Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

LIFE HONESTLY

How to have a healthier relationship with your phone

Like it or not, from the minute we wake up to the last thing we do before bed, phones are entrenched in our lives more than ever before. Emily Baker looks at ways to find distance

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By Emily Baker on

There is no relationship more toxic than that between a busy woman and her phone. Emails, the news, WhatsApp messages and even meditation reminders invade my life every single day and the anxiety I can feel when I leave my phone at home is, frankly, unprecedented. What will I listen to on the train to work? How will I find that coffee shop without Google Maps? How will I look through my colleague’s holiday photos without Instagram? All very important tasks, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Of course, I’m not the only one who holds this obsession – indeed, some research points to people (18- to 24-year-olds) spending up to four hours a day on their phones, with mobile now accounting for about 65 per cent of total digital-media consumption. Whether this sounds like an accurate description of you or not, there’s increasing evidence that points to the fact that smartphone dependency is not doing us any good, in some cases making us depressed and affecting our powers of recall and memory. Phones are having an impact on our social lives, too – over the past 15 years, time spent with friends has decreased by 13 per cent, with social media to blame.

This destructive impact has become so great that psychiatrists in the US have set up a Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. In December, France announced it was banning pupils from bringing their mobiles into school for public-health reasons and next month sees the launch of practical manual How To Break Up With Your Phone.

For most women, however, it isn’t practical or even feasible to throw your phone out of the window completely. But there is something to be said for trying to take some of your life back. So, here’s how to make your phone work for you, not the other way around:

Turn off mobile data

The advantages to this are twofold. One, you’ll save money on your mounting phone bill by only using (free) wi-fi. Two, without the internet, smartphones are near enough useless, so you’ll get bored of playing with it quicker. Without 4G, news apps, social media and most time-consuming games are rendered useless, which is a good thing when trying to take a break from the screen. If cutting off your internet altogether is too drastic, try making use of the “do not disturb” function (the little moon icon on the iPhone control panel). It will turn off all your notifications, making sure you aren’t tempted by the buzz and light when someone likes your latest Instagram post.

For most women, however, it isn’t practical or even feasible to throw your phone out of the window completely. But there is something to be said for trying to take some of your life back

Find something else to do with your hands

Part of our addiction to our phones simply comes down to the repetitive physical act of tapping and scrolling – so much so that Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger has created The Substitute Phone, a plastic brick with moveable stone spheres designed to mimic the sensation of scrolling and encourage people to reduce the time spent on their phones. Unfortunately, Substitute Phones aren’t on sale yet, but you can still find something else to do with idle hands – paint your nails, read a real-life hard-copy book or join the latest mindfulness trend and learn to cross stitch.

Risk a half charge

Scrolling through Twitter and stalking celebs on Instagram are habits easily curtailed once you get a notification warning you that there’s only 20 per cent of battery left. This may be risky business – you’ll be chastising yourself when you can’t find your way to the train station after too long at the pub, plus it’s always best to carry a portable charger in your bag for safety – but there’s something to be said for cutting down phone usage whenever you can.

Go analogue

From reminding you of that actor’s name you always forget to waking you up in the morning, our phones really can do everything – but that doesn’t mean they should. By relying on our phones to run our lives, we train ourselves to have it near at all times. A good way to wean yourself away from your phone is by reverting back to old-school technology. Treat yourself to a nice watch (not a smartwatch!) and an alarm clock for your bedside table. Dig out your noughties digital camera and pop it in your bag, or – if you don’t mind being branded a hipster – get hold of an old-school Polaroid or film camera. You’ll soon stop reaching for your phone for every task.

Use apps that add to your life, not waste it

Rather than spending hours binge-watching friends' Instagram Stories as if they’re the new series of Stranger Things, make use of your phone’s abundant app store. Apps like Duolingo and Memrise can teach you countless languages, all for free; on Google phones, you can learn basic code with SoloLearn, or download Hopscotch through the Apple app store to learn code by creating your own games; get to know constellations and planets by pointing the Night Sky app at the sky. The things we can learn from our tech best friends really are endless. There are also tools to help stop you staring at your screen – Pool columnist Marisa Bate swears by Forest, an app that grows a tree while you stay away from your phone. If you move on to do something else, the tree will begin to die. No one needs that on their conscience.

@emilyrbakes

This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here

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