The average American spends as many as five hours each day using a smartphone. Many of these individuals become upset, even belligerent, when they lose access to their electronic devices, for whatever reason. Smartphone use can prove every bit as addicting as drugs—and can also have some of the same consequences as other types of addiction.
Individuals suffering from mobile device addiction may suffer from the following:
- Increased risk of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression
- Decreased interest in outside activities
- Loss of control over cell phone use, including an inability to moderate mobile device use, even under pressure
- Decrease in ability to concentrate on ordinary tasks
- Increased overall stress levels
- Decreased creative thinking ability
Many people fail to realize that they have succumbed to mobile device addiction. They may even note symptoms in a spouse, child, or friend before they notice those symptoms in themselves. Remaining aware of the potential for addiction—and taking steps to prevent it—can help you use your devices in a healthier manner.
Signs of Mobile Device Addiction
Are you addicted to your mobile device? Do you know someone who is? You may notice some of the following signs and symptoms stemming from that addiction.
1. You frequently lose track of time while using your device.
You have every intention of just sitting down to relax “for a minute,” but once you pick up your device and start scrolling, you get sucked in. You frequently realize that you have lost more time than intended while engaged in mindless tasks, including social media use and mobile games. Even when you have clear intentions or plans for your day, you may grow sidetracked by your mobile device.
2. You become actively combative when someone tries to take away your device or prevent you from using it.
If you try to deny drug or alcohol addicts access to their drug of choice, they may become combative, belligerent, or angry. Smartphone addicts will display the same behavior related to their phones. If you have chosen not to attend an event because you knew you could not take your phone, or you have grown excessively frustrated when someone, including your employer, denies you access to your phone, you may suffer from mobile device addiction.
3. You grow anxious as your battery percentage drops, especially if you do not have the means to charge your phone.
Your phone represents your connection to the world, and without it, you feel yourself growing anxious. You may even notice physical symptoms of anxiety, including increased heart rate, dry mouth, or sweaty hands. In some circumstances, anxiety follows a real need for your phone: when using it as a GPS in heavy traffic, for example. In other cases, however, this loss of battery does not cause you any real difficulty other than disconnecting you from the phone itself. People suffering from smartphone addiction may continue to use their phones, even as the battery drops, and even with the knowledge that they need that power for other, more important tasks in the future.
4. You notice your overall ability to pay attention to tasks dropping rapidly.
As your mobile device addiction increases, you may find yourself engaging in more activities that dramatically shorten your attention span. Social media, in particular, requires you to digest small bits of information quickly before hurtling you on to the next example. You may notice that you no longer have the capacity to keep focused on a single task, or that you constantly feel the need to click away from a work assignment to check your social media, take a look at your phone, or go through your emails. If you already suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD) or another attention-related problem, you may notice symptoms increasing, even if you take all other steps to reduce those symptoms.
5. Using your phone causes stress.
In the early stages of smartphone use, you may find mindlessly scrolling or playing a game relaxing. As you become more addicted, however, you may notice your smartphone use causing, rather than reducing, stress. You may, for example, become stressed out if you do not check in on social media, or find the rewards in a game so important that you become anxious about acquiring those rewards. The more you use your device, the more you may struggle with anxiety, even when engaging in activities that may otherwise appear relaxing.
6. You feel phantom vibrations or think you’ve heard your phone ring even when it did not.
The vibration of your phone indicates that a reward is about to arrive: a text message or social media notification. Immediately, your brain gets a short burst of pleasure hormones, leaving you excited. As your addiction grows, you may feel phantom vibrations: the suggestion that a reward is imminent even when no such thing occurred. These phantom vibrations may also produce stress, leaving you checking your phone repeatedly in case you got a notification.
7. You withdraw from other activities, friends, and family members, preferring to spend time alone with your phone instead.
Most people need to spend some time alone, recharging and rebuilding their energy levels, especially after a tough day. Smartphone addiction, however, can cause addicts to do more than simply spend time alone. Over time, they may withdraw from friends and family members, preferring to spend time with their devices. Addicts may also catch themselves checking their phones and scrolling through social media even when actively spending time with loved ones.
