Smartphones are ubiquitous in modern society, and they bring us many advantages. Nowadays many people also believe they bring us a great many disadvantages. In this article, we explore the concept of cellphone use and it's effect on conditions such stress, loneliness, depression and anxiety. Read on to learn more.
What’s Bad About Smartphones?
One immediate problem caused by mobile device use is the fact that it is very common to become addicted to or obsessed with it. This can cause all sorts of problems, not the least of which is danger while walking or driving about. Statistics show that you are at far greater risk of having a fatal accident if you use your Smartphone while driving and going about your daily tasks.
Another downside of obsessive cellphone use is the development of poorer and poorer physical health. People around the world are simply spending far more time sitting and watching than moving and doing.
Additionally, since students of all ages carry Smartphones to school with them these days, academic performance has also declined.
What About Smartphone Use & Mental Health?
The problems mentioned so far have been fairly easy to research and document. The question of phone use effect on mental health is a bit more nebulous. Researchers are now learning that excessive and/or compulsive use of mobile phones seems to very strongly worsen symptoms of depression and of anxiety.
As with any object, when you become dependent upon your cellphone it is very possible to develop an addiction to it. People who are already prone to anxiety may begin to experience very intense symptoms of anxiety when they cannot regularly check their device. Researchers have also found that when Smartphone use is withheld from these subjects, they begin to exhibit classic symptoms of addiction withdrawal.
Does Smartphone Use Cause Anxiety Disorders?
If the use of mobile devices actually caused anxiety disorders or other mental illness, we would be facing an unprecedented worldwide epidemic of mental illness. Researchers speculate that obsessive use of Smartphones and/or excessive dependence upon the devices exacerbates existing disorders and enhances predisposition toward development of a variety of disorders.
When phone use does contribute to the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, it does so quite significantly. Studies into the subject found that participants who used their mobile phones the most were also the most likely to experience negative symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety.
Researchers speculate that the reason for this is that Smartphone use can be a type of addiction very like addiction to the Internet. While it can be very rewarding to check your notifications and apps occasionally, it can also become very counterproductive and frustrating to do so compulsively.
This type of behavior can cause a great deal of stress which may spin into symptoms of depression and anxiety. This syndrome has been identified as the "fear of missing out" (FOMO). This syndrome causes phone users to check frequently and anxiously to make certain they haven't missed out on communications, interactions, social events and so forth.
What Causes Smartphones To Be So Addicting?
Of course the access to a constant stream of new information can be very compelling to mobile users. Additionally, researchers at San Francisco State University have identified the literal "bells and whistles" as a source of addiction. Researchers found that the alerts, vibrations, pings and chimes are rewards in themselves that spur Smartphone users to greater and greater use.
Furthermore, online content is designed to give users small rewards for participation. This results in steady doses of dopamine (the feel good hormone). This is exactly what causes people to become addicted to substances.
Researchers found that the more we use Smartphones the more our brains adapt to using them. They do this by forming specific neurological connections that then need to be fulfilled in very much the same way that opioid use fulfills specific receptors in the brain.
Addiction to phone use can also be a vicious circle. People who feel anxious, depressed, lonely or isolated may turn to their devices more and more frequently for solace. Unfortunately, the more they do this the more literally isolated, lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed they will become.
Addictive Smartphone use can also cause anxiety by causing exhaustion. As an addictive behavior, it draws people in and keeps them engaged even when they might or should otherwise be resting, exercising, eating or sleeping. This interferes with the body's natural needs for relaxation and regeneration.
How Do You Know if You Have Smartphone Anxiety & Addiction?
If you are suffering from Smartphone anxiety and addiction, you will probably experience a set of very easily identifiable symptoms. They are:
- 1You check your phone constantly. If you are looking at or listening to your phone instead of those around you, you may very well be addicted. To determine whether or not this addiction is connected with phone anxiety, try leaving your device at home sometime when you go out. If you find that you are very anxious and constantly wanting to check your phone, you may very well be suffering from Smartphone separation anxiety.
