Expert Advice: How to avoid cellphone addiction
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Lucas from Upstate Medical University. How can someone avoid becoming addicted to their cellphone?
Christopher Lucas, MD: Well, the most basic step is to try and limit the use, so maybe set an alarm or a schedule for how often you will check your phone. Sometimes people are already checking it every few minutes. Then say, OK, I'm going to check it every 15 minutes. And then you could move to unchecking it every half hour, then every hour. And then once you set an alarm, then you could spend that time looking through any emails or notifications and then reset your timer. Now, people will get anxious about not responding quickly enough, so you could head that off by letting friends or family know that you might not respond to their messages as quickly as you used to.
The phones have been manufactured to do things called push notifications, where you get a little chirp or pop-up screen when something happens. You don't need to be interrupted by every "like" that your Instagram picture gets or that someone has just released a new episode of your favorite podcast. And so, turn off push notifications for as many apps as you can, and really leave the notifications only for the ones that you absolutely need, such as an email or a calendar reminder. And then, for other things, only have the notifications for when you're using the app themselves.
People tend to use phones in a sort of distracted way. So they go from one thing to another, to another, and they never really planned to go and check the weather, but they see the app for it. So, take distracting apps off your home screen. Put them on a secondary screen or within a folder. Someone also had a suggestion of turning the icon from colorful and engaging to boring and gray, and there are options within the accessibility functions on your phone that would allow you to do that. You might actually want to delete certain apps that are particularly time-wasters or ones that seem to affect you negatively in terms of your mood or your self-esteem.
I think one of the most pernicious components of using cellphones is using them late at night whilst you're in bed just before trying to get to sleep. Although there have been some efforts to try and reduce the light emissions and the spectrum of the light that doesn't affect sleep, just using the phone prior to sleep is likely to make it harder to sleep. Phones and bedtime are definitely a danger area, so don't have the phone be the first thing that you check in the morning or the last thing you look at at night. Just use the regular alarm clock. Charge your phone outside of your reach. And you then won't, potentially, get tempted to use your phone first thing and get stuck in a whole bunch of messages.
If you have a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, you might want to use that. You can ask the questions about what's the weather, or what's the traffic, rather than having to go and interact with your phone.
And finally, as in anything where you're trying to monitor or change your pattern of use, you need to keep an eye on how much you're actually doing that. So there are a bunch of apps, like Quality Time or Moment, that can track your smartphone habits. What are you using? How are you spending your time? And then you can set specific goals and then see how well you are sticking to it.
It's obviously a difficult thing to do, and I struggle myself sometimes to put the phone down when I should be doing other things. But it's always tricky process because all of these phones and all of this software and all of this social media is engineered to try and get you addicted, to keep using, so that you'll buy more phones, you'll upgrade your phone and you'll provide more advertising dollars to the various sites that you look at.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Lucas from Upstate Medical University.