How to know if you have 'phone addiction' -- and 12 ways to address it

Using your smartphone in inappropriate situations -- such as while in class, crossing the street or driving -- can be a sign of problematic phone use, experts have suggested.

(CNN)Smartphones have become essential, but fixation with all they have to offer -- apps for social media, streaming, games and more -- can be a slippery slope.

Mainly because of insufficient research, phone addiction isn't actually an official, medically accepted diagnosis. There are, however, criteria experts have used to describe behaviors, feelings and thoughts that indicate a lack of control over phone use. Those include phone use interfering with commitments and relationships; lack of access to your phone causing dread, anxiety or irritability; and hampered ability to think deeply or creatively.
Ignoring any potential negative consequences or loved ones' comments about your excessive phone use are other indications "that we've clearly crossed into problematic behavior," said Lynn Bufka, the senior director of practice transformation and quality at the American Psychological Association.
    If you're finding it hard to look up from your phone these days, here are 12 ways to start moving in the right direction.

      1. Know why you want to improve

      Maybe you don't want to reduce your phone use because the device seems so much more entertaining and rewarding than other activities you could be doing.
      Recognizing the value in limiting phone use is a critical part of developing and maintaining "intrinsic motivation to make a change," said Dr. Smita Das, the chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Addiction Psychiatry and a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
        If you reflect on what's important to you and why, social, health or mental health consequences "start to have more importance in our brain compared to the short-term enjoyment that may come from, say, watching a video or being on social media," Das said.

        2. Log how long you use your phone

        Also important is initially assessing how much time you spend on your phone by logging it manually or using your smartphone's screen time data, Bufka said.
        "Get a sense of what particularly pulls you in," she added, whether it's texting, social media or scrolling through the internet. "You want to know what the behavior is, where you're trying to tackle it."

        3. Set time limits

        Once you know what your weaknesses are, "set up in your smartphone a timer that will tell you you've reached the amount of time that you're allowed to use for the day on that particular site," Bufka suggested.
        "Then you'll actually have to consciously override that to continue."
        Some screen-time-tracking tools can be set to stop your engagement with other apps and ask whether you really want to continue your current activity or spend your time differently.

        4. Learn your triggers

        Why are you using your phone too much? With any behavior we're trying to change, there is something that prompts us to do the behavior and another aspect that makes the behavior rewarding, Bufka said.