Smartphone addiction - It could happen to you!
We've become so dependent on our smartphones that for many of us, it can seem hard to be without them. We all have that one friend who is constantly on instagram, uploading pictures of their food when you're out for dinner, texting throughout the film at the cinema and winning arguments by using Google. They're attached to their phones and are never without them. But smartphone addiction is a real problem - and it could affect you!
A real illness
Are you afraid of being without your smartphone? There's a word for that - nomophobia. Across the pond, smartphone addiction is recognised as a serious enough problem to mean checking into rehab. The Ranch addiction recovery centre in Tennessee is one of the first centres in the US to offer a specific treatment programme for those fixated on their mobile phones - staff here believe smartphone addiction is a similar problem to behavioural addiction such as gambling or compulsive shopping. It's not just in Tennessee that smartphone addiction has become a growing concern. A study carried out at Baylor University (1) revealed that on average, female students spent 10 hours a day using their mobile phones - mostly for sending texts and surfing the web. Quite shockingly, this figure is higher than the amount of time spent with friends, with 60% of those surveyed admitting they felt addicted to their mobile devices.
We can't live without them
Smartphones have become an almost indispensable piece of technology, whether you use yours to check Facebook, keep on top of a busy schedule, send work emails, use Google Maps or to download and listen to podcasts. Many of us feel we'd be lost without our devices. But why are smartphones so addictive? It's thought that smartphones trigger the release of 'feel good' chemicals dopamine and serotonin in our brains, so they give us the same instant gratification as addictive substances. Often, this type of addiction can be indicative of underlying personality and behavioural issues. So if you're suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, you might find that reaching for your iPhone makes you feel better.
The bad news is that feeding this type of addiction by using your phone more could actually make the problems you're facing worse. Choosing to interact with your phone rather than connecting in person with family and friends can leave you feeling stressed out and lonely, fuelling the urge to reach for your phone and 'connect' via texts and social media.
Are you addicted?
According to addiction expert and therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D, if you think you have an addiction to your smartphone, it's likely that you do. If you find yourself freaking out whenever your phone isn't within arms reach, feeling happier when you're using it or checking it at inappropriate moments when you should be doing something else - like driving, for instance, you could have a serious problem. Likewise, if using your phone is impacting other areas of your life, you could be addicted. Whilst you probably don't need to pack your bags and check into rehab just yet, there are some things you can do to tackle your addiction, starting with setting some rules for phone use. These tips should help:
- Turn your phone off at night time and back on in the morning, at the same time each day - try from around 11pm until 8am to begin with. This can actually help you to get a better night's sleep!
- Log the amount of time you spend using your phone - this helps you to see just how much time you're using it for and can help you face reality
- Set yourself time limits for phone or tablet usage - set an alarm to remind you to put your phone down for 30 minutes every few hours
- If it helps, keep a diary of your emotions, or just be mindful of how you're feeling when you reach for your phone. Are you bored, depressed or lonely and using your smartphone as a distraction? Perhaps you could go to the gym or meet up with a friend instead.
Because phones are a necessity these days, we all need to learn how to incorporate them into our lives without becoming addicted to them. There's nothing wrong with using your phone to check the news, keep in touch with friends on Facebook or call family, but your phone should not be your life!
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