Problematic smartphone use: Problematic smartphone use is proposed by some researchers to be a form of psychological or behavioral dependence on cell phones, closely related to other forms of digital media overuse such as social media addiction or internet addiction disorder.
Addiction, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.
Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.
So, can you be addicted to your smartphone? The short answer: yes. The long answer….
If you find yourself using your “technology” (not just smartphones but internet can be a big pull for people) more than you do interacting with real people (covid aside), or you can’t stop yourself from compulsively checking texts, emails, message boards, social media accounts, etc OR your use has had negative effects in your life… you may need to check yoself before you wreck yoself. Protect ya neck… protect ya MIND. My personal assessment is: if your “use” is concerning to you OR your family and loved ones, you have an issue. I say the same thing about drinking alcohol. Every “problem drinker” looks different and so does every problem smartphone user. If the way you utilize your smartphone, which should be strictly a tool, makes you unhappy, then let's work to change that! My personal experience is I don’t pay 100% attention to my children. There’s always half my mind paying attention to my texts, apps, etc. It’s ok to take time for yourself (see aforementioned check yoself before you wreck yoself), no DOUBT but if you’re unable to pay full time attention to life around you… uh oh. If they made tickets for real life, I’d definitely get the “failure to pay full time attention” ticket. I may have “nomophobia”, fear of being without a mobile phone. We’ve all been there… driving, happily on our way to Sweet Frog when BAM we realize we left our phone at home. “What if I wanted to swing by Target?! I don’t have my Target app! What if I wanted to check out that new park… I don’t remember where it is exactly and I need my GPS! What if I need to call for help or BE called for help?!” Whew, breathe. It’s gonna be ok. I also have an issue with online shopping. I’m sure everyone does to some extent but the way I browsed and mindlessly clicked to purchase was bothersome.
So… facts. Cell phone usage releases dopamine… like a substance to an addict. Like gambling to a gambling addict… whatever you get the idea. A 2014 study (no I don’t have it, I read about it in another article, so I’m just going to assume it’s true) found a correlation between high social media use and depression and anxiety. We compare ourselves unfavorably to those portraying themselves some time of way on Instagram and then… we feel like garbage. Smartphone use also exacerbates attention deficit disorders. The constant stream of communication and information has changed the way we process incoming messages to our brain. Maybe this is why we’re seeing an increase in children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD? Smartphones also diminish your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively. It’s always breaking our line of thought, or allowing us to access others’ creativity, so we never have to come up with solutions or creations on our own. It disturbs your sleep for obvious reasons… we’re on it until the moment we fall asleep and it’s the first thing we grab when we wake up! Sometimes, we look at it when we wake up in the middle of the night or I read about people setting alarms TO CHECK THEIR PHONES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! What?! Or to check bids on online bidding websites!! No way. Smartphones also encourage self-absorption… selfies, pictures of everything we eat, status updates… blow by blow explanations of everything we’re doing at every moment… Instagram stories… oooof. This makes it harder to cope with stress, allegedly.
So what are signs and symptoms of smartphone or Internet overuse? Trouble completing tasks at work or home, isolation from family and friends, concealing your smartphone use, having FOMO, feeling dread, anxiety or panic if you leave your smartphone at home. What are the withdrawal symptoms? RAGE. Restlessness, anger or irritability, difficulty concentrating sleep problems, craving access to your smartphone or other device.
So how do we “improve”... because giving up our digital technology isn’t conceivable for a majority of people. We still have to interact with our addictive “substance”... of course there is group support. I attended a meeting of ITAA- Internet Tech Addiction Anonymous. It’s online, which is ironic BUT that one 45 minute meeting was so helpful. I got lots of tips which I’ll discuss in a moment. First, you can modify your smartphone use, step by step. It’s not going to happen all at once… unless you want it to, but that’s kind of setting yourself up for failure. I’ll share the tips I found and then talk about my own steps as inspired by ITAA. First, set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, complete this work task before checking your phone. You can turn off your phone at certain times of the day. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. Replace your smartphone with healthier activities. Play the “phone stack” game when out to dinner with friends (stack your phones and the first to check their phone picks up the tab). Remove social media apps from your phone. Limit checks so if you check every minute, get yourself to every 5 minutes then every 15, etc. Curb your fear of missing out; accept the fact that you will miss out on some things and eventually you’ll feel so liberated you won’t care you missed out on the Pug Enthusiast Tri-Annual BBQ.
What things have I implemented in my day to day smartphone interaction that have helped curb my use? Thanks to ITAA, I discovered my top, middle and bottom lines. Top line being the things you WANT to be doing INSTEAD of utilizing IT. Middle line are things that utilize IT but can be a dangerous slippery slope down into your bottom line… bottom line being relapse. Relapse looks different for everyone but my bottom line is scrolling through the Instagram home page and watching stupid clips, spying on people and just… being lame. Also, a YouTube black hole for a few hours. My middle line behaviors and activities that lead to my downfall are checking the weather, my banking app, my Instagram app, but mainly: looking things up on the internet. Anything really, how-to’s, recipes, facts, etc. So, to deter that, I check the weather once in the morning and that’s it. I check my banking once a day (when the baby is napping). I also keep a HANDWRITTEN list of things to look up or do online and once the baby’s nap time rolls around, I give myself one hour to do all the things I thought I needed to do so urgently. And by then, I normally discover I don’t care anymore about finding the answer. My top line behaviors are things like reading actual books, playing games with my girls without a phone in my hand or pocket, writing poetry or planning my next podcast episode, drawing, listening to music (I allow certain IT behaviors like music and podcasts during the day).
Other ways I manage my cell phone use is by turning off my phone at 9pm. All the way off. And not turning it on again until 8am. That means I have about an hour in bed without a phone in which I read or actually try to talk to my husband. Then when I wake up, I have another hour where I literally just open my eyes and look at the ceiling, get dressed, look my daughters’ in the eyes, eat yogurt with them… and then it’s 8am and I can check the weather and let the morning news play (even my daughters like hearing the news… weirdos). I have removed all social media apps from my phone, but still have a browser app. I only have an Instagram account for my podcast, but I have to be careful because though I don’t follow anyone, I can still see public accounts. Which may lead to a black hole of spying and scrolling. I have also set a time when I can sit on my phone and look at it without a clear goal in mind: the baby’s nap time. I either use the desktop PC or my phone to look up my list of items or whatever else I deem necessary. I allow myself one hour (right now, maybe that’ll change in the future) to get it all done. The final item I strive for (I hate the word goal, and I hate the concept of goals), is getting my cell phone use to two or less hours of use per day. My day is between 8am and 9pm. I hope to take a screenshot each day of my “Digital Wellbeing” app to see how I progress over time.