It was a sad day when I realized my cell phone was interfering with my life. I was so busy efficiently multitasking online, I failed to realize how much I was actually disconnecting from everything and everyone in my real life.

Sure, I used my phone for work but looking back, it enabled me to work all the time. I barely noticed I was living in an anxious, scatterbrained state and only hearing half-conversations. My family, however, let me know they were discontent—more than once.

Taking a good, hard look at my habits made for an irrefutable discovery, one which I could no longer deny: I was having a subconscious love affair with my phone.

Sound familiar? Here are seven telltale signs that you might have a phone obsession, like I did.

  • You check in constantly. You know what this is: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Instant access to and response from people have become the norm. In fact, when you don’t hear the familiar text ding back from your BFF after a minute or two, you wonder if you’ve offended her.There’s another reason we check constantly: because sometimes we are rewarded with a response. This theory was widely proven by the father of behavioural psychology, B.F. Skinner. He found that people will repeat the same patterns if there is a possibility of a reward.
  • You connect anywhere and everywhere. Think about being in the car, for example. If you’re anything like I was, you probably logically think that while you’re a passenger, it’s a great time to play catch up. Your partner however is noticeably resentful about being ignored and feeling like a taxi service.
  • People have told you (more than once) that you spend too much time on your phone. If other people express concern, then it’s probably true.
  • Your kids cannot peel their eyes away from their iPads, iPods, etc. Remember they are completely impressionable. You are teaching them what is normal. If you don’t want to raise zombies, it’s time to model new habits.
  • You text a family member from another room in your house. This is pure laziness. A real no-no.
  • You bring your phone to bed. Catching up on your Insta feed or texting when you should be decompressing and taking notice of the person next to you is likely causing you (unsurprisingly) restless sleep. Your bed is meant for two things and this isn’t one of them.
  • You fall apart when you accidentally leave your phone somewhere. You
    suddenly feel lost. You NEED it, you WANT it. All you can think about is
    how long the next few hours will be until it’s back in your hands. I
    think we can agree—separation anxiety from a phone is silly.

5 steps for DIY phone detox

It can be hard to admit your phone habits are problematic. But if the aforementioned signs hit home, consider taking these steps. It’s time to get your IRL life back.

  • Take a weekend off. Commit to time offline. You may even inspire others to follow suit. Your urge to grab your phone will eventually subside and relaxation will set in.
  • Be reasonable. Check in less often. Just like dirty laundry, social media will still be there when you return.
  • Work on having actual conversations with people around you. Take time to talk to your friends and family without interruption. After all, who is more important than the person in front of you?
  • Put your phone away in the car. Even if you aren’t driving. Use the time to connect with your partner and your kids. Not sure how you’re going to pass the time? Teach your kids to play Eye Spy or Would You Rather, or print off license-plate bingo sheets before you leave the house (hello, 1994, welcome back).
  • Use an alarm clock instead of your phone alarm. Sure your fancy ring tone may be missed, but your sleep will improve. Need another reason? Recent studies show people who check bedside phones in the morning are less productive!

The potential results

You may notice your creativity returns, focus is no longer an issue and it’s easier to relax. More importantly, you’ll find being present produces greater connections and more meaningful conversations. Your spouse will love the new-found attentiveness and you will notice your children’s repeated demands may even decrease to one time requests—thanks to your quick in-the-moment responses.

Jenn Smith Nelson is a freelance writer who no longer sleeps with her iPhone.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2014. Photo by iStockphoto.