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How to Upgrade Your Relationship with Your Smartphone

Is your smartphone stressing you out but you can't go without it?

Key points

  • Researchers tested whether giving up or cutting back on smartphone use for one week would improve people's well-being.
  • The study revealed that giving up and reducing smartphone use leads to greater well-being and a healthier smartphone relationship.
  • A decrease in smartphone use of just one hour per day was enough to create positive, consistent improvements.
Shift Drive/Shutterstock
Source: Shift Drive/Shutterstock

If you own a smartphone, you stand alongside over 83 percent of the rest of the world.

And if your smartphone seems less like a phone and more like a treasure that you’d hesitate to go without, plenty of other people feel the same way.

For example, among smartphone owners in the United States, 45 percent view their phone as the most important item they own, 36 percent would sooner hand over their pets, and 47 percent feel dependent on it.

Typically, smartphones are in use for three hours and 15 minutes per day; in the United States, that number goes up to 5.4 hours per day. With all of the benefits smartphones offer, it’s understandable how they could become ever-present; they’re convenient in the worlds of learning, working, connecting with others, and self-entertaining.

At the same time, research reveals meaningful drawbacks linked with smartphone use that becomes too deeply rooted in people’s everyday lives. Examples include reduced physical ability, sleep loss, and accidents, as well as anxiety, clashes with loved ones, and lower grades.

So if you love your phone, but you’re also wondering whether you may adore it just a little too much, what are your options? Is casting off your smartphone the only path forward?

A recent study examined this question in a one-week experiment that involved placing volunteers into one of three groups at random. In the first group, people completely stopped using their smartphones, aside from essential phone calls (i.e., the “abstinence group”). Individuals in the second group kept their smartphones but cut down on how much they used them every day by one hour (i.e., the “reduction group”).

Those in the third group didn’t do anything different (i.e., the “control group). The researchers also asked participants questions about their well-being and relationship with their smartphones before the study started, after the experimental week was over, and one and four months later.

More specifically, people answered questions about how happy they were with their lives, their level of anxiety and depression, how much they exercised, how much they used tobacco, indicators of an unhealthy relationship with their smartphone (i.e., “problematic smartphone use”), and how deeply embedded their smartphone was in everyday life (e.g., “I feel out of touch if I haven’t used my smartphone for a while.”).

The research team found that regardless of whether people gave up their smartphones or simply cut back on how much they used them, there were significant improvements in their contentment in life, their level of anxiety and depression, how often they exercised, how much their smartphone was deeply ingrained into daily life, and the healthfulness of their relationship with their smartphone.

For people who cut down on their smartphone use rather than ceased it altogether, some of the improvements they experienced were more reliable and consistent. What's more, a decrease in smartphone use even leads to lower tobacco use.

This is encouraging news, and it highlights how there’s more than one “right” way to enhance our quality of life. If you wish to ditch your smartphone, solely using it as a simple device for making and taking calls, that’s just fine. If you want to adjust your relationship with your smartphone but can’t imagine letting it go entirely, that’s certainly alright too.

In that case, give yourself a gentle nudge and allow yourself to invest 60 minutes that you'd normally give to your smartphone into time for something else you can take pleasure in and appreciate.

If the science is correct, you won’t be disappointed.


Brailovskaia, J., Delveaux, J., John, J., Wicker, V., Noveski, A., Kim, S., Schillack, H., & Margraf, J. (2022, April 7). Finding the

“sweet spot” of smartphone use: Reduction or abstinence to increase well-being and healthy lifestyle?! An experimental intervention study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication.

Elhai, J.D., Levine, J. C., & Hall, B. J. (2019). The relationship between anxiety symptom severity and problematic smartphone use: A review of the literature and conceptual frameworks. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 62, 45–52.

Lepp, A., Barkley, J. E., & Karpinski, A. C. (2014). The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and satisfaction with life in college students. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 343–350.

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