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Your Cell Phone Is Ruining Your Downtime

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No doubt about it: too much time checking emails or doing work on your phone drives up your stress levels and disrupts your sleep. (Find out more about Your Brain On: Your iPhone here.) But the hours you spend on Facebook or Candy Crush are different—relaxing and fun. Right?

Not so much, according to a Kent State University study of nearly 500 undergrads. Researchers found that the participants who used their phones the most felt more anxious during their downtime than everyone else.

We’re all for keeping tension out of our time off. But your own smartphone use isn’t always the issue. Sometimes, your friends or family pecking away at that glowing screen can make you wonder if you’re invisible. To the rescue: Azita Ardakani, founder and CEO of Lovesocial, a social media agency that hosts a Digital Cleanse each year (this year is the fifth), encouraging people to unplug their electronics in order to recharge. (Yes, they get the irony of a social media company that's asking people to unplug.) We asked her how you can make powering down easier for you—and your friends.

During me-time: Treat a phone-less period like a new exercise schedule: Give yourself a specific, realistic goal, then stick with it until it becomes a habit, suggests Ardakani. It’s helpful to make a list of all the analog activities you can do without a phone as well as all the benefits of logging off—better focus, sounder sleep, less stress. Also smart: Actually, physically shut your phone off during your e-free time, advises Ardakani. It’ll make it that much easier to stick to your goal. (Really struggling to turn off? You may be addicted. Yes, it’s a legit thing.)

At a group gathering: Make it a game, says Ardakani. She suggests putting your no-phone policy right on the invite, but having some fun with it to avoid turning people off (no pun intended!). At a holiday party, collect everyone’s phones as they come in and quickly gift-wrap them (don't forget name tags!) to give out with your party favors when it’s time to leave. Or at a restaurant, have everyone stash their phone in the center of the table and make a rule: Whoever reaches for their cell first has to pick up the tab.

During a date: When you’re one-on-one with a significant other or a close friend, asking them to put down the phone can make you feel like a nag. Instead, try dropping a (strong) hint and leading by example, says Ardakani. Say something like, “It’s crazy how often we’re on our phones, isn’t it? I’ve been cutting back on my own use, and it’s tough, but I really do feel more relaxed without it!” This will make your date conscious of his or her habit without making you sound like a taskmaster. (Click to learn about the Disadvantages of Email and Texting in Relationships.)

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