Independence and life as an emerging adult is full of challenges, and there is one constant that remains: technology. 

Cell phones are not going away, and technology is taking over our time and attention. Excessive phone use is a problem for many people, both as an addiction and as an impulse control issue. Whether you spend a long amount of time on your phone or check your phone hundreds of times per day, the following tips will help you better balance your life, online and off. 

Tip 1: Work to understand the role phone addiction plays in your life.

Phones can be productive tools and compulsive use can interfere with work, school and relationships. When you spend more time on social media than you do interacting with real people, or you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps (even when it has negative consequences in your life) it may be time to reassess your technology use.

Addiction to social media, dating apps, texting and messaging can be so severe that virtual, online relationships become more important than real-life relationships, and most people have trouble recognizing it. Since there are not specific measurements for phone use to be considered an addiction, you must take a serious look at your individual use to see how it is impacting your life. The internet can be a great place to meet new people, but online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real-life interactions. Online relationships can be easy because they exist in a bubble. Real-world relationships have different demands and stresses than online relationships. 

Compulsively scrolling on social media, watching videos and playing games can lead to lower productivity at work or school and lead to isolation for hours at a time. Many areas of your life can be neglected because of phone addiction:

  • Real-world relationships: staring at your phone will harm face-to-face interactions that meaningfully connect you to others, alleviate anxiety and boost your mood. This harm can cause isolation from family and friends.
  • Hobbies: phone addiction can take priority over enjoying offline hobbies like playing a sport, going for a run, crafting, reading and more.
  • Mental health: many people compare themselves with their peers on social media, promoting feelings of loneliness and depression. You may think that escaping the real-world to lose yourself online could make loneliness, depression and boredom go away, it often leaves you feeling worse than before.
  • Responsibilities: completing tasks at work or home can be difficult. Laundry piles up because you’ve been busy texting or scrolling through social media.

Tip 2: Identify problem areas.

To help you identify problem areas, keep a log of when and how much you use your phone. Utilize your phone’s built-in usage information to help you track the time you spend on each app. See if there are times of the day where you use the phone more. The more you understand your overuse, the easier it is to curb your habits and regain control of your time. Consider the things you could be doing instead of spending time on your phone. Recognize the triggers that make you reach for your phone. Is it when you’re lonely or bored? If you are struggling with depression, stress or anxiety, instead of reaching for your phone, find healthy relaxation techniques to manage your mood. 

Tip 3: Build structure and coping skills around technology use.

You control the amount of time you spend on your phone. Your phone does not control you. Technology should be a tool rather than a lifestyle. Healthy structure and parameters are key. Give yourself realistic, specific times of the day to be on your phone. Outside of those times, only use the phone as necessary.

Learn to hold yourself accountable for the parameters and communicate the boundaries with friends and family so that they can support your efforts. A digital detox can be healthy, but many people choose to add structure instead of quitting cold-turkey.

Build your coping skills to help you weather the stresses and strains of daily life without relying on your phone. Set aside dedicated time for friends and family. Set goals for when you can use your phone. Either schedule use for certain times of the day or reward yourself with a certain amount of time on your phone once you’ve finished a chore.  

About the author: Greg (MSW, LCSW, LCAS) is the Executive Director of Skyterra Embrace. Through his work with people living with trauma, attachment, substance abuse and addiction, and other mental health difficulties, Greg enjoys creating opportunities to encourage growth and development.