How Our Phones Are Interfering With Our Friendships

Reclaim your time by taking a break from your smartphone and truly connect with yourself and others.

Words by S. Nicole Lane. Photography by Andreja Djordjevic.

When Amber*, 24, went on a phone break for only a few days, her friend panicked. 

“I wanted time for myself, didn’t really feel like talking to anyone, and just didn’t feel like being on my phone,”  Amber explained. “It was stressing me out a little bit, having to talk, reply, etc. I wanted to read and write, not be on my phone all day.”  

But her friend didn’t appreciate the silence. “He left me so many messages and calls,” says Amber. One read, “Thanks for ignoring me.” 

According to RescueTime, a productivity and time tracker app that helps users create healthier habits, the average person spends three hours and 15 minutes daily on their phones. We also can’t go more than two hours without touching our phones, and we typically unlock our phones 50 or more times a day. A 2018 Pew Research Center report says 44 percent of teens check their phones right when they open their eyes in the morning. For folks like Amber’s friend, it makes sense why the paranoia set in. If someone picks up their phone 50 times a day, why are they ignoring my texts? 

Our addiction doesn’t have to overcome us. 

It’s no secret that we, as a society, are addicted to our pocket computers. Constant communication, swiping, and liking have consumed our ability to initiate any form of self-control. A 2021 study on digital addiction looked at 2,000 American adults and found that people didn’t expect to use their smartphones as much as they currently do. While we don’t want to pick up our phone, we do it anyway. 

Some iPhone and Samsung devices offer Focus and Do Not Disturb settings for users who are interested in stepping away from their phones and preventing notifications and phone calls from distracting them. The new Galaxy S22 functions like an iPhone 14, where users can click one button that mutes all unwanted pings. For many folks, this has been a way to tune out their phone while working, sleeping, or doing another personal activity. 

Amber ultimately responded to her friend and let him know she was taking a little phone break and that it wasn’t anything personal. “We talked it out and I said that he needs to realize that if we don’t talk, then it’s not like we’ve stopped being friends because if I have a problem then I talk about it. It’s just that I wasn’t using my phone, I was on a break and that it’ll probably happen again,” Amber said.

Jyothsna S. Bhat, a clinical psychologist specializing in individual, couples, and family therapy, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey said social norms surrounding texting have shifted. “There are standards created around timing of texting, following up, and responding promptly in the contexts of work and dating, but also now varying levels of expectations exist with family, friendships, partners, and new acquaintances.” When folks don’t have instant gratification—or an instant response—they may feel rejected, upset, or slighted like Amber’s friend.

How to talk to your friends about your phone-break. 

“Transparency and authenticity can go a long way,” Bhat said. Letting your friend know you’re taking a break ahead of time is the best option. “This can help people understand your boundaries and to recognize that you want to bring your best energy to them. You also are not leaving them hanging and sometimes wondering what happened and if they did something wrong or if you just don’t care,” she said.

“If people are struggling with you not being constantly available to them because you’re working on yourself, I’m not sure if they are really your friends,” said Celeste Viciere, also known as Celeste The Therapist®️, a renowned therapist, mental health advocate, best-selling author, and podcast host in Massachusetts. 

She suggested reevaluating what that friendship looks like for you. Friends may struggle during your phone-break but focusing on your goal — whether that’s a simple break for a few hours or a full week— is essential. Viciere suggests writing down your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Why are you taking this break? Does your phone get in the way of real intimacy with friends? Is it creating unhealthy thoughts? 

Amber just wanted to be alone. “I prefer being alone, so alone time, me time is super important,” she said. Somehow, smartphones have eliminated our ability to be entirely alone. Whether your phone break is from a mental health standpoint or just wanting to focus on an assignment, we all feel constantly connected. We feel compelled to communicate at the drop of a ping. 

Bhat agrees. “Nowadays, the phone is just another extension of us, an extra limb with magical connective powers so to speak,” she says. Phones offer a dopamine hit for those with restless minds. However, she explains that we can find ourselves going down rabbit holes or doom-scrolling.

“While we may get the chemical hit we need, we also come away with heavier feelings. We can experience a fear of missing out, inadequacy due to comparison with others. Doom scrolling can lead to depressive feelings and lower productivity,” she said. “Texting can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially for teens and college students who have multiple text threads. Taking a break from social media, texting, and most importantly, doom scrolling, may sound daunting, but it can also have immediate benefits.” 

The benefits of taking a break. 

In the 2017 Wall Street Journal article, “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” a number of studies were summarized to explain how “task switching,” and phone disruptions take us out of learning and engaging with what is right in front of us. Our phones create noise when we often need quiet. Taking a break from your phone can be incredibly beneficial for your mind and mental health. 

“Unfortunately, since we have the phone at our fingertips, we just scroll. We don’t really know what we need,” Viciere said. “Taking a break can allow you to think about what’s going on with you and also think about what you actually need.”

Bhat said improved attention, improved relationships, better sleep, and performance at a greater level can occur. “In addition, finding moments of true connection with friends and others in live face to face moments can help boost oxytocin levels (bonding hormone) to help you feel safe and you will also feel less dependent on validation from an outside audience and will be able to enjoy a sense of freedom, renewed purpose of your potential and endless possibilities,” she says. 

Communicate your needs with your friends and family. Let them know why you’re taking a break, and inform them that it isn’t because of anything personal. Being heard and understood will strengthen your relationship and possibly open up more doors for in-person moments together. A good friend will understand why you’re choosing yourself and your health.  

Disclaimer: The last names have been withheld at the request of the sources.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.