Susannah Taylor: Calling all phone addicts

I’m worried about how completely addicted to our phones we all are. In a small survey among my friends, most said they can’t go 15 minutes without checking theirs. Many said their phone is with them when they go to the toilet, and all said panic descends when they can’t find it (yesterday I upended the house looking for mine only to find it smugly charging in the living room) and the majority said they would rather give up sex for three months than be without it.

Susannah Taylor on phone
Image: David Venni. Styling: Sairy Stemp. Jumpsuit, Sezane. Trainers, Veja

The statistics say it all. A survey by RescueTime (an app to help us manage our time better) found 20 per cent of people spend more than four hours a day on their smartphones, and on average we check it 58 times a day.

But it doesn’t take a survey to know this. When we have two minutes spare, we reach for a screen; we watch TV while shopping online and lose hours of our lives down Instagram rabbit holes.

Although phone addiction has a name – nomophobia – it seems bizarre that it’s not yet considered a ‘thing’. Without wishing to sound like a dinosaur, I’m terrified for teenagers whose lives are embedded in their phones. Charlotte Parkin, psychotherapist and addictions specialist at London’s Nightingale Hospital, agrees – while phones make us feel more connected, they can leave people feeling lonelier than ever.

As for adults, my friends tell me how their mental health nosedives and they feel hugely inferior when they go on social media. And don’t get me started on the blue light radiating from our screens that I’m certain is contributing to the UK’s insomnia epidemic. Like any addiction, scrolling our phones is a form of disassociation – it stops us engaging with real life or focusing on the things that we need to. Phones also, says Charlotte, stop us being creative.

Obviously we can’t ditch our devices altogether, and they do make life easier in so many ways, but I think smartphones will one day come with a health warning. In the meantime, here are some tips to bring you back to reality…

ASK YOURSELF THIS: DO I HAVE A PROBLEM?

Phone addiction is not dissimilar to drinking alcohol – it’s enjoyable until you can’t stop or it impacts your or others’ lives. If your phone use is affecting your work, mental health or relationships, you may need to acknowledge things need to change. As Charlotte says, ‘We aren’t passive users – we can choose to stop it.’

TRY A LITTLE ‘EXPERIMENT’

Don’t see giving up screen time as a punishment, warns Charlotte, ‘Humans feel good if things are our idea.’ She suggests not looking at your phone for an evening and seeing it as an experiment. ‘If it’s really bad, try just for the next hour, or go to bed without your phone tonight.’ Say to yourself, ‘Just try it.’

PUT IN TECH BOUNDARIES

Switch off anything that is shouting, ‘Come here to click.’ Turn off notifications, silence WhatsApp groups (or, better still, leave them) and set boundaries as to when you can and can’t look at your phone. For example, no phone after 7pm or only look at emails in work hours.

PUSH THE POSITIVES

‘Remind yourself that you are not losing anything by putting your phone down,’ says Charlotte. ‘Think about what you are gaining by not using it and what you are sacrificing if you do use it: for example, time with your children.’

TAKE NOTE

Notice how you feel when you haven’t had your phone for a while and write it all down. Keep reinforcing why you are doing it and you might just keep going.

In need of a superpower?

Lately I have been making a smoothie in the mornings with Wild Nutrition Vegan Protein + Superfood Blend. Packed with the earth’s most nutrient-dense foods, from protein to super greens and adaptogenic mushrooms, it’s like a superhero for your system. I mix with oat milk, some berries and whiz it up. It tastes great, too. £40, wildnutrition.com.

Life lessons from a pro

While therapy can be life-changing, there are small steps we can all take to help transform our wellbeing, says therapist Jodie Cariss, who runs mental health support service theselfspace.com. Here is her own self-care checklist…

  • Set boundaries, especially with yourself.
  • Ban the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.
  • Accept you won’t always get things right.
  • Say ‘no’ as much as you can and push back on what’s not achievable.
  • Understand your limitations and any feelings of shame so they don’t drive actions.
  • Make changes sustainable.
  • Eat delicious food with good people often.

READ MORE: Are you a screen addict?