8. You wake in the middle of the night to check your phone.
The blue light coming from your phone’s screen can actually interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, and you know this. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop you from rolling over and picking up your phone any time you wake up at night. Sometimes, you even wake just to check your phone. While you know this activity disturbs your sleep, you still feel compelled to check your phone every time you wake up.
9. You feel a sense of urgency when it comes to checking or using your phone.
If you have been away from your phone for even a short time, you must check all your social media profiles and your text messages immediately. You feel a sense of urgency related to remaining connected. You may even feel compelled to check your phone repeatedly within a short period of time. This symptom may manifest even when you have other important tasks at hand.
How to Combat Mobile Device Addiction
Have you noticed yourself—or members of your family, especially teens—struggling with mobile device addiction? Do you want to make sure that your family members don’t become addicted to their mobile devices? Try some of the following strategies to help combat the addiction and let your mobile device remain the tool it should be, rather than a drug you require to get through your days.
1. Set specific times when you and your family members cannot use mobile devices for any reason.
You may start, for example, by limiting phones at the dinner table. Sit down at the table and talk to each other, rather than glancing at one another over your separate screens.
You may also choose not to have phones in the following situations:
- When out for specific events. Are you out on a date night with your spouse? Unless the babysitter calls because of a problem with the kids, you have no reason to check your phone. You should take that time to focus on your loved one, not on your mobile device. Spending time together as a family? Put down the devices and focus on actively enjoying the company of each other, instead.
- When going to bed. Consider plugging your phone in for the night in another room. Insist that teens, in particular, keep their phones outside their rooms while they sleep. Even if they have friends texting in the middle of the night, they have no reason to answer immediately. Break the habit of checking your phone in the middle of the night by ensuring that you cannot see or answer notifications until the next morning. If you do need your phone by your bed for some reason, turn off notifications and resist the urge to check it until the next morning.
- During special playtime. Set aside device-free time for your kids. You want your kids to know that they rank above your phone in your life! Set aside a few hours each day to spend device-free time with your kids. Put down your computer, your phone, and any other devices, and spend time actively connecting with your kids instead.
2. Engage in at least one hobby every day that has nothing to do with your device.
For many people, technology has gradually replaced many of the activities that they once enjoyed. You might, for example, check social media instead of actively spending time with friends and family members. You might use an app instead of reading a paper book, doing a puzzle, or participating in a craft.
As you work to break this device addiction, spend time every day engaging in a hobby that does not involve your phone or another mobile device. Put the phone down and go for a long walk around the block—and note the beautiful scenery around you instead of scrolling social media or texting the entire time.
Read a paper book, not something on a screen. Do a puzzle or a craft. Over time, you will find that your enjoyment of these activities increases and that you can focus longer, especially as you remove your phone from your life more often.
3. Remove the apps from your phone that cause the biggest problems.
Some apps represent convenience, making it easier to take care of activities that people used to have to perform in person or with a desktop device. Other apps, however, result primarily in mindless activity that accomplishes little in your life. Uninstall those apps that represent the greatest loss of time in your day—especially the ones that suck you in without offering real value.
If you have to go to your computer to check that information, you may find yourself less likely to lose time to those activities. You can also try turning off the notifications on those apps, which will prevent you from getting sucked into your phone every time it buzzes.
4. Track your usage.
Install an app on your device that tracks your usage each day. Let your app show you how much time you’re really losing with that mindless device addiction. It may surprise you just how many hours you lose each day to your phone, especially when it comes to mindless scrolling. Once you identify the problem, you may find yourself with considerably more incentive to fix it.
5. Set alarms and limits.
If you struggle to set your phone down after just a few minutes, set tangible, hard limits that will stop you from using your device. On a child’s device, you may want to install an app that shuts it off after a certain amount of usage. You can use the same trick for an adult’s phone or set alarms or other reminders that will let you know how much time you have spent on your device and remind you of other things that you need to take care of.
6. Understand and accept why you use your phone.
Many people use their devices to compensate for a lack of physical connection with loved ones: to curb the loneliness. Others use them out of boredom. Understand why you use your phone, accept it, and then look for strategies that will help you; specifically, quit the habit and engage in healthier activities instead.
Smartphone addiction continues to grow across the nation. By acknowledging the problem, however, you can put yourself in a better position to do something about it. Over time, you will learn how to limit your device use and use your device as intended: as a tool, not as an addictive device.