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Ditch Digital Addiction and Get Your Life Back on Track – 10 Tips

Carolina Avendano
Carolina is a Canada-based writer and journalist who enjoys learning and sharing information about how to lead a meaningful life. She is passionate about traditional culture, handmade crafts, the connection between humans and nature, and human rights.
Published: June 11, 2024
Digital addiction is a growing problem, but it can be reversed. (Image: Eren Li via Pexels)

Most statistics agree that the majority of us have some degree of digital addiction. We rarely leave home without our smartphones, and depend on them to them to check the bus time, pay for coffee, listen to music or read the news “on the go.” These magical devices that didn’t even exist a few decades ago have somehow become essential to our daily lives.

Besides seemingly increasing productivity by facilitating multitasking – we can do anything from conducting work while at the dentist, to grocery shopping while riding the bus – smartphones are a major source of entertainment – with social media, video streaming and gaming among its most popular forms. 

And while this instant entertainment is effective at easing boredom, we have grown dependent on the immediate stimulation they provide. This has come at a high price, especially for young users. 

Are you among the growing number of digital addicts? Let’s explore the symptoms of digital addiction, its consequences, and simple ways to get your life back on track. 

You may have symptoms of digital addiction if you:

  • Feel uneasy leaving your phone at home
  • Sleep with your phone at night
  • Check your phone within the first minutes of waking up
  • Check your phone every few minutes throughout the day
  • Feel a sense of panic or anxiety when your phone battery goes below 20%
  • Use or constantly look at your phone while eating dinner
  • Look at your phone often during in-person conversations
  • Feel unable go 24 hours without your phone
  • Check your phone while driving 
  • Frequently look at your phone while studying or working
  • Take your phone to the toilet 

Digital addiction: quick facts  

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According to estimates, over 210 million people worldwide suffer from internet and social media addiction – nearly the population of Brazil. In 2023, found that 56.9% of Americans are addicted to their phones, and that 75% feel uneasy about leaving it at home. Tech care company Asurion, in 2022, determined that the average American checks their smartphone 352 times per day (once every two minutes and 43 seconds).

In a 2019 report, U.S. nonprofit Common Sense Media stated that by age 11, 53% of American children own a smartphone, and by age 12, more than two thirds (69%) of children do. It also found that more than twice as many young people watch videos – mainly on YouTube – every day than did in 2015, and that the average watch time almost doubled. 

It also noted that daily screen use in tweens (children aged 8 to 12), not including for school or homework, averaged four hours and 44 minutes; and among teens (aged 13 to 18) it amounted to seven hours and 22 minutes – almost half of a teen’s waking hours.

Watching television or videos was found to be the main media activity to which tweens and teenagers devoted their screen time, followed by gaming for both age groups. For tweens, browsing web pages was the third most popular activity with 5% of their screen time, while for teens, social media ranked third at 16%.

The consequences

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A 2021 research article published in Frontiers found that smartphone addiction in young adults in the U.K. was associated with poor sleep quality, independent of duration of usage. A review article published in the same year concluded that excessive smartphone use can also result in unhealthy eating habits – such as food addiction and dysregulated/restrained eating – reduced physical fitness, pain or migraines.

As to the emotional and cognitive effects of phone addiction, a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine found it to be directly related to experiential avoidance, that is, attempts to avoid thoughts, feelings, memories and physical sensations. It was also found to be linked to worry, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear of missing out.

More critically, a 2017 research article published in peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that heavy phone usage is associated with impulsivity, hyperactivity, impaired attention and reduced numerical processing capacity. Also, a 2019 study published in ScienceDirect found a negative correlation between increased screen media activity and cortical thickness in fMRI (a brain imaging method), implying premature aging of the brain. 

Where the cure lies

I belong to Generation Z, and although I experienced the days of using rotary phones to talk with relatives and friends, now I find it hard to imagine life without smartphones and computers. 

