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Cellphone addiction and you

Stacey Hartley • Jul 17, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Do you find yourself being more wrapped up in online or virtual relationships versus actual ones?

Or feeling overloaded with information after a session of uninterrupted scrolling?

Maybe you don’t find yourself being emotionally affected, but physically, you’ve noticed you’re doing more squinting than reading, often have a sore and stiff neck in the morning, or feel a twist in your gut before, during and after checking your phone. 

If you’re feeling attacked right about now, there’s a good chance you might be addicted, and an even better chance you’re not alone.

“Screen addiction is now the No. 1 most pervasive non-drug addiction facing our society,” Josh Misner, a communication professor quoted during his “What I Learned from 10 Years of Digital Detox” Ted Talk.

Defined by popular science and technology magazine Scientific American, nomophobia involves feelings of anxiety or distress that some people experience when not having their phone (“I don’t know where my phone is!”), and the degree to which we depend on phones to complete basic tasks and to fulfill important needs such as learning, safety and staying connected to information and to others (“I’ll just get my phone to help me.”)

In the time since Dr. Martin Cooper produced the first commercially available cellphone in 1983 — the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X — we have become increasingly more dependent on our hand-held companions, as expected. However not expected, was a rise in dependency so considerable that it’s led to an unmistakable by-product called smartphone addiction.

“People don’t realize the negative consequences of tech use, because we consider mobile phones a necessary, integral part of our lives,” said Hilarie Cash, an Internet and tech addiction specialist.

Unfortunate side effects from being logged in too often include: 

• Increased loneliness, anxiety and depression;

• Sleep deprivation/disruption;

• Memory loss, decreased critical thinking and creativity, etc.

• Weakened eyesight;

• Bacterial infection;

• Accidents caused by careless or unsafe phone usage.

In 1983, the DynaTAC 8000X featured 30 minutes of talk time, six hours of standby battery power and a directory that could fit 30 phone numbers; that was then.

Now, most cellphones allow users to take pictures and record video, navigate from point A to point B, and access the world wide web. Perhaps most importantly, with social media they allow you to stay connected with those around you. All the time.

According to Bankmycell.com, a website that helps to track how much time is spent on your phone, and what apps (applications) are used, the average user checks their phone 63 times a day, and 86 percent of users are on their phones while visiting with family and friends. Of 18- to 29-year-olds, 22-percent check their phones every few minutes, 51-percent check a few times every hour, totaling to roughly 2,617 “taps, clicks, and swipes.”

“When we hear those dings, and we feel those vibrations, and we see those little red notification numbers, our brains kick in with this chemical reward system,” Misner reported.

“So if you think it’s funny or odd that the terms (that are used) are usually associated with addiction,” Miser added, “I’m doing it intentionally.”

With symptoms like restlessness, anger or irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep programs, and/or obsessing about having your phone at all times, that come when not holding your phone, how can anyone question the classification?

Well, despite ongoing concern about cancerous tumors or deaf and blindness from exposure to electromagnetic radio waves and artificial blue light, which has been studied globally for roughly a decade, research has been unable to definitively prove one way or another.

So, if medical pitfalls aren’t a sure thing, does that mean we can all whip out our phones without a care in the world? You can, but maybe you shouldn’t. 

In a Ted Talk titled “Why our screens make us less happy,” psychologist Adam Alter shared his own experience of taking a more prolonged break from his phone. “At first, it hurts,” he said, earning laughs from the audience. 

“I had bad fomo (fear of missing out). ... I struggled. But you overcome the withdrawal, the way you do with drugs.”

Fortunately, treatment is available; and the first step is not recognizing you have a problem with smartphone use — it’s recognizing what it is you’re actually addicted to: the internet.  

“Mobile phone addiction is an internet addiction,” said Cash, the Fall City treatment center co-founder. “People are not getting addicted to their dumb phones.”

With online gaming, streaming, purchasing, and access to pornographic or sex-friendly sites, there’s little reason for people to have to look any further than in their own hands to access them. Again, Cash reiterated, “All addictions have certain things in common, like the feelings of pleasure or release, the development of tolerance, and an experience of withdrawal when access is lost.” 

One of the best ways to unwrap yourself from all the content-rich web, is disconnecting from it by detoxing. Rarely, unplugging alone can be enough, but treatment centers for internet addiction recovery are designed to help make that transition, like the Restart Internet Addiction Recovery Center in Fall City, Washington, that cash co-founded. 

Here are some ways you can limit your phone use:

• Set goals for phone use during certain times;

• Remove apps (applications) that waste time or negatively impact your feelings;

• Play the “phone stack” game.

If you struggle from excessive phone use past the point of intermittent limits, try:

• Asking your primary care physician for a referral with a psychologist;

• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or other counseling types;

• Joining group or outside support networks; 

• Contacting detox and recovery centers for internet or online gambling addiction services.

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