Anxiety, Stress and the Overuse of our Smartphones – A Coincidence?

Can adults become addicted to smartphones and devices? Are we over using our mobiles and devices? Is our mental health being negatively impacted because of our device use? This article aims to help us think about these questions so that we can protect ourselves from the potential negative impact of overusing our smartphones and devices.

What does the research say?

Adolescent and young people’s vulnerability to device addiction, nomophobia (anxiety caused by a mobile device being unavailable) and the subsequent negative affects on their mental health are being increasingly documented. It would seem that fewer adults report addiction or dependency on their devices compared to adolescents however the research is limited as most studies are based on adolescents and young people. Addiction isn’t the only mental health impact of mobile phone use. The research is limited but it would seem that stress, anxiety, low mood and irritability could be linked to the increased pressure we feel carrying, checking and using our smartphones.

The Advances in Technology

Our smartphones and devices give us great benefits as they enable us to keep connected to the world and people around us 24/7. They offer us vast amounts of information at our fingertips. They allow us to conduct our work on another level. They give us flexibility to go almost anywhere in the world, with phone signal or wifi, and still be connected. They give us security to be able to seek help. They give us answers via the internet. They allow us to store and share our photos, videos and experiences. They wake us up in the morning. They have replaced the watches on our wrists and so much more. As technology improves our devices will no doubt do even more for us and become even more integrated into our lives. However, there is growing concern for our mental health due to overuse of our smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers. 

Mental Health Impact

Many articles have been released about the dangers of device addiction on the mental health such as the 2011 BMC Public Health study “Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults – a prospective cohort study”

This study concluded that people who used their mobile phones frequently were more likely to experience stress, sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression. 

Suicide rates are also being linked to the use of social media and online bullying. The recent suicide of Sophie Gradon from the popular British show “Love Island” has received a lot of media attention. She reported several times on social media and in interviews the difficulties she experienced from online trolls on her mental health. 

How to Protect Our Mental Health from Overusing our Smartphones

Firstly let’s ask ourselves a few questions to help us identify if there are any negatives to our current device use?

Does my device use negatively impact on my life?

YES            NO

Am I anxious or nervous about not having constant access to my devices?

YES            NO

Are there times when I am using my devices excessively?

YES            NO

Do I use my device when driving?

YES            NO

Am I distracted at work due to alerts, messages, checking my device?

YES            NO

Do I feel a need to respond immediately to my device when I have been messaged?

YES            NO

Am I missing out on physical and face-to-face connections because of virtual communications?

YES            NO

Am I experiencing the world through my device, for example when being in a new environment do I take out my smartphone to get a selfie or view it by recording a video?

YES            NO

When I am alone in public place do I immediately take out my device, for example traveling on a train, sitting in a coffee shop?

YES            NO

Do I find myself reading new feeds/scrolling social media rather than spending quality time with family and friends?

YES            NO

Do I feel connected to friends through social media without actually contacting them to ask them how they are?

YES            NO

Do I feel lonely even though I have many social media friends and followers?

YES            NO

Do I feel a need to check my phone or device regularly?

YES            NO

Does it scare me to think about being disconnected from my device?

YES            NO

Do I look at my device in bed?

YES            NO

Do I wake during the night and check or use my device?

YES            NO

Do I use my device while watching television?

YES            NO

If you have answered yes to several of these questions, it may be worth thinking about reducing the time you are spending on your mobile or device. Look again at the questions you have recorded yes and ask yourself if you would like to change your answer to a no. How would you feel if all the answers above were a no? Can you change your mobile and device habits so that your answers would change to no?

Practical Suggestions of Changing Our Mobile/Device Habits

Some of these may help, others may not work for you. We are all different and have different needs and preferences on how we use our phones/devices. I hope this list helps you to think creatively of ways that will best suit you and best help your mental well-being.

  • Go out for a walk without your mobile or device
  • Increase the time between hearing a notification alert and checking your device
  • Increase the time between reading a message/email and responding to it – respond at the most convenient time for you. Don’t feel pressured to drop everything to respond to every message or email. Find a balance that works for you. 
  • Be safe when driving and don’t use your phone. If you are expected to be available to your employer when driving, consider bringing this up as a health and safety risk – (you could be saving lives by protecting other staff members from being made to work while driving)
  • Keep your personal phone in your bag or in your locker when at work
  • Switch off, put on do not disturb or put on silent your mobile or devices whilst you are in bed or busy with a task.
  • Put on “out of office” email alerts when you are not available to respond to your emails
  • Put your mobile/devices away from reach when in bed
  • If you can’t sleep don’t use your mobile or devices (it will only stimulate you and keep you awake), read a book instead – not a kindle!
  • Limit the times you check your mobile throughout the day
  • Have a holiday from social media/emails
  • Delete your social media apps from your mobile
  • Turn off notifications on your mobile from social media apps/emails
  • Make a phone call instead of sending an email
  • Arrange to see a friend in person or on video call instead of keeping in contact through social media posts
  • Try going to a new place and not taking out your mobile or device – look around you. Breathe. Smile. Talk to the person next to you. If you are in a coffee shop, take a book, sit by the window and look out onto the world around you. 
  • On public transport, when you arrive at your seat acknowledge the people around you before taking out your device or don’t take it out at all. If you are able make small talk with the person beside you. Just say hello. Connect to the people you are physically around wherever you go. Smile and say hello. 
  • When you meet with a friend, keep your phone in your bag and give your full attention to your friend
  • When you are watching something awesome, try watching it with your eyes – instead of through your recording device.
  • Make family time no screen time – for example no mobiles or devices at the dinner table
  • Put your phone in a separate room whilst you are relaxing watching television, reading, spending time with friends and family.

Final Note

It is so important for you to reflect on any changes you are able to make. You may feel a bit more anxious initially at making changes but keep with it and in time your anxiety/stress will reduce and you will feel the benefits of not being so tied to your mobile/device. 

I hope this article has helped highlight the importance of looking after ourselves and making our mobiles/devices work for us rather than against us. 

If you are experiencing stress, anxiety, low mood, irritability at the thought of reducing your screen/mobile phone use, please speak to someone you trust or get in touch. Email me. Don’t feel alone. This is an increasingly common problem and is only going to get worse as our world relies more and more on mobile technology.

Thank you to RawPixel for this article’s feature image.

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