in bed

AJ Watt/Getty Images

Data shows that the average user checks their phone an astounding 110 times per day.

En español | Ever get a jolt of anxiety when you feel a vibration in your pocket, only to realize your phone hasn’t actually gone off? What about a feeling of shock every time your phone runs out of battery? Or an inability to go more than a few minutes without opening up your phone, only to click around aimlessly once you do?

While all of these may just feel like a normal part of going about the day, they’re actually signs of a widespread problem: phone and social media addiction. According to data collected from Android app Locket, which tracks and monitors cellphone usage, the average user checks their phone an astounding 110 times per day. At peak times, that means users checking their phone every seven seconds. So many people are checking their phone so often, in fact, that a recent report published in The Spine Journal discussed the rise in disk hernias and alignment problems related to "text neck."

And though many studies of phone overuse have been focused on teens, experts believe that the problem is shared among generations, with some of the same ill effects. For example, experts say that constantly checking social media on your phone is more apt to make both teens and older adults less, not more, happy. One study published recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed lower well-being associated with a high degree of activity on Facebook among adults in particular.

“This problem definitely affects older people as well, and this is under-recognized,” says Anna Lembke, a Stanford University psychiatrist and assistant professor of addiction medicine. “The same parents who express concern about the time their teens are spending on smartphones and other devices are compulsively checking their smartphones all day long.”

If you suspect you may have the beginning of phone addiction or simply want to be less reliant on your device, below are some tips that can help.

Don’t use your phone in the bedroom

For many people, cellphone use starts the minute we wake up and ends when we’re finally able to stop looking for long enough to fall asleep. Our phones may have a convenient alarm clock feature, but using it can very easily lead to an immediate swipe over to social media before we’re even out of bed. And though scrolling through our phones is a popular nighttime ritual, it’s actually terrible for sleeping habits, since studies show the blue light our devices emit actively interferes with our natural sleep/wake cycle. In the morning, try using a regular alarm clock. At night, switch over to a book — or, at the very least, an e-reader with Night Mode activated — to doze off to.

Don't eat with your phone

It's bad etiquette to pull out your phone and start scrolling in the middle of family dinner or while out with friends, but for a lot of us, we barely even register that we're doing it. Keep the distractions at bay by turning your phone off or on Do Not Disturb mode while eating so you can focus on your meal and the company you're in. You can even make it a game with the group: have everyone put their phones in the middle of the table, and make it a rule that the first person to take their phone back during the meal has to buy a round of drinks or an appetizer for the rest of the table. It can be a fun way to force yourself — and your friends or family — to keep the attention on each other.

Turn off your push notifications

Push notifications are the dings and vibrations we receive from the apps on our phones, and one of the biggest feeders of the constant cycle of checking our devices. First comes an alert that we’ve received a like or comment on Facebook, and pretty soon we’re scrolling through our News Feeds and checking all of our other social media apps. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to remove that initial (and usually trivial) alert. On iPhone, go to the Notifications tab under Settings, tap an individual app, then "unselect" Allow Notifications. On Android, go to the Apps tab under Settings, and unselect the box for Show Notifications for each app you’d like to stop from sending notifications. You won’t have to worry about missing something important, either, since you’re able to choose which apps to stop, you can still opt to receive a notification for reminding you to take medicine or make an appointment.

Remove apps from your home screen

Part of the problem with phone overuse is that all of the addicting apps are right there, with access just a tap away. If you find yourself on the Facebook app too much, try removing it from your phone. After doing so, accessing your News Feed requires opening up your mobile browser, typing www.facebook.com into the URL, and entering your username and password. Removing the Facebook app makes access more difficult, and can help you avoid the first step in the cycle of constantly flipping from app to app.

Download a helper app

It might sound counterintuitive — phone use to help curb phone use! — but there are apps that can help curb your overreliance on your device. One such app is Moment, which runs in the background of your phone to track your usage of other apps. You’re able to set Moment to add time limits for certain apps, forcing you to step away from Facebook. With another app, Offtime, you can switch into “work” or “family” mode, during which certain apps are blocked from usage.

Buy a minimalist phone

If you want to remove yourself entirely from access to a smartphone, a lower-tech phone may be the choice for you. One such phone, the Punkt MP 01 ($295), can call, text and has a calendar — and nothing else. Another, the Light Phone ($125), goes even further. It stores only nine numbers to which you can send and receive calls and texts.

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