What is our addiction to our smartphones doing to us?

By Stephanie Chambers

How addicted are we?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) 2017 survey, 43% of Americans are constantly checking their smart phones and almost 20% of them feel they are contributing to their stress levels.

How is our addiction to our smartphones affecting us?

Some feel it means they are always working – always on call for their jobs. This is especially the case if they receive work emails on their phones.

If their bosses are not respectful of their need for downtime, they can even feel (sometimes justifiably so) that they will be judged negatively if they don’t respond to work emails, texts etc after hours.

For others, their smartphones can contribute to negative self esteem if they feel they aren’t receiving enough digital contact from the people they care about and want to be loved by.

Apps like Facebook can add to this as they allow people to compare themselves to their peers. If they feel that their friends are posting better pictures of themselves or that they look to be leading more exciting lives than they are, this can make them depressed.

What are the studies showing?

A study published in the Emotion journal by psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia reported that US teenagers happiness and  self-esteem levels have steeply declined since 2012 because of the adoption of smartphones. More than half of all teens now own a smartphone.

Another study found that participants levels of self esteem were lower when they were given smaller screens to use (computer screens, laptops and smart phones).

In a New York Times article David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction said, “Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”

These prolonged stress levels can lead to a number of illnesses and shorten our lives.

So what can we do to overcome our addiction to our smartphones?

The first step is to become aware of your own phone use. I-phones now have a feature called Screentime which can show you how much time you spend on your phone.

Reduce your reliance on your smartphone. Remember when we used watches for time, physical maps for navigation etc? Now we use our phones for everything and once we have our phones in our hands they are hard to put down. Remember even just having them in the same room as us increases our stress levels.

Other studies have shown that using GPS is reducing our own intrinsic spatial abilities. So the more we can reduce our reliance the better.

If you get lost it doesn’t matter. Eventually you will memorise the landmarks and be able to find your way there without GPS.

Prioritize meeting face to face with people. You can only really experience things with someone and create deeper bonds with them if you do things together. So don’t just meet for coffee – go for a walk together or play a frisbees with them.

Set some boundaries on when you can use your smartphone. No phones during meals for example. No phone use when in a car or when walking.

When you go on vacation, have a work colleague change your password so that you can log in while you are away.

Use website blocker apps to prevent you from using distracting sites. These will help us overcome our addiction to our smartphones.

And lastly talk to a counselor about it because they are trained in how to handle addictions of all kinds and they will help you gain more control of your life so that your phone simply won’t have power over you.

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