The number of people addicted to their cell phone is growing at an alarming rate and the trend is rarely discussed. According toeMarketer, the average US adult will spend 3 hours, 43 minutes on mobile devices in 2019. That’s roughly 21% of your waking day spent on your cell phone. This number continues to grow every year.
Most of us are guilty of abusing our cell phone in some fashion. Whether it’s mindlessly scrolling through social media, cycling from one app to the next and back again, or pulling out your cell phone in public just to kill time. Ever opened your cell phone at a red light just because you’re not actively driving? There are many actions that show some signs of cell phone addiction, but how do you know if you’re actually addicted to your cell phone?
Cell phone addiction is the overuse, dependency, or abuse of your cell phone where it negatively impacts your life. Cell phone addiction is not unlike other addictions, except the harm done is often less visible. When you’re addicted to your cell phone, you may experience increased loneliness, lose your ability to focus for an extended period of time, disrupt your normal sleep patterns, etc. The side effects, which will be explored later in the article, are not as apparent, but can have equally detrimental impacts on your life.
In addition, cell phone addiction is an extremely difficult habit to break. Unlike addictions of substance abuse, pornography, etc. most people rely on cell phones so much that going cold turkey isn’t an option. The conveniences of having a cell phone outweigh the perceived benefits of not being addicted. For this reason, cell phone addiction is incredibly difficult to break.
The Center for Internet and Technology Addictionhas created atestto see how addicted you might be. This resource is a good place to start evaluating your cell phone habits. Since cell phone usage is so normalized in our society, you might not realize you have an addiction without seeking more information.
The first step towards overcoming any addiction is to admit that you have a problem. However, in order to admit you have a problem, you need to understand what the problem is and how it is negatively impacting your life.
Nomophobia. Otherwise known as ‘No-Mobile-Phobia’ is the fear of being without, or being unable to use your mobile phone. Nomophobia is a fear many of us don’t realize that we have. Have you ever accidentally left your phone at home? You know that urge to get it back? That feeling of emptiness or that feeling that part of you is missing? That’s nomophobia. It exists not because of the fear of something happening without our cell phone, but because we are so attached to our cell phones that we can’t stand not having it. The cell phone has become an extension of ourselves.
Slot Machine Mechanics. Dr. Greenfield, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, explains in aninterview on cell phone and internet addiction, that “The smartphone is the world’s smallest slot machine. The internet operates on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, meaning that any time you go online … you don’t know what you’re going to find, when you’re going to find it, and how good, salient, or desirable it’s going to be. That’s how a slot machine operates. That scheduled reinforcement in the brain elevates dopamine both in an anticipatory form as well as a reactive form. The anticipatory expectation that you’ll find something pleasurable or experience something pleasurable, increases dopamine significantly. Then followed by whether that is pleasurable or not in actuality, also elevates dopamine.” Dr. Greenfield goes on to explain“That’s why you’ll do it endlessly, because brain loves the anticipation of the possibility of having that hit, not that it’s definite.”
Social Media Is Designed To Be Addicting. Social media platforms use these very same slot machine mechanics when designing their applications. Why? Because there is a battle for attention. The currency of the digital age is attention and the more they have, the more they’re worth. So to grow as a social media, or as an app in general, they need to hold your attention. They design algorithms, features, and layouts using the science of addiction. While it may not be as nefarious as it sounds, it exists none-the-less.
Cell Phone Addiction As An Escape Mechanism. Real life is difficult. Work is stressful and continuous. Social commitments can often be overwhelming. And so many people find different ways to “escape” life. Some find this through drugs, some find this through video games, others through tv shows and movies. Cell phones have brought video games, tv shows, movies, infinite information, “social” interactions, and unlimited content into the palm of our hands. Without knowing it, we get lost in our phones. It’s a way to “escape” from reality that is socially acceptable. Without thinking twice about it, we use our cell phones as an escape mechanism.
Cell Phone Addiction As a Coping Mechanism. Human beings seek comfort. We avoid pain and uncomfortable situations. Why? Because nobody enjoys pain or discomfort. So we try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. This is part of why breaking old habits is extremely difficult. Struggling going to the gym? It’s because you have to actively put yourself into an uncomfortable situation. And so subconsciously we allow ourselves to seek comfort. Have you ever been walking down the sidewalk and a stranger is approaching from the opposite direction? Will they make eye contact? Will they start a conversation? For many it’s easier to pull out our cell phones and pretend to be busy then to risk a social interaction. So we use it to cope with that brief social anxiety.
Lack of focus and ability to concentrate. When was the last time you read a full article instead of just the headline and bullet points? Are you actually reading this entire article? Slowly, but surely, our society is losing the ability to focus for long periods of time. And it’s not your fault. In today’s battle for attention, we are bombarded with new information 1,000’s of time per day. Just like building muscle, focus and concentration is a muscle that must be exercised. If you train your brain to jump from one piece of information, to the next, to the next, it becomes your habit. It becomes your new norm. If you try to focus for a long period of time, it’s difficult. Just like going running for the first time in a long time. The first run you go on, you’ll be lucky to hit a mile, but the more you practice, the further you can run. The same thing goes for focus. If you train to improve your focus, your initial attempt might be for a half hour, before you find yourself distracted. But the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to concentrate.
