How I shrugged off my smartphone addiction, without a therapist

I am finally in a place where I can say I have been able to shrug off my smartphone addiction. It’s taken me a while and it has taken some doing.

You must be wondering how someone like me who reviews a smartphone every week feels liberated by not being hooked to a gadget anymore? Well, it might not have been an addiction in the true sense, but it was sure that I was so much involved with my smartphone that I started to lose touch with myself. Several times a day I sunk into the phone to hide my negative thoughts. I was checking the phone throughout the day, and night, often as late as 2 am. That’s when I promised to heal myself. Regular meditation along with a few other steps helped a lot in weaning myself away from the phone. Here’s how I did that, without any help from a therapist.

Why do people become addicted to smartphones?

Smartphone addiction is considered a ‘behavioural addiction’ and is defined as ‘dependence syndrome’ by the World Health Organization (WHO). This type of behavioural addiction is often dubbed ‘Nomophobia’, a fear that triggers when the smartphone is away. Nomophobia is similar to other physiological conditions related to fears of certain things.

Research from King’s College London revealed that around 39 per cent of people aged 18-30 reported symptoms such as losing control over how long they spend on their phone, distress when they cannot access it, and neglecting other areas of their life.

The study, conducted in 2021, used survey responses from 1,043 people and matched their replies to the addiction scale tool, finding that 406 people met their criteria of smartphone addiction. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the average smartphone user checks their device 50 to 80 times a day.

The increase in phone usage happens gradually, which later becomes an addiction. Browsing Instagram, receiving messages on WhatsApp or finding someone on Tinder provide your pleasure at first, but soon you become dependent and expect similar gratification every time you have access to a phone. Studies have shown that a tiny molecule in our brain called dopamine gets released when you feel “high” about something. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you good. It’s the “pleasure chemicals’ that send signals inside our brains. Releasing Dopamine is natural, but if it gets released too much, then it becomes an addiction.

The problem begins when your brain notices a consistent pattern, it begins to associate “smartphone” with “dopamine.” Soon, your brain begins to crave more for a phone. The likes you receive, notifications, Facebook feed — all these activate dopamine. In a study in Frontiers in Psychology, Veissière and Moriah Stendel, researchers in the psychiatry department at McGill University, reviewed current literature on the dysfunctional use of smart technology through an evolutionary lens, and found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.

When my smartphone started to control me

How many times have you checked your smartphone lately? Yes, the answer must be a lot, so much so that you have lost count. Must then you are not alone. I, for instance, was hooked to certain apps which I thought would help me discover myself. Instead, I became obsessed and started wasting time on these apps. It became a habit I struggled to get rid of. Later, I realised how my urge to ‘fit in’ was out of place… I was just trying to escape my reality.

Our interactions with smartphones are more meaningful than ever. The problem starts when we constantly reach out to the phone with no purpose. I don’t think we even ask ourselves what is the purpose of picking up the phone as we start fiddling with it again for the umpteenth time.

Tips to deal with smartphone addiction

When I was addicted to my smartphone, I looked at myself and asked these three questions:

  • What relationship do I want with my phone?
  • How much time do I need to devote to a phone?
  • Is my phone helping me become more productive in life or is it stopping me from achieving my goals?

It took me some time to figure out what exactly I needed from the device, but the answer helped me maintain a healthy relationship with the device.

So I used certain tips and tricks that anyone can use to fix their smartphone addiction problem.

Use Apple’s Screen Time feature to develop healthy device habits

Try Apple’s Screen Time feature for iPhone, iPad and Mac. It’s a natively built-in feature, which tracks and monitors how much time you spend on your devices. The feature can even lock you or the kids out of apps after you have reached a set amount of time. To enable Screen Time, go to Settings > Screen Time and tap Turn On Screen Time. Go through the information at the Screen Time screen and tap Continue. You are then asked if this device is for you or your child. If it’s for you, tap This is My iPhone. Now Google too offers similar tools on Android phones.

Hide your ‘last seen’ status on WhatsApp

If you want peace of mind in life, turn off WhatsApp’s ‘Last Seen’ feature right now. By turning it off, the other person won’t be able to know when was the last time you used the app. It’s just like the Incognito mode. If your partner and friends trust you, they won’t accuse you of repeatedly ignoring them. To turn off WhatsApp ‘last seen on your phone: Launch WhatsApp>Tap “Settings”, located at the bottom right corner>Tap “Account”>Tap “Privacy”> Change your last seen status from “Everyone” to “Contacts” ( it’ll only be visible to your WhatsApp contacts) or to “Nobody.”

Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning

Many people have the habit of checking WhatsApp or Facebook first thing in the morning. Instead of doing that, think about the goals for the day and what value you will add to your work. Go for a walk, give time for breakfast and while having the meal, check important emails, read the news or go through missed updates on Facebook and Instagram.

Mute your phone before going to bed

Let the phone not distract and interrupt your sleep. Make a habit of either muting or turning the phone off before going to bed. This will help reduce the time you spend on a phone.

Interact with real people

There is no substitute for real-world interactions. Being in the company of an actual person is more interactive than online chats or WhatsApping all day. True friendships blossom when you meet the person face-to-face over a cup of coffee or chai. There’s something real and emotionally satisfying about meeting a person face to face.

If these tips can’t cure your smartphone addiction, they will at least cut down on your screen time.

Were you addicted to your phone? If yes, tell us your story and how you overcome the addiction.