You wouldn’t say that catching up on the news or looking at funny pet videos is more important than your family or other people you love. But that is basically what you are doing by constantly checking your phone.
Science journalist Catherine Price had this revelation three years ago while holding her baby in the middle of the night. “The room was pitch black except for the light from my phone,” recalls Price, author of How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life. “I looked away from my phone to my daughter, and realized she’d been looking at me the whole time. That wasn’t what I wanted her first impression of a human relationship—or her mother—to be.”
Taking a Short Break
So Price and her husband decided to “break up” with their phones (and all other screens) for 24 hours, just as an experiment. “We were anxious and irritable at first,” she recalls. “But the next day, the twitchiness subsided and time seemed to slow down. By the time it was over, we both felt a surprising sense of calm.”
Intrigued, Price started to look into the medical research about phones and screen time and found that it wasn’t their imagination: phones—or, more specifically, the constant connectivity and notifications that come with them—do raise stress hormones. “Since we have them with us at all times, our stress levels are always elevated, even if we’re not consciously aware of it,” she explains. Being constantly tethered to our phones, which are designed to be addictive, is bad for our attention spans, productivity, relationships and sleep, to name a few things—and may well have other long-term health effects, too.
Taking Back Control
Feeling the urge to throw your phone in the trash? “Don’t,” says Price. “Phones are great practical tools. The goal is just to create a relationship that keeps what you love and gets rid of what you don’t, so that you can spend more time on what’s important to you.”
Price’s book contains an evidence-based 30-day plan that’s designed to help you do just that. In the meantime, here are Price’s top five tips for a healthier relationship with your phone.
#1. Put a rubber band around your phone. “The point is to snap you out of autopilot by adding a ‘speed bump’—a small obstacle that makes you slow down,” explains Price. “You probably don’t normally have a rubber band on your phone, so when you encounter it, your brain is going to momentarily wonder why it’s there. That moment is your chance to ask yourself whether you really want to be checking your phone right then. If so, fine. But if not, you’ve given yourself a chance to make a different choice.” (She’s also created free lock screen images with the same purpose.)
#2. Declare no-phone zones. The dining table and bedroom are good places to start. “If everyone knows that phones are not allowed in these areas, no one will be upset if they’re told to put their phone away,” Price says. “It’s like the quiet car on Amtrak—if you know that you’re in it, you can’t be mad if someone hushes you.”
#3. Get a real alarm clock. “A lot of people use their phones in their bedrooms instead of clocks,” Price says. “But having the phone near your bed makes it hard to resist—plus, you have to pick up the phone to get the alarm to stop, which guarantees that checking your phone will be the first thing you do each day.” She also recommends charging your phone out of the bedroom and putting books or magazines on your bed stand where you normally keep your phone, to give yourself an alternative activity during those moments when you’d usually reach for your phone.
#4. Turn off alerts and notifications and experiment with deleting social media and other apps —or hiding them on a second screen. Price actually took the email app off her phone. “I don’t worry that I’m missing something because I tell everyone that if they need to reach me urgently, they should call or text,” she says. If she needs to be on email, she goes through the web browser. “It’s a pain to have to login and type your password, which makes me check my email less.”
#5. Invite family and friends to break up with their phones, too. (There’s a free challenge, as seen on “Good Morning America,” on the book’s website, and Price is designing a special Thanksgiving challenge for families to try together.) It’s more fun that way—and you’ll have people to enjoy your new free time with you!
Catherine Price will be presenting more phone tips at the 2018 PA Conference for Women.