An addiction is when the thing you are addicted to begins to control your life and interferes with your daily activities, work, and relationships. The classical definition of an alcoholic is someone who wakes up to a glass of vodka instead of a cup of coffee. But with the boom of technology, the signs of addiction can also be found in other places besides the bottom of a glass, it can also be found in the form of cell phones.
If you find yourself checking your phone first thing in the morning—before even getting out of bed, you may be addicted. If you find you’re text-messaging while driving, checking your phone instead of working on an important assignment, or checking Facebook during a romantic dinner—your phone is interfering with your life and you are addicted.
What is smartphone addiction?
While a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can’t stop yourself from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps—even when it has negative consequences in your life—it may be time to reassess your technology use.
Smartphone addiction, sometimes colloquially known as “nomophobia” (fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fueled by an Internet overuse problem or Internet addiction disorder. After all, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to.
Smartphone addiction can encompass a variety of impulse-control problems, including:
Virtual relationships. Addiction to social networking, dating apps, texting, and messaging can extend to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships. We’ve all seen the couples sitting together in a restaurant ignoring each other and engaging with their smartphones instead. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real-life interactions. Online friendships can be appealing as they tend to exist in a bubble, not subject to the same demands or stresses as messy, real-world relationships. Compulsive use of dating apps can change your focus to short-term hookups instead of developing long-term relationships.
Information overload. Compulsive web surfing, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds can lead to lower productivity at work or school and isolate you for hours at a time. Compulsive use of the Internet and smartphone apps can cause you to neglect other aspects of your life, from real-world relationships to hobbies and social pursuits.
Cybersex addiction. Compulsive use of Internet pornography, sexting, nude-swapping, or adult messaging services can impact negatively on your real-life intimate relationships and overall emotional health. While online pornography and cybersex addictions are types of sexual addiction, the Internet makes it more accessible, relatively anonymous, and very convenient. It’s easy to spend hours engaging in fantasies impossible in real life. Excessive use of dating apps that facilitate casual sex can make it more difficult to develop long-term intimate relationships or damage an existing relationship.
Online compulsions, such as gaming, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction sites like eBay can often lead to financial and job-related problems. While gambling addiction has been a well-documented problem for years, the availability of Internet gambling has made gambling far more accessible. Compulsive stock trading or online shopping can be just as financially and socially damaging. eBay addicts may wake up at strange hours in order to be online for the last remaining minutes of an auction. You may purchase things you don’t need and can’t afford just to experience the excitement of placing the winning bid.
Causes and effects of smartphone and Internet addiction
While you can experience impulse-control problems with a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of smartphones and tablets means that we can take them just about anywhere and gratify our compulsions at any time. In fact, most of us are rarely ever more than five feet from our smartphones. Like the use of drugs and alcohol, they can trigger the release of the brain chemical dopamine and alter your mood. You can also rapidly build up tolerance so that it takes more and more time in front of these screens to derive the same pleasurable reward.
Heavy smartphone use can often be symptomatic of other underlying problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. At the same time, it can also exacerbate these problems. If you use your smartphone as a “security blanket” to relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or awkwardness in social situations, for example, you’ll succeed only in cutting yourself off further from people around you. Staring at your phone will deny you the face-to-face interactions that can help to meaningfully connect you to others, alleviate anxiety, and boost your mood. In other words, the remedy you’re choosing for your anxiety (engaging with your smartphone), is actually making your anxiety worse.
Smartphone or Internet addiction can also negatively impact your life by:
Increasing loneliness and depression. While it may seem that losing yourself online will temporarily make feelings such as loneliness, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air, it can actually make you feel even worse. A 2014 study found a correlation between high social media usage and depression and anxiety. Users, especially teens, tend to compare themselves unfavorably with their peers on social media, promoting feelings of loneliness and depression.
Fueling anxiety. One researcher found that the mere presence of a phone in a work place tends to make people more anxious and perform poorly on given tasks. The heavier a person’s phone use, the greater the anxiety they experienced.
Increasing stress. Using a smartphone for work often means work bleeds into your home and personal life. You feel the pressure to always be on, never out of touch from work. This need to continually check and respond to email can contribute to higher stress levels and even burnout.
Exacerbating attention deficit disorders. The constant stream of messages and information from a smartphone can overwhelm the brain and make it impossible to focus attention on any one thing for more than a few minutes without feeling compelled to move on to something else.
Diminishing your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively. The persistent buzz, ping or beep of your smartphone can distract you from important tasks, slow your work, and interrupt those quiet moments that are so crucial to creativity and problem solving. Instead of ever being alone with our thoughts, we’re now always online and connected.
Disturbing your sleep. Excessive smartphone use can disrupt your sleep, which can have a serious impact on your overall mental health. It can impact your memory, affect your ability to think clearly, and reduce your cognitive and learning skills.
Encouraging self-absorption. A UK study found that people who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to display negative personality traits such as narcissism. Snapping endless selfies, posting all your thoughts or details about your life can create an unhealthy self-centeredness, distancing you from real-life relationships and making it harder to cope with stress.
