How to Break Smartphone Addiction: Tips and Symptoms

February 27, 2024

Memory Lane

I grew up right around the cuff of when cell phones were becoming more of a staple in society. I remember on my 15th birthday how my parents gifted me with the ultimate level of freedom and social connection: a cell phone. Forget the fact that I couldn't drive a car yet, mobile devices were the new gateway to independence. I could call somebody whenever I wanted to, not just when I was at home and I could even create my own voicemail greeting. The service was a little bit spotty and I am not sure that I had a whole lot that needed to be communicated. But I could definitely call somebody whilst walking around outside of the movie theatre and say "what's up." Times were good.

But that's about all it could do and while it was interesting, cell phone dependence was not a thing that people were discussing. I'm pretty sure if you went to somebody and said you were experiencing cell phone addiction they would just assume you were joking. It would be like telling somebody you are addicted to buying cowboy hats. I mean, you can develop addictive behaviors really towards anything, so the phone addicts would probably be similarly categorized under some sort of other obscure addition. But people weren't experiencing the sort of excessive phone use that is so rampant in 2024. No, this was 2002 and "too much screen time" probably would have only related to how much time you were spending in front of the TV (or perhaps chatting with your friends on AOL).

I actually have a memory from my junior year of the girl next to me complaining about how she forgot her phone and didn't know what she was going to do. I was so flabbergasted by her exacerbation. You'll see if when you get home, I thought. It's not a big deal.

And I'm not trying to fit the millennial archetype of letting you know what it was like back in my day, because I'm pretty sure older generations can paint a much better picture of how the times have changed. Rather, I think it was an interesting experience to be 15 in 2002 as mobile phones were making their way onto the scene, but hadn't fully materialized into their full form with smartphone apps, texting, browsers, video calling, health tracking, and so much more.

Fast forward to today and I'm pretty sure 98% of people would have the same sort of experience with having forgotten their phone at home. And while young people tend to take the bad rep for this, I've seen just as many boomers and later lost in texting or online games

Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addictions show up in a number of different ways. In addition to technology addiction, this can also show up with gambling, eating, shopping, or pornography. If you are trying to figure out if you have an addiction and are having trouble, I might loosen your grip a bit on the word addiction. This word sometimes conjures up one who will stop at nothing in order to achieve the desire of their animalistic desires. I might instead point you to asking yourself the question if feel that you are engaging in problematic smartphone use. For the sake of this blog I'd rather steer away from trying to help somebody decipher what category they fit into and instead help them improve their relationship with technology as a whole.

It might be better to ask yourself a series of questions.

Does my smartphone usage get in the way of other aspects of life that I value?

Do I feel a sense of distress if trying to prevent myself from looking at my device?

Does my daily screen time suggest that I might be engaging in excessive smartphone use?

Has anybody pointed out to me that I am less present or often on my phone?

I can't give you an exact score that would indicate to you whether or not it's something you should address. But if you are suspecting there might be a slightly more valued way to live outside of this we have some tips for you to try.

Social Media Apps

Right off the bat we have one of the biggest culprits of smartphone addiction. Social media usage is generally one of the highest correlates when it comes to these addictive behaviors and so it should be no surprise that it's the first thing we must address. At the very minimum you should have social media notifications turned off on your phone. We are trying to change our relationship with this device so that it serves us again and we are no longer serving it. Think about the relationship you have with just about any other object. Think about your bicycle. It just sits there waiting for you to ride it. It doesn't notify you and tell you that you haven't ridden your bike in a while, or that somebody else is out riding their bike and maybe you should join them. The notifications from really these sorts of apps are for the benefits apps themselves, not for you. The next piece for this sector is to limit the usage of social media apps through screen time settings. This feature is built into a number of devices from the get go, but if it's not built into yours there are plenty of apps that can help you with this.

Two things to note when it comes to this one.

1. You should not be the one who has the screen time pass code. Let your partner, parent, or friend set it for you.

2. You don't need more than 5-10 minutes per day on each app and no more than 20 total. As we are trying to change our relationship here we want to approach with more intention.

If you just do these two behavioral tweaks it will massively change how much you interact with your phone. You might initially find that your brain craves that release of dopamine and will open up some other apps rather than TikTok if you're out of screen time for the day. I've found myself browsing NextDoor (the app where your neighbors complain about dogs barking and if the most recent noise was a gunshot or not) because my dopamine levels were having trouble regulating without the use of social media platforms.

Delay Instant Gratification

If we want to live our daily life in a way that we feel more present and less driven by impulses and/or compulsions, I like to think about creating a life where compulsive behaviors do not thrive. In order to illustrate this, let's think about the type of environment that mold thrives in. It generally needs darkness, some air tightness, and some moisture. I'm sure you can picture an old tupperware emerging from the depths of the fridge with a 7th grade science experiment growing inside. If we want to get rid of the mold, we must change the environment to be one where it is no longer going to thrive.

So if you find yourself questioning if you've got ADHD brain now, you can help yourself by engaging in a life that sets you up to succeed in the best way possible. We need to recommunicate with our brains that it is good to find gratification in longer forms. If your mind has become used to those quick hits of dopamine  through youtube videos and other digital media, it will take some time for it to learn how to find enjoyment through reading a book or a casual five minute walk. In order to give myself the best chance of succeeding in these areas, I ask myself if I am feeding the part of me that is becoming more patient and present or the part of me that needs instant gratification. You can even engage in some silly practices such as standing in the longest line at the grocery store without checking your phone. Or even driving home on your daily commute in complete silence. Practicing these little moments of self control can go a long way in helping when we feel we might be wanting to go for that quick his of dopamine.

Create Rituals

Come up with a few rituals and/or rules for yourself for how you want to interact with technology around your house. I have a small box that I place my phone in when I feel that I've been engaging with it for an amount of time that is more than I'd prefer. The box says "be present" on it and is a reminder to myself to be present for my life. Additionally, I charge my phone outside of my bedroom every night to ensure that it is not sitting next to me bed and the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning. If you want to take it a step further, you can even charge your phone in the morning rather than charge it at night. Since you'll need a full battery for the day, this will ensure that you can get your day started without looking at your phone. The morning is when are brain is in it's most malleable state and decreasing our internet use during these times of the day will go a long ways.


Do you have an answer for how you want to better show up in your life? Do you know what values you want to work to protect? Start with outlining your personal, or family, values in our Free Values Course. This course walks you through how to pick, define, and measure your own values. Our newest course on Breaking Technology Addiction has launched and you can click HERE for more info.

Feeling like you need some one on one support in finding the next steps for you? Our therapists are here for you, reach out and let us know how we can help!

Take the next step

Contact Us

Contact Us

Please fill out the contact for and one of our team members will get in touch with you in the next 48 hours.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.