Thoughts about Smartphone Addiction

Thoughts about Smartphone Addiction

Over the summer, I attended a Chicago Cubs game in Pittsburgh (yay!). I had so much fun despite the Cubs losing (boo!). During the game, a young woman and her partner were sitting next to me in full Pirate gear. I assumed that she would be as excited as everyone else in our section to see the two National League Central teams battle it out with all of us cheering on each memorable event. Nope. She did not look up once from her phone even with chaos all around her. Not once.

I have had online clients and clients in my private practice bring up the possibility that their children and/or partners are addicted to their smartphones and we discuss their concerns about the short and long-term effects such behavior may have on their lives. My experience with the baseball woman and the many anecdotes I’ve heard from those worried about their loved ones (and sometimes themselves) caused me to explore the research regarding smartphone addiction.

Did you know that the typical smartphone user touches his or her phone 2617 times a day? 2617 times! A day! And that most people, on average, spend 3 hours, 15 minutes on their phone each day? Also, half of all smartphone “pick-ups” happen within three minutes of a previous one? What are we doing?!

Yes, smartphone addiction is a thing. As a relatively new target of non-substance addiction, smartphone use does not easily fit into the standard classifications of impulse disorders by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Such disorders include video games, exercise, food, shopping, work, and the internet in general (and online sex and gambling in particular) have all shown indications of addictive behavior, but only online gambling has been classified as such by the DSM-5. Some signs of smartphone addiction include urgency, dependency, difficulty of control, increased use and the need to stay connected when using the smartphone and irritability, restlessness, stress, and mood changes upon inaccessibility of the phone.

What I learned from available research is that our dependence and obsession with our smartphones, and screens in general, is affecting our relationships, health, and well-being. There is compelling research out there that strongly suggests that we need to address how much time we spend looking at our screens to the exclusion of other pursuits. Research shows that constant smartphone use is linked to sleep disturbance, stress, anxiety, withdrawal, deterioration in well-being, decrease in academic performance, and decrease in physical activity. Studies also show that compulsive use of smartphones may lead to psychological disorders. These results are separate from the actual content of what people are spending their time looking at. I want to discuss the negative effects of social media in a separate post as well as exploring the particular effects of excessive screen time on children.

Isn’t this just common sense, though? If we are focused on our smartphones, how can we be tuned-in to our family and friends? And if we aren’t maintaining our connections with others, isn’t it likely that this disconnect can lead to increased loneliness – an interpersonal phenomenon linked to depression? To make matters more complicated, increased loneliness has been associated with increased reliance on smartphones to alleviate distress.

What can we do for ourselves and the people we love to lessen the negative affects of excessive phone use? Here are some suggestions for yourself and for you to share with your loved ones:

1. Turn off notifications – seems simple, but very effective. Phone calls and texts may be important, but everything else is just a distraction.

2. Take apps off your phone or change your settings so that you have to log in every time – every time. I have encouraged clients to remove social media apps for one week and see how that feels. Not one person has said that they missed spending their time on social media. So maybe this stuff isn’t that necessary?

3. Charge your phone away from your bed. Having your phone in a different room than your bedroom lessens the amount of time you may be looking at a screen right before trying to sleep. The blue light from phones has been shown to increase sleep disturbance – both falling asleep and staying asleep – because your brain thinks the light means daylight and this may affect hormone production. Also, aren’t there other activities that can be done in bed that are more enjoyable than Candy Crush or watching episodes of The Office for the tenth time?? Enough said.

4. If you’re thinking about lessening your screen time – keep yourself accountable. There are apps that track your smartphone use like Quality Time and Moment. Seeing how much time you are spending on your phone can be illuminating and increase your motivation to change your behavior.

5. Choose a day to be completely screen-free other than texting and phone calls. This can be incredibly freeing. If you do this, keep track of all the other activities you did and how productive you were. How rewarding!

6. Put a stretchy hair band around the middle of your phone. This is a life hack from Brad Soroka (check out his blog for more ideas). If you put a hairband around the middle of your phone, you can still easily receive phone calls and text. However, this is a mindfulness trick to then ask yourself, “What are my intentions?” for everything else you usually do on your phone. That one second to stop to explore your intentions can help you stay on track to break the habit.

Let me know if you try any of the above and how these strategies worked for you or if you have other ideas that have been successful. We can do this!! My goal is to go back to reading instead of spending time on my phone!

Haggerty, Bonnie M.: Williams, A. Reg “The Effects of Sense of Belonging, Social Support, Conflict, and Loneliness on Depression” Nursing Research: July-August 1999 – Volume 48 – Issue 4 – pp. 215-219.

M. Beranuy, U. Oberst, X. Carbonell, A. Chamarro “Problematic Internet and Mobile Phone Use and Clinical Symptoms in College Students: The Role of Emotional Intelligence” Computers in Human Behavior, 25 (5) (2009), pp. 1182-1197

N.S. Hawi, M.S. Rupert “Impact of e-Discipline on Children’s Screen Time “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18 (6) (215), pp. 337-342

Y. -K.Lee, C. -T. Chang, Y.Lin, Z. -H. Cheng “The Dark Side of Smartphone Usage: Psychological Traits, Compulsive Behavior and Technostress” Computers in Human Behavior, 31 (0) (2014), pp. 373-383