Signs and symptoms of smartphone addiction
There is no specific amount of time spent on your phone, or the frequency you check for updates, or the number of messages you send or receive that indicates an addiction or overuse problem.
Spending a lot of time connected to your phone only becomes a problem when it absorbs so much of your time it causes you to neglect your face-to-face relationships, your work, school, hobbies, or other important things in your life. If you find yourself ignoring friends over lunch to read Facebook updates or compulsively checking your phone in while driving or during school lectures, then it’s time to reassess your smartphone use and strike a healthier balance in your life.
Warning signs of smartphone or Internet overuse include:
Trouble completing tasks at work or home. Do you find laundry piling up and little food in the house for dinner because you’ve been busy chatting online, texting, or playing video games? Perhaps you find yourself working late more often because you can’t complete your work on time.
Isolation from family and friends. Is your social life suffering because of all the time you spend on your phone or other device? If you’re in a meeting or chatting with friends, do you lose track of what’s being said because you’re checking your phone? Have friends and family expressed concern about the amount of time you spend on your phone? Do you feel like no one in your “real” life—even your spouse—understands you like your online friends?
Concealing your smartphone use. Do you sneak off to a quiet place to use your phone? Do you hide your smartphone use or lie to your boss and family about the amount of time you spend online? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
Having a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO). Do you hate to feel out of the loop or think you’re missing out on important news or information if you don’t check you phone regularly? Do you need to compulsively check social media because you’re anxious that others are having a better time, or leading a more exciting life than you? Do you get up at night to check your phone?
Feeling of dread, anxiety, or panic if you leave your smartphone at home, the battery runs down or the operating system crashes. Or do you feel phantom vibrations—you think your phone has vibrated but when you check, there are no new messages or updates?
Withdrawal symptoms from smartphone addiction
A common warning sign of smartphone or Internet addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on your smartphone use. These may include:
- Anger or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Craving access to your smartphone or other device
5 Ways to Beat Your Phone Addiction
1. The first 30 minutes of your day
If you find yourself waking up in the morning reaching to check in with your phone before you even got out of bed, this is a serious problem. The first 30 minutes upon awakening should be dedicated to creating a good start to your day. This means getting out of bed, freshening up, taking 5 minutes to meditate and stretch and preparing a healthy breakfast. Start your day doing healthy, positive things to build your inner fortitude to take on the day ahead.
2. Create No-Phone Time Zones
The truth of the matter is having a cell phone close by at work is common, and sometimes even required. Whether the ding of your phone is work-related or not—that specific phone alert is rarely related to the current work at hand. If you are constantly getting distracted by your phone going off—you won’t remain focused on the work in front of you, decreasing productivity. Therefore, I advocate for creating a no-phone time-zone. This means that for at least 2 hours of your day(when you’re most productive work happens) you close off your phone and stay completely dedicated to the work in front of you.
3. Turn your Phone Off When You Get Into The Car
This should be a law. I’m waiting for the day that it is. Just as in an aircraft you are asked to power off your electronic devices and cell phones, this should be the law of the road. It is impossible for your mind to be at two places at once. It is a law of physics: no one thing can occupy the same space at the same time, and if your mind and eyes are on your phone, they are not on the road. Driving is one of those places where you do not want to mess around. Sometimes I hear the excuse “Well, I need my phone for directions, my GPS is on it.” To that I say: what did people do five years ago? You would carefully map out your route before you left the house, or you would pull off to the side of the road as you looked at a map. The same rule should apply today. When driving—close off your phone so that you are not even tempted to look at it. Your life and other people’s lives are at stake.
4. Get Real
When you are with a real life person sharing a conversation, a meal, or a cup of coffee, they are a real life form. A real person right there in front of you to engage with. Are you telling me that your virtual friends and virtual text conversations are more important than the real life person in front of you? Not only is this THE rudest thing on the planet, but it breaks down friendships and can ruin relationships. Even if you say to a friend “Oh I just need to check that,” They may respond “Oh, that’s OK.” But the truth is it’s not OK. What you are saying is that the virtual message is more important than them. They have taken time out of their busy life to meet with you, and share real life time with you. By turning your attention away from them you are inevitably saying “You are not as important.” It’s really a sickness that we are so addicted to our phones that we ignore the people we are with to hang out with virtual people over Facebook, Twitter, and text messages. Come on people—it’s time to get real.
5. Don’t Lose Sleep Over It
If you find yourself up late at night playing on your phone, whether it is video games, Facebook, or text messaging, you are losing precious sleep over your addiction. The moment you stop putting energy into caring for your basic needs and pour your time and energy into your phone, you are allowing the phone to dictate your health and well-being. If you catch yourself in this scenario, my advice is to power off your phone an hour before bed time to ensure that your last hour is spent in a meaningful way, and that you get to bed on time to start the next day afresh. Your phone is just not worth losing sleep over.
Now it’s your turn. Do you find yourself in one of these scenarios? What’s your plan of action to ensure that your phone isn’t dictating your life? Please share in the comments below, and let’s inspire each other to live healthier, happier, more meaningful lives by not caving into a phone addiction.