Are you in a toxic relationship with your smartphone?
Smartphones have become an accepted part of our personal and professional lives and, in many cases, an extension of our hands! But how much is too much? When does your phone time become an addiction? And how can you begin to take back control?
If you’re on your smartphone so much that you’re neglecting your daily responsibilities or other important things in your life, you may have reason to worry. Smartphone addiction, sometimes described as “nomophobia” (no-mobile-phobia or fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fuelled by an internet overuse problem or internet addiction disorder. That is, it’s not the phone itself that is addictive but all the internet-enabled apps, tools and games that keep drawing us in.
Smartphone addiction can show up in various ways, including an over-emphasis on virtual relationships versus real relationships and compulsive online surfing that leaves you isolated for long periods and struggling with information overload. It can also be associated with addictions to cybersex, online shopping or online gambling.
Some warning signs of mobile phone overuse
According to PsychGuide.com, you may have a cell phone addiction if you have four or more of the following symptoms / signs and if your phone use is causing significant harm:
- A need to use your mobile more and more often to achieve the same effect
- You’ve tried to use your mobile less often without success
- You’re preoccupied with smartphone use
- You turn to your mobile when experiencing uncomfortable feelings (like anxiety or depression) or to feel satisfaction / relaxation
- You use your phone excessively and time spent on it is characterised by loss of sense of time and urgency to be connected
- Your phone habits put a relationship or job at risk
- A need for the newest cell phone or for more applications
- Withdrawal when your phone or internet is unreachable (including anger, tension, depression, irritability and / or restlessness)
In a review in Frontiers in Psychology, the following important warning signs / symptoms are also flagged:
- Having a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO) when your phone or internet is out of reach
- Using your phone in dangerous situations or in prohibited contexts (e.g. while driving)
- A loss of interest in other activities
- Chronically and impulsively checking your device
- Preferring your phone to personal contact
- Anxiety and loneliness when unable to send a message or receive an immediate response
- Stress and changes in mood due to the need to respond immediately to messages
- Continuing the behaviour despite its negative effects
Tips to help you manage your smartphone use
The following are some practical and effective ways to reduce your smartphone use. Remember, however, that professional help is required to overcome an addiction.
- Identify your problem areas and recognise the triggers that make you reach for your phone
- Keep a log of when and how much you use your mobile for non-work or non-essential activities
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day and / or be off your phone for one day a week (e.g. Saturday or Sunday)
- Set a deadline every evening when you’ll switch off, and don’t use it again until the next morning
- Don’t bring your phone to bed and don’t charge your phone near your bed
- Replace your smartphone use with healthy activities that bring you joy, like meditating, reading a book or going out with friends. It’s important to dedicate time to hobbies and your interests or passions.
- Remove social media apps from your phone and check them only through your computer
- Change your phone settings to help you reduce your mobile usage (turn off notifications, set a longer password, use airplane mode, remove distraction-based apps from your home screen)
- Turn your phone off when you’re not intentionally using it
Remember that we need technology to work for us, not the other way around. If you are concerned about your phone behaviour and need more support, it might be helpful to talk with a counsellor.