If you’re concerned that you may be spending too much time on your smartphone, you’re not alone.

For many people, cellphone use is an essential part of modern life. We often don’t think twice about using our phones for everything from work to communicating with loved ones to mindless scrolling.

Given this, it’s natural to find yourself with your phone in your hand for much of the day. There’s an app for just about everything, and there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of them to make life easier.

But some people may find that they become overly reliant on their cellphone in a way that can feel like an addiction.

The word “addiction” is often used to describe any impulsive behavior that’s excessive, causes significant distress, and impacts a person’s daily life. Addiction can refer to substance use or specific behaviors, like gambling.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t officially list cellphone use as an addiction. The only behavioral addiction it recognizes is gambling disorder.

In addition, internet gaming disorder is listed as a condition for further study but isn’t yet recognized as a diagnosis.

Although cellphone overuse isn’t officially recognized as an addiction, it can still affect a person’s life to cause distress, relationship issues, and feelings of shame.

Many professionals would consider it “disordered behavior” and offer treatment to relieve the negative effects that phone use may be having on a person’s daily life and distress levels. Importantly, various treatments and coping methods can help.

Symptoms of smartphone addiction

A 2016 study proposed a possible list of diagnostic criteria for smartphone addiction, which has some overlap with the criteria for behavioral addictions.

They described the symptoms of smartphone addiction as a harmful pattern of smartphone use leading to significant distress and involving three or more of the following symptoms over the previous 3 months:

  • a recurring inability to resist the impulse to use your smartphone
  • anxiety or irritability after a period without using your smartphone
  • using your smartphone for a longer period than intended
  • a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to quit or reduce your smartphone use
  • spending excessive time using a smartphone despite physical or mental problems resulting from it

The study also mentions other possible symptoms of cellphone addiction, such as smartphone use that:

  • puts you in danger (e.g., crossing the road while looking at your phone)
  • gets in the way of your relationships, school, or work performance
  • causes significant distress or is time-consuming

The researchers also noted that the person’s smartphone use shouldn’t be better explained by a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder.

Research has consistently shown a link between excessive smartphone use and several mental health conditions.

While it’s important to note that this correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other, it’s still important to be aware of the potential risks of smartphone misuse.

Excessive smartphone use is associated with conditions including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In adolescents and young adults, there are some additional risks. For these groups, smartphone use may cause problems with emotional regulation and cognitive function, impulsivity, and low self-esteem.

It may also cause physical changes, including insomnia, migraine, and even changes to the volume of gray matter, which makes up the outer layer of the brain.

There’s no formal definition of excessive phone use. If you’re concerned that your phone use is impacting your work or relationships, there are steps you can take to manage time on your phone.

Set boundaries with your phone’s help

If you’re concerned about the amount of time you’re spending on your phone, it may be a good idea to set limits.

Most smartphones have built-in functions to help you track and limit usage. On Apple, you can find this option under Screen Time, and on Android, it’s under Digital Wellbeing.

Some people may find that they spend the most time on specific apps rather than on their smartphones in general.

For example, you may find yourself compulsively checking social media apps or playing a particular game for hours on end. You can use your phone’s setting to create timers for individual apps so that you’ll get an alert if you’ve exceeded your daily limit.

Identify your triggers

Cellphone misuse usually happens for a reason. In a 2014 study, researchers reported various factors that may lead to cellphone overuse in college students, including:

  • a desire for social connection
  • reinforcing qualities that make phone use attractive, such as appealing sounds, graphics, and tactile features
  • avoidance of discomfort, such as checking your phone to avoid an awkward situation, though more research is needed to confirm this factor

It may help to identify your triggers and any underlying worries that may be driving your excessive cellphone use.

Put your phone away at night

Problematic smartphone use at bedtime has been shown to have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.

Instead of charging your phone on your nightstand, you could try putting it in a different room to charge overnight. Or, if you like to go to sleep using a meditation app or listening to audiobooks, simply putting your phone out of reach may help.

Reduce your notifications

Managing an addictive behavior is often about reducing temptation, and there’s nothing like the sound of an incoming notification to lure you back to your phone.

You may not even realize just how many alerts you’re getting during the day until you sit down and take stock.

Try using your phone’s Do Not Disturb function during certain hours, or turning off notifications for all but your most-used apps. This can be a powerful way to remind yourself that you’re in control of your phone, not the other way around.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that thoughts influence our emotions and behavior, and that by working on those thoughts, you can change how you feel and your actions.

A CBT therapist can work with you to identify the underlying thoughts or beliefs that may be driving your excessive cellphone use.

Since cellphone addiction isn’t a clinically recognized condition, information on the best way to treat it is limited. But some research, including a 2018 pilot study, suggests that mindfulness-based CBT may help.

Mindfulness-based CBT can help you to see your thoughts and urges objectively and create some distance from them rather than immediately acting on them.

If you feel your smartphone use is having an impact on your mental health, your relationships, or your ability to take part in everyday life, it may be time to seek professional help.

If you have a good relationship with your primary care doctor, you can start by discussing your concerns with them.

Alternatively, you could go directly to a therapist, who can help you to manage your symptoms, create coping mechanisms, and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your cellphone use.

Here’s our guide to finding a therapist near you.

Cellphones are such an integral part of most people’s lives that cutting down may seem daunting. But if you’re concerned about your dependence on your phone, there are several steps you can take to manage your use.

By becoming aware of any triggers or underlying issues, reducing notifications, and keeping track of your daily screen time, you can start to change your relationship with your phone.