If you're thinking about a spring detox to give your health a boost, don't forget your mental health. Many studies have shown how an increasing use of smartphones and social media can distract us from family, friends, and work, amplify feelings of anxiety and depression, and make us unhappier. So if you want to reduce your smartphone use, read on for five expert tips to help you take a break from your phone and avoid addiction.
Schedule your time to avoid smartphone addiction
"Now we can do so much online -- a lot of our daily lives are on our phone," said Steven Sussman, professor of preventive medicine, psychology and social work at USC, who recognizes that this can make it hard to avoid using your device.
However, there are ways to limit use, with Sussman suggesting setting a schedule with times for when you are allowed to use certain websites or apps, or limiting how many times you check your phone to once every 15 minutes, then once every 30 minutes, and so on.
Turn off notifications
San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education Erik Peper says that digital addiction is not our fault, but a result of the tech industry's desire to increase profits. Push notifications, vibrations and other alerts on our phones compel us to look at them by triggering the same neural pathways in our brains that once alerted us to imminent danger, such as an attack by a tiger or other large predator. "But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive -- for the most trivial pieces of information," he adds.
Peper suggests turning off push notifications so you can focus on daily tasks rather than being constantly interrupted by your phone, and to avoid triggering these neural pathways.
Don't use your phone at mealtimes
This is one way to easily and quickly cut down your phone use, and it comes with other benefits according to Julie Albright, a psychology lecturer at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "Keeping them out of sight during family dinners lets you focus on the people around you and be present," she said.
Sierra Hinkle, a Holistic Health minor and student of Peper has another trick to avoid phones when eating -- when out with friends, they all put their phones in the center of the table, and the first one to touch theirs buys the drinks. "We have to become creative and approach technology in a different way that still incorporates the skills we need but doesn't take away from real-life experience," said Hinkle.
Quit social media
Khari McKendell, also a student of Peper, has tried to reduce phone use by closing his social media accounts. "I still call and text people but I want to make sure that a majority of the time I'm talking to my friends in person," he said. The fewer social media accounts you have the less likely you are to be constantly on your phone, and, according to various studies, the more likely you are to feel happier.
Charge your phone in another room
If you're really struggling to limit phone use during the day, perhaps because you simply need it to check work emails or urgent messages, Albright suggests a small way to disconnect from your phone, by charging it in another room in the evening. "This is a way to reconnect with body, mind, and self and not be in constant state of overstimulation of the mind," Albright said. "We all need that quiet time to be able to think again and refocus."