What Happens to Your Brain and Body When You Quit Your Phone?

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In today’s digital age, our smartphones have become almost like extensions of ourselves.

The average American touches their phone 2,600 times per day, and this constant interaction has profound effects on our brain’s neurology.

This article explores what happens to your brain and body if you decide to quit using your phone.

The First Hour: Impulsive Checking

Within the first hour of quitting, you’ll likely find yourself reaching for your phone multiple times, possibly three to four times.

This behavior is deeply ingrained; the average person checks their phone around 52 times a day.

This frequent checking is a result of conditioned responses to notifications and alerts, which we have come to associate with mini-rewards.

The First 12 Hours: Onset of Anxiety

After 12 hours, you might start to feel a sense of anxiety. This reaction is due to the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

When we regularly check our phones, we’re engaging the brain’s reward pathways, particularly those associated with anticipation and the experience of rewards.

Every notification, text message, and social media update acts as a small reward, causing the brain to release dopamine.

This constant stimulation changes how these neural pathways function.

Without your phone, the absence of these mini-rewards triggers a stress response, leading to feelings of anxiety.

The First 24 Hours: Experiencing FOMO

By the 24-hour mark, many people begin to experience FOMO (fear of missing out).

This feeling can manifest as an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and heightened anxiety. Some people feel anxious without being able to pinpoint exactly why.

This reaction is partly because tech companies have designed their products to exploit our brain’s reward systems.

The unpredictable nature of phone notifications and the frequent positive social interactions reinforce the habit of constantly checking our phones.

Day 3: Phantom Vibrations

On the third day of quitting, you might start to feel phantom vibrations or hear phantom rings. These sensations occur when you think your phone is buzzing or ringing, even though it isn’t there.

This phenomenon highlights how deeply our brains have become conditioned to expect phone notifications. Despite these challenges, day three is also when you might start to see positive changes.

Without the constant distraction of your phone, you can engage more fully with those around you, improving your relationships with friends, family, and partners.

This phenomenon, known as “phubbing” (snubbing someone in favor of your phone), significantly decreases, leading to more meaningful interactions.

Day 5: Improved Attention Span

By day five, you may notice an increase in your attention span. This improvement can translate into better performance at work or school.

Research shows that college students who frequently use their phones can focus on tasks for only about 65 seconds, while office workers can focus for only about three minutes.

However, a study from Carnegie Mellon University found that students who had their phones off performed 20% better on tests than those who received intermittent text messages.

This difference is due to the “switch cost effect,” where your brain takes time to switch between tasks, making it harder to concentrate.

Day 7: Better Sleep Quality

After a week, you might experience improved sleep.

While scientists debate whether it’s the psychological arousal from using phones or the blue light emitted by screens that affects sleep, the consensus is clear: reduced phone use correlates with better sleep quality.

Studies have shown that people who limit their phone use before bed tend to sleep better and feel more rested.

Day 14: Reduced Anxiety and Depression

Two weeks into quitting, your anxiety levels may decrease, and you might feel less depressed.

While it’s hard to say definitively that phone use causes depression, there’s a significant association.

For instance, teens who spend five hours daily on their phones are 71% more likely to develop risk factors for depression compared to those who use their phones for only an hour.

Additionally, you may notice reduced physical discomfort, such as neck and wrist pain. Excessive phone use can lead to conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome due to the strain on the median nerve, which runs from your shoulder down to your fingers.

Long-Term Benefits: Enhanced Cognitive Abilities

Quitting your phone for an extended period offers numerous benefits. Besides improved mental health and better sleep, you may find that your cognitive abilities improve.

A study involving 660 participants found that those with stronger cognitive skills spent less time on their smartphones.

This suggests a potential link between heavy smartphone use and decreased intelligence.

Additionally, reducing phone use can enhance your social interactions and relationships, as you’re more present and engaged with the people around you.

Conclusion

Quitting your phone can be challenging, given how deeply ingrained its use is in our daily lives.

However, the benefits are substantial. Improved relationships, enhanced attention span, better sleep, reduced anxiety and depression, and less physical pain are just a few of the positive outcomes.

If you’re up for the challenge, try reducing your phone use and observe the changes in your life.


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