Disrupting sleep. Do you keep your cell phone next to your bed? Do you use your cell phone up until bedtime? If so, you’re actively hurting your sleep. Manystudies have shown that the use of cell phones before bed is extremely detrimental. The blue light of cell phones suppresses your natural release of melatonin, the hormone that controls your circadian rhythms. Reducing your melatonin release makes it harder to fall asleep and also more difficult to get into deep REM sleep. In addition, just because you’re asleep and “don’t hear” your phone vibrating, your subconscious mind is still distracted and the notifications can knock you out of deeper sleep.
Increased loneliness and depression. While you may not consciously do it, social media has created a comparison culture where we only share the highlights of our lives. In doing so, whether consciously or subconsciously, we compare our entire lives to the highlights of others. This is dangerous as it can lead to increased loneliness and depression.Studies have shown this to be the case for social media. Increased social media use is leading to a national increase in depression among teens.
Increased stress. Do you do work related tasks on your cell phone? Do you have your work email synced with your personal cell phone? If so, cell phone use can increase work related stress. Being able to balance work and personal life is a key component of maintaining lower stress levels. When you allow your work life to intrude, the stress carries over into our personal lives. Even if you don’t actively respond to the emails, the simple notification can send you on a path of thinking about work situations during your personal time, which can increase stress levels.
Reduced ability to remember. Similar to how we are losing our ability to focus, society is losing our ability to remember. Do old relatives ever amaze you with the stories they remember? Even as they get older, they still remember the date, the location, the people involved, etc. It’s because they didn’t have as many distractions. So they lived more in the present. In addition, they were forced to remember details. Today, we don’t have to. Phone numbers? In our phone. Birthdays? Facebook will notify you. Reminders? Set up an alert. While the cell phone is an incredible technology to be able to save all of this data, it has transferred the responsibility to our cell phones and in doing so, we don’t exercise the remembering muscle of our brain as much.
Become aware of your cell phone usage. The first part of making real change in your life is being aware of your habits. Just wanting to use your cell phone less isn’t enough. You need to become aware of when you’re using your cell phone and how long you’re using your cell phone. Do most of your pickups come in the morning? Do you use it primarily after work and through into the night? Become aware of your habits.
Understand your cell phone triggers. This goes hand in hand with becoming aware of your habits. You need to understand what triggers you to use your cell phone. Do you use your phone for escapism through entertainment? Do you pull out your cell phone at red lights? Are you more prone to use your cell phone when you’re exhausted from work? Knowing your triggers and being more aware of them will allow you to begin to stop those habits as they’re happening.
Trigger - Behavior - Reward. This is the system that your brain operates on. There is some trigger that happens in your life. You perform an action. If there is some sort of benefit, good content, a fun social media post, a like on your own post, your brain remembers this, because it gets a hit of dopamine. And so, when you hit the same trigger, your brain looks to recreate the same action. The more you give into this pattern, the more it becomes engrained as a habit. You are starting with years of bad habits. These habits can only be broken through recognizing the triggers and stopping the cycle as it occurs. Repetitive awareness to this will create new habits.
Self regulate your cell phone usage. See the tips in the next section. If you’re addicted to your cell phone, the first place to start is by attempting to self regulate your usage. Make rules and boundaries for the technology in your life.
Therapy. If you find that you are unable to self regulate and you are still succumbing to your cell phone addiction, therapy is your best friend. While it might sound ridiculous to seek a therapist for your cell phone, it is a real addiction that can have damaging impacts on your life. If you’re addicted to your cell phone and can’t regulate it, therapy can be very impactful on your life. A good place to start would be to search for Cognitive Behavioral Therapists in your area.
Monitor Your Numbers. If you have an iPhone, these are provided for you under Screen Time. It monitors how many hours per day you use your phone and how many times you pick it up. Know your numbers, monitor your numbers, and set goals for your numbers. Don’t drastically try to go from 7 hrs per day to 1 hr. Set realistic goals and slowly decrease your usage.
Set Boundaries. Are you guilty of using your cell phone long into the night? Is your cell phone the first thing you pick up in the morning? Create time limit boundaries. Depending on what your schedule is, you could do the 8-8 rule. No cell phone before 8 am and no cell phone after 8 pm.
Turn Off Your Cell Phone During The Day. Turn it off. Fully. It’s a task that takes less than 10 seconds. Driving somewhere? Turn it off. Going to the gym? Turn it off. Out to dinner with friends? Turn it off. When was the last time you actually received a text or phone call that needed an IMMEDIATE response? Take full breaks from your phone throughout the day. If you listen to music at the gym, consider getting a non-internet connected mp4 player and leave your cell phone in the car.
Remove Apps From Your Phone. Guilty of getting lost in Instagram or Facebook for chunks at a time? Delete the apps. Or better yet, deactivate the accounts entirely. While deleting the apps won’t prevent you from accessing them, it makes the task slightly more difficult which gives you the opportunity to be more aware that you’re going to social media.
Keep Your Cell Out Of Your Bedroom. Buy an old school alarm. Move the charger into your bathroom or kitchen or living room and put it there after your night time no-cell phone hour. Keeping the cell phone out of your bedroom will prevent the accidental scrolling past bedtime. It will also keep the blue light from messing with your melatonin release.
FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. It’s real. We’ve all felt it at some point. Work to curb this fear of missing out so that you’re in control. Curb the need to constantly check your cell phone for a missed group message, or missed event. These things can wait.
Replacement Activities. One of the biggest traits of addiction is that one simply replaces their addiction with another habit. Make sure you’re in control of what this habit is. Choose healthy habits like reading, meditation, working on side projects, etc. As you reduce your cell phone usage, you will naturally have more free time in your day to fill. Fill it wisely.
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