Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally attacked when your phone gives you this critical feedback: “Your screen time is up 75 percent this week.” *Hand raised.*
In the year 2021, this no longer feels like an unusual use of time. Instead, our phones feel like just another part of life, almost a staple of being human. It’s transformed our days in such a way that it’s become like another limb attached to us at all times. But with this unbridled phone use becoming so standard, how can we tell the difference between a reliance on technology and a full-blown addiction?
According to Pew Research Center, the use of smartphones has increased by nearly 50 percent in the last decade.
This ubiquity has opened the door to entirely new dictionary entries, including textiety, the anxiety over not sending or receiving texts; textaphrenia, falsely thinking you’ve received a text; phantom vibrations, erroneous feelings that your phone is sending alerts; and nomophobia, the all-too-familiar fear of being away from your phone.
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While it sometimes feels extreme to call the phenomenon an “addiction,” some studies indicate that there could be a link between the tendencies of excessive cellphone use and the non-substance addiction of gambling.
These correlating behaviors can show themselves in characteristics like avoidance with ensuing relapse, a lack of control, and even withdrawal. They can also lead to traits such as low self-esteem, relational issues, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
One of the greatest connections between the two is chemical: the release of dopamine, which is known as our feel-good neurotransmitter. Dopamine is stimulated by activities and interactions that we find rewarding. And yes, for many of us, cellphone use fits that definition.
The mood boost and social connections we gain from our phones keep us constantly coming back for more, and these addictive tendencies are becoming increasingly stronger in younger generations, namely teens.
So now that we know all the crazy side effects and risks involved, how do we kick the habit? Here are four tips to get you started!
1. Consider the root of your avoidant tendencies.
“Be cognizant of the motivation behind your phone use,” said licensed clinical social worker Kimberly Leitch. “If you’re using your phone as a coping mechanism or avoidance, then put the phone down.”
If you start reaching for your phone in awkward situations and tense moments, or in an attempt to avoid a negative interaction, you begin to solidify this response as a habitual one.
Begin by determining the root cause of your behavior. What worry or difficulty are you trying to avoid? The best way to kick this anxiety for good is to pinpoint it and face it directly instead of hiding behind your phone.
2. Make it easier to resist.
Get practical in setting yourself up for success. Which apps keep you glued to your phone 90 percent of the time? Well, we have a big idea for you: Delete these addictive apps from your phone and only access them from devices you’re not carrying around in your pocket all day.
For iPhone users, you can even use your App Limits feature to set time limits on the apps you use most. Your phone will then alert you when you’ve reached your limit — which means it’s time to do something else.
3. Try out therapy.
Studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in linking certain impulses with learned behaviors, negative thought patterns, and poor coping mechanisms.
This approach can help you discover and implement new behavioral patterns, leading you to develop healthier coping strategies, to use better problem-solving skills in difficult circumstances, and to overcome avoidance tendencies by boosting your confidence in otherwise fear-inducing situations.
4. Out of sight, out of mind.
Now for the trickiest advice of all: Keep that phone away.
When desperate times call for desperate measures, consider placing your phone in another part of the room — or another room completely — during the day to focus on the present. Set up text messages to pop up on your laptop so you can stay aware of any urgent situations without your technological “limb” nearby, begging for your attention.
If that seems too extreme, try turning your notifications off during your workday or when you’re at your busiest, most productive time. Even if it’s just for an hour a day at first, big changes start with the smallest steps.
Like any addiction, starting the process of kicking it to the curb might seem nearly impossible. But with our mental, emotional, and physical health potentially at risk, it’s important to control your phone habits before they take control of you.
Recover a bit of your life outside your phone as a form of self-care. Trust us — it will be worth it!
Share these tips with a friend or two, and give them a try together.
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