What is smartphone addiction?

Smartphone addiction occurs when you spend more time on social media or playing games on your phone than you do interact 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. While a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships.

Smartphone addiction, also 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.

Online compulsions, such as gaming, gambling, stock trading, online shopping, or bidding on auction sites like 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. Online shopping addicts may wake up at strange hours 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 a 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.
  • Fueling anxiety.
  • Increasing stress.
  • Exacerbating attention deficit disorders
  • Diminishing your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively
  • Disturbing your sleep
  • Encouraging self-absorption

Warning signs of smartphone or Internet overuse include:

  • Trouble completing tasks at work or at home.
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Concealing your smartphone use
  • Having a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO)

Self-help tips for smartphone addiction

There are several steps you can take to get your smartphone and Internet use under control. While you can initiate many of these measures yourself, an addiction is hard to beat on your own, especially when temptation is always within easy reach. It can be all too easy to slip back into old patterns of usage. Look for outside support, whether it’s from family, friends, or a professional therapist.

To help you identify your problem areas, keep a log of when and how much you use your smartphone for non-work or non-essential activities. There are specific apps that can help with this, enabling you to track the time you spend on your phone. Are there times of day that you use your phone more? Are there other things you could be doing instead? The more you understand your smartphone use, the easier it will be to curb your habits and regain control of your time.

Modify your smartphone use, step-by-step

For most people, getting control over their smartphone and Internet use isn’t a case of quitting cold turkey. Think of it more like going on a diet. Just as you still need to eat, you probably still need to use your phone for work, school, or to stay in touch with friends. Your goal should be to cut back to more healthy levels of use.

  1. Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, you might schedule use for certain times of day, or you could reward yourself with a certain amount of time on your phone once you’ve completed a homework assignment or finished a chore, for instance.
  2. Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.
  3. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. The blue light emitted by the screens can disrupt your sleep if used within two hours of bedtime. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge. Instead of reading eBooks on your phone or tablet at night, pick up a book. You’ll not only sleep better but research shows you’ll also remember more of what you’ve read.
  4. Replace your smartphone use with healthier activities. If you are bored and lonely, resisting the urge to use your smartphone can be very difficult. Have a plan for other ways to fill the time, such as meditating, reading a book, or chatting with friends in person.
  5. Play the “phone stack” game. Spending time with other smartphone addicts? Play the “phone stack” game. When you’re having lunch, dinner, or drinks together, have everyone place their smartphones face down on the table. Even as the phones buzz and beep, no one is allowed to grab their device. If someone can’t resist checking their phone, that person has to pick up the check for everyone.
  6. Remove social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from your computer. And remember: what you see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives—people exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing over the doubts and disappointments that we all experience. Spending less time comparing yourself unfavourably to these stylized representations can help to boost your mood and sense of self-worth.
  7. Limit checks. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. If you need help, some apps can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
  8. Curb your fear of missing out. Accept that by limiting your smartphone use, you’re likely going to miss out on certain invitations, breaking news, or new gossip. There is so much information available on the Internet, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of everything, anyway. Accepting this can be liberating and help break your reliance on technology.

 

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