- 2You have a feeling that you must be always available. If you think that it's absolutely necessary for anybody in the world to be able to contact you at any given moment of the day or night, you are probably extremely prone to cellphone anxiety.
- 3You experience phantom vibrations. People who are addicted to their phones begin to experience imaginary signals from the device. This is a sign that you are a good candidate for Smartphone anxiety and that you should make some important changes in your relationship to the device.
- 4You feel guilty about using your mobile phone so much. Guilt about excessive use is a classic sign of addiction.
- 5Your Smartphone has a negative impact on your actual relationships. If you find yourself paying more attention to that hunk of plastic in your hand than to human beings, pets and the real world, you are addicted and highly prone to cellphone separation anxiety. Remember that reality is much more important than technology.
Can this Happen to Anyone?
Technically, yes. Anyone and everyone is subject to becoming addicted to all sorts of things; however, it is more likely that people who are already predisposed to problems such as depression and anxiety and/or are already under a great deal of stress will be more likely to develop Smartphone addiction which will exacerbate their symptoms of stress, depression and/or anxiety.
It's also important to keep in mind that studies so far have not been able to identify whether excessive use of Smartphones is the cause of mental illness or vice versa. In other words it's not really clear whether or not people who have or are predisposed to mental illness are at greater risk to cellphone addiction, but it's a fair guess that that is the case.
The reason for this is that people suffering from depression may also turn to their Smartphones more and more often to avoid negative thoughts or to find social interactions. The same may be true of people suffering from anxiety who may feel compelled to keep extremely close tabs on their social and media accounts to avoid FOMO.
People under stress may become addicted to their Smartphones as a way of escaping the day-to-day grind. In these cases, excessive Smartphone use would be considered a symptom of the overarching problem rather than a cause of that problem.
How Can You Deal with Cellphone Anxiety and Addiction?
Researchers have found that the same protocols that help people overcome addiction to substances can help overcome Smartphone addiction.
- 1Schedule: One of the first things you should do if you feel that you are overusing the technology is to set yourself a schedule. Establish a specific time of day when you check your social media and email and respond as needed. Otherwise, turn off your Smartphone and don't allow it to steal your day away from you. Let your friends and relations know when you will be taking and returning calls.
- 2Be present: Make a concerted effort to actually be present in the moment. For example, it is a bad idea to look at your phone and/or listen to music on headphones while you're out walking or exercising. Put your device away and be in that moment so that you can truly take in all the benefits of nature and of spontaneous interactions with people you encounter.
- 3Develop other interests: Read a book, play a game or sport and/or take a walk outdoors for fifteen or twenty minutes every single day with your mobile turned off and in your pocket or backpack. It's important to have a means of communication for safety, but there's no point in even attempting to engage in other activities if you're going to spend the entire time staring at or listening to your phone.
- 4Exclude your phone from rest and recreation: Shockingly, almost 90% of people sleep with their Smartphones. Put your phone in another room and let it charge while you're sleeping. Turn it off and use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake you up. Never use your mobile device while you are eating.
- 5Prioritize people over technology: When you go out with friends, turn off your cellphone. Always remember that the person standing in front of you is far more important than anything that could be calling you into that device.
- 6Take charge: Remember that you own your Smartphone for the services it can provide you and the convenience it can bring. Don't allow it to take over your life and cause you stress, anxiety and addiction.
What if You Can’t Kick the Smartphone Habit?
If you are unable to take control of your phone use, you may need to seek out professional help from a cognitive behavioral therapist, psychologist or counselor. There are even groups dedicated to overcoming technology addiction. To locate help in your area, begin with the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
Technology changes, improves and develops day by day, so it is very difficult for researchers to keep up with its effects on society. Nonetheless, dedicated efforts will continue toward identifying and mediating symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress that may be caused or exacerbated by excessive use of Smartphones.