6 signs of excessive smart phone use

6 Signs of Excessive Smart Phone Use

Smart phones. You may well be reading this blog on one. According to statista, 95% of 16-34 year olds own a “smart phone”. A device which connects us to the digital world of social media, emails, texts, phone calls, mobile banking, GPS navigation, google amongst many others. Modern day smart phones can be defined as PDA’s (personal digital assistant), which used to be a separate device, which is what technically separates a “smart” phone from a standard mobile or cell phone . All in all they are rather useful and have become a big part of modern day life. However, I am left wondering about our ways of communicating on smart phone and the impact this has on our lives. Are we really connecting with those who we have these digital interactions with and what impact does this have on our wellbeing?

How does this relate to our mental health?

Excessive smart phone use has been proven to have an impact upon our wellbeing in the form of:

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Loneliness

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Self absorption

  • Limited deep thinking

  • Loss of self confidence

Smart phones facilitate overuse and therefore create an “addiction”. They create a behavioural compulsion within to respond to the sound of a ping or a chime tone, meaning it can become difficult to ignore new text messages, notifications or emails. According to Dr Erik Peper neurologically our brain is making a connection with the sound and a need to respond, which is a similar physiological response to an addict taking a substance. The addiction to smart phones has made its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).

There is also an impact upon physical health too- with reports suggesting that overuse can have an impact on eyesight, hearing and posture.

What is “excessive” smart phone use?

1 Time spent on a smart phone

According to research using or checking a smart phone over 60 times during a day is a sign of addiction. It has been highlighted that university students are the demographic most at risk of developing excessive use.

Another sign we are spending too much time on our phone is noticing other tasks are not getting completed, or not realising how long has been spent looking at the device, you meant to spend 10 minutes just quickly checking your email, but then an hour has passed, maybe you are falling into the trap of excessively using your smart phone.

Becoming so engrossed with a smart phone demonstrates a sense of self absorption, meaning there is less awareness of the world around us, not noticing the time passing by is a significant sign of this.

2 Semi-Tasking

This means using your mobile phone when you are completing other tasks, such as eating or watching TV however by semi-tasking your brain is unable to fully focus on one task, which could result in either the task being incomplete of badly performed.

Our brains can become overstimulated, overwhelmed and overloaded with the information provided by multiple sources. When I think of being overwhelmed, I immediately associate the word with anxiety, therefore it would be fair to suggest that the behavioural pattern of using a smart phone whilst carrying out other tasks causes anxiety.

3 Experiencing FOMO

“Fear of missing out”. The best description I can think of for this is being a child who has been sent to bed, but can hear their friends playing outside, feeling like it is unfair that their parents have sent them to bed. I suppose this links most of all to social media. Scrolling through a social media timeline of other peoples posts, thinking how great everyones life is. Essentially comparing self to other.

When thinking about how this impacts upon our mental health, I think about the impact this has on self esteem and self belief. After all what is posted on social media is a filtered lens of what others wish to portray about themselves, therefore the comparison is “real” life vs “rose tinted” filtered life. We no longer compare ourselves with airbrushed celebs, we are comparing ourselves with our peers.

4 Avoiding other emotions

Is your smart phone a coping mechanism? If so, there becomes a negative feedback loop-as the process of looking at the smart phone may worsen the already negative emotions within.

The most important part of this symptom is recognising it as a symptom, although it might be difficult to spot.

We are more likely to avoid difficult emotions, however they are just as equally valid as other emotions. Talking therapy offers the space to explore difficult feelings.

5 Late night use

Are you staying up late using your mobile phone, or sleep with your smart phone next to your bed? You’re not alone, 71% of people either fall asleep holding a smart phone, in bed, or on the night stand. Many people use their phone as an alarm, however, there is a strong temptation to engage with your phone when it is on the bedside table, “just” checking that text or email can be a temptation.

This has been linked to poor sleep quality, as the blue light omitted by a smart phone is misinterpreted by the brain as daylight, so the body produces melatonin, which interrupts the circadian rhythm- which helps the body know when it is time to go to sleep. Poor sleep quality has also been linked to increased risk of depression, stress and anxiety.

6 Loneliness

Feeling lonely or preferring to contact friends and family digitally- evidence shows that the face to face relationships impact upon us greater than digital forms of communication, as we get additional feedback from others such as body language, which is missed by digital communications.

In a busy world, these devices open up the endless possibility to keep in contact with others far and wide. Although, I am wondering what impact this has upon the quality of the connection experienced. When sitting in a cafe or restaurant, I often see couples and groups of people sitting together all looking at their individual smart phones, meanwhile not engaging with each other. My experience of this is as an observer is a deep sense of sadness within me, as I am seeing a missed opportunity for relational depth with the person sitting right in front of them. After all I question how much we can really listen to one another whilst being absorbed within a digital world.

The Oxford dictionary defines loneliness as “the fact of being without companions”. By this definition, the premise of merely being with someone is enough to not feel lonely. However it is possible to feel lonely despite this. A person could be in a crowded room full of people, who could be companions, however a connection is made by reaching out to one another. I question if we are cutting off the possibility to truly connect with others in a physical form in front of our very eyes, in favour of the digital world our smart phones facilitate.

It could be argued that smart phones are connecting us to others through social media. However, smart phones don’t just use social media, they have games and other distractions on them that draw its users attention away from the present moment they are in.

In conclusion, smart phones are a great way of managing modern day life. However the evidence does show that they may be harming our health. Being mindful of how you use your mobile phone may be positive, particularly if you already experience any of the symptoms above.

From carrying out the research for this blog, I have concluded that my own smart phone use is a bit like cake, tasty to eat, however I know I should only eat a slice and not the whole cake.