How to break your smartphone addiction and stop the stress of constant notifications

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WHEN are we not attached to a smartphone ?

According to research, people in the UK spend more than three and a half hours online each day – more than an hour longer than those in Germany and France.

And even if you have your scrolling under control and don’t lose hours watching Instagram Reels, the chances are, the second you get a message notification, you grab your phone and get sucked in.

“We’re all so connected with each other,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Ian Nnatu, who acknowledges phones have been “a huge force for good” in many ways.

However, when you’re stuck answering messages day and night, the pressure to respond to everything can become all-consuming.

Here’s how to manage your digital availability so your pinging phone doesn’t totally rule your life…

Constant notifications and having your phone buzz with messages can make you feel good, but can also be overwhelming.

“One of the smartphone challenges we have in society now is we don’t have accepted norms about how quickly we respond to messages,” Dr Nnatu says.

“Is it fine to wait till after lunch or perhaps the following day to reply?”

That pressure of thinking we have to answer there and then can trigger stress and anxiety.

But take a breath – you don’t have to reply immediately.

“Set boundaries with your friendship groups and work colleagues about what’s acceptable in terms of how quickly you respond,” says Dr Nnatu.

That could mean deciding on a time frame you think is reasonable when it comes to non-urgent messages.

So if it’s your boss, perhaps replying to an email within 30 minutes is fair, while with friends, 24 hours might be fine.

Try sticking to your new time frames to reinforce them, so those on the receiving end will adjust to your new norm and come to expect it – just give them time!

If you’re the one desperately waiting on a text back, and the happy buzz that comes with it, try to wean yourself off feeling that way by “reflecting on what might be going on with the other person”, advises Dr Nnatu.

“Don’t jump to conclusions if you don’t get a response six hours or 12 hours later.

“Sometimes we project our own feelings on to the other person without necessarily understanding the context.

“They might be pulled away doing something else. They might be in a work situation or just completely uncontactable.”

And that’s fine!

If you don’t want to be chased for an instant response, don’t expect it of others – we’ve all got to help break the cycle.

Clearly dividing work and home can be tricky, especially if you’re part-time or you work from home some days.

Being clear when you will and won’t be available to answer emails and messages can be a game-changer, though.

“It’s important people’s working hours are protected,” says Dr Nnatu, adding that presenteeism and being contactable out of hours can actually impact a company’s bottom line.

“If you’re not taking care of your employees’ mental health, that’s going to affect productivity and output.”

You might not control your company’s work/life balance policy, but you can still take simple steps to protect yours.

For example, noting in your email signature the hours you do check and respond to emails, so people don’t expect you to reply to them at 10pm.

If it’s family and friends you need a break from, set up the “Do not disturb” function on your phone, so that you receive notifications when you want them, eg between 9am and 7pm.

We all know we should keep smartphone out of the bedroom and away from the dinner table, but are you actually doing it?

“Everybody has to try to ensure they have some boundaries,” advises Dr Nnatu.

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