Many of my generation prefer texting to calling. We are used to getting information instantly, and we often hold multiple chat conversations at once. We turn to our phones to escape the present or avoid face-to-face interaction and, with the new trend of studying or working remotely, our lives revolve around digital screens more than ever. 

When I was little, I remember that boredom pushed me to interact with others. I would ask my cousin to play with me, beg my father to take us to the park, cook with my mother when she let me, or ask my sister to draw or paint with me. If I wanted to call my friends, I had to look up their number in my little phone book, greet their parents when they answered the landline, and be polite when asking if my friend was around.

Remembering that life was still possible before the advent of personal computers and digital communication is comforting. Sure, things took longer and many things weren’t as convenient, but people at least weren’t constantly distracted. They rejoiced in simple pleasures like having face-to-face conversations, listening to music, being in nature, sharing meals or telling stories.

Luckily, breaking our attachment to digital media to embrace a more simple, traditional lifestyle is not impossible. 

According to researcher and associate professor at CSU Fullerton Ofir Turel, Ph.D., there is a difference between substance addiction and digital addiction. The former impairs the brain’s self-control system, making it harder to break the addictive pattern. The latter keeps self-control abilities intact, meaning that strong motivation is enough to break it.

Ditching digital addiction

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Becoming aware of how technology has shaped your behavior and the way you interact with others is the first step. 

Are you comfortable with calling others or prefer the convenience of leaving them a text? Do you find yourself unconsciously checking your phone and scrolling through social media when there is nothing else to do? Has your phone habit interrupted a conversation or prevented you from being fully in the present? 

Thinking about how your life would improve if you reduced your digital dependency will motivate you to take action. Here are some ideas to get off your phone and spend quality time with family or friends: 

  1. Go on a coffee/tea date, or host one at home: Make it an occasion to discover a new cafe or to try brewing coffee or tea in traditional ways.
  2. Dress up and go to local galleries or museums: Dressing up can put you in a great mood. If you immerse yourself in culturally rich environments and begin to develop a taste for good art, it may help you see beauty in other areas of your life.
  3. Recreate a gourmet meal or try to make your favorite dessert from scratch: Split the cost of ingredients, choose a good music playlist and prepare a feast, or at least something you all can enjoy afterward.
  4. Host an artistic afternoon: Find a free online art class and choose an art project that you can all finish in a few hours. Buy affordable art supplies and spend an afternoon learning and working together. Your masterpieces will always bring back fond memories.
  5. Play sports together: Choose a sport that neither of you are good at and set up a weekly time to learn and practice it together. You can also choose a sport that you all enjoy and make it a fun weekly workout. 
  1. Learn to meditate: Meditation classes are a good way to reconnect with yourself and connect with others. Although expensive yoga or meditation classes are commonplace, there are still some that are offered at no cost – remember that the best things in life are free!
  2. Volunteer together: Getting involved in the community creates a sense of belonging. Consider volunteering at places like the Humane Society or the Food Bank or, better yet, at schools or senior homes. The wisdom of children and the elderly can give you a new perspective on life. 
  1. Go on a picnic: Everyday things like lunchtime can become unique experiences. Bring your lunch – or the ingredients to prepare it during the picnic – and find a nice place to enjoy the weather and nature. Remember, don’t involve your phone in the experience unless necessary. 
  1. Host a board game night: If you like mental challenges or enjoy healthy competition, this may be the right thing for you. Choose board games that allow numerous players and that may be enjoyed by a wide audience. You’ll build up a good collection to throw a game night anytime! 
  2. Start cycling. Riding a bicycle is not only great outdoor exercise, it is also a healthy form of transportation. Since you need both hands and eyes to do it, you won’t be tempted to check your phone. 

Before venturing into your journey of detaching from your phone, remember not to go to extremes. After all, phones are still useful and help keep you in touch with the changing world. Use your wisdom to discern appropriate usage, and opt for human connection whenever possible.