Our relationship with smartphones can quickly turn from a steamy love affair to a toxic relationship. Many of us experience separation anxiety when we’re away from our phones, concerned we’re missing every call and message, and some don’t even think they can live without it. Matter of fact, a 2022 Gallup poll found 58% of Americans feel as though they use their smartphones too much, up from 39% in 2015.
We can all agree it’s easy to use our phones too often, especially as they’ve become integral to our daily lives. Many of us use them to check emails, communicate with loved ones, work, and keep ourselves entertained. Beyond that, smartphones can also be used to make life easier, says Flin Oshun, a psychotherapist at Whole Wellness Therapy in Fair Oaks, California.
“It has become the norm to indulge in all your phone has to offer with the luxuries of various apps that make life easier,” she tells ESSENCE. “Hello digital pay options, instant deliveries, and ride sharing!”
Oshun continues, “It’s also increasing FOMO, fear of missing out, across genders, age groups, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses. In conjunction with your smartphone learning your behavioral patterns, which types of content you view and engage with, search history being shared across platforms, you become primed to stay connected to your phone, which is smart for the phone maker and the marketers. Not so smart for your mental health and wellness.”
Could using your phone too much or feeling anxious and bored when you’re without it be a sign of phone addiction? The formal definition of this condition is an obsessive use of your phone with a lack of self-control. A sign that you may be experiencing phone addiction is repeatedly turning to your phone hoping it will induce certain feelings. This might include constantly checking for notifications or aimlessly scrolling social media.
A 2021 article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research And Public Health said people who overuse smartphones tend to constantly check notifications, which can lead to “reassurance seeking.” This is when you’re repeatedly gathering information you’ve already received to ease feelings of anxiety. The piece also noted that when smartphones are used for reassurance seeking, you may be doing so to maintain relationships and get assurance from others. In this context, it may be constantly checking your messaging apps to see if anyone has reached out or constantly checking if anyone commented on your latest social media post.
While phones are often needed for daily living, especially for those who use them for work, it’s important to find a healthy balance. According to the article cited above, depression and anxiety are linked to smartphone addiction. Such a condition can also increase the risk of low self-esteem, struggling with cognitive-emotion regulation, and impaired cognitive function.
Here are some ways to try and combat phone addiction, according to Oshun.
- Track screen time: Many smartphones have a feature where you can track your screen time or how many hours a day you spend using your phone. Sometimes seeing these numbers jump at you can be the wake-up call you need to be more mindful and scale back. If you aren’t using it already, activate the feature so you can track your progress in minimizing screen time.
- Leave home without your phone: This may seem impossible, but it isn’t, especially if you’re doing something that’s a leisure activity like going for a walk or riding a bike. Oshun says leaving home without your phone gives you a chance to practice being present.
- Sleep with your phone in another room: Guilty of falling asleep with your phone in your hand? While this isn’t a crime, it doesn’t give you any time to be still and present before going to sleep. So, try leaving your device in the living room before bed. Besides, excess cell phone use is linked to daytime tiredness, longer sleep latency, and reduced sleep duration. Going without your phone at bedtime can help you get more snooze time in. Another benefit of doing this, according to Oshun, is not being able to hit snooze once your alarm goes off.
- Delete apps: If you can’t resist the impulse to check social media, emails, or instant messaging apps every five minutes, try deleting them. Yes, you can still log in via your internet browser, but “the multiple steps it takes to get into your apps” may put you off using them, she says.
- Take baby steps: It potentially took years to develop a phone addiction, so yours won’t be cured in a day. Oshun says start with small steps like putting your phone across the room when you’re talking to family and friends or listening to music on the radio versus your phone.