Do You Need To Take A Digital Addict?

Is it time you took a break from the digital world? Melani Schweder investigates if we should switch off from our phones.

According to my iPhone, I spent an average of three hours and 24 minutes on my mobile every day this week. I picked up my device an average of 72 times, with the majority of those pickups used to check incoming social media notifications. When I see these hard numbers looking back at me, I admit it makes me cringe. But then I watch as my brain attempts to justify all of this digital stimulation. After all, there are people ‘worse’ than me, right?

Well, some recent research suggests that I’m squarely in the average smartphone use category, which turns out to be around three hours and 15 minutes. Apparently, the top 20 per cent of smartphone users are on their devices for over four and a half hours. But why are we so attached to our phones anyway? What is it about the digital realm that is so appealing? Why can’t we imagine leaving the house without our trusty device tucked in our pocket or purse?

Dopamine hit

A lot of it has to do with a little molecule called dopamine. One of our main neurotransmitters, dopamine plays a big role in how we feel pleasure. Thus, this affects how we plan our future actions (often, to maximise pleasure). Studies have shown that every time we receive a notification on our phones, our brains release a little hit of dopamine. On a less molecular level, it makes perfect sense that we receive pleasure from these notifications. They reinforce the idea that we are wanted, needed, important, and engaged with the world.

Nowadays, we are used to hearing the word ‘addiction’ linked to our phone or other device usage. But, there is still some debate on whether it meets the diagnostic criteria for a true addiction. It does seem to come down to how you feel or react, when you are separated from your mobile. If you find yourself truly anxious, unable to concentrate, or having obsessive thoughts about your device or what you’re missing out on, these are often red flags to signal that you’ve gotten into an unhealthy pattern.

A modern phenom  

Personally, I believe that we’re not a society of phone addicts (a decidedly negative connotation), but we’re a society of connection addicts. Our electronic devices are simply the main way that we connect with others in the modern era.

Despite the positive benefits that we receive from being on our devices (social connection, productivity, etc), there are many downsides to staring at our screens for hours on end. Here’s just a few worth mentioning:

  • Eye strain and headaches
  • Neck and shoulder tension (aka ‘text neck’)
  • Consistent distractions reducing our attention span
  • Lack of boundaries between work/personal life
  • Lower sleep quality from screens’ blue light
  • Higher levels of electromagnetic radiation (EMF)
  • Replacement of authentic, in real life conversations
  • Unhealthy encouragement of FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Higher risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues

Time to detox?

Out of everything on this list, the issue that concerns me the most is the last one. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that increased phone use, particularly on social media platforms, is correlated with higher rates of depression, particularly in teens and young adults. Even if we are not consciously aware of it, being constantly bombarded with images that portray unattainable perfection is wearing us down. Social media, despite its strengths, has a nasty tendency to throw us into comparison mode, which can eat away at our self-esteem, encourage negative self-talk, and potentially trigger harmful behaviour patterns.

Here are some ways that you can enjoy a digital cleanse:

  1. Schedule entire days that you do not use your phone (true emergencies exempt). Either turn your phone off completely, or keep your phone in airplane mode. Challenge yourself to go an entire 24-48 hours without it.
  2. Uninstall your most tempting apps, like Instagram, Facebook, Gmail, etc for a whole day, weekend, week, or month.
  3. Designate certain areas of your home as ‘no phone zones’. Place a basket or bin at the entrance of that space, for phones and other devices. Some suggestions would be the family room, the dining area, or the bedroom.
  4. Install apps that help you monitor and control your screen time. Within these apps, you can set limits and watch your progress. Some of my favourites include Moment, Space, Off The Grid, and iOS’s Screen Time feature.
  5. Practice doing activities without your phone nearby, like going for a walk outside, having coffee with a friend, working out in the garden, or making dinner.
  6. Turn off your notifications. The fewer pings, buzzes, and chimes we receive, the less likely we are to pick up our phones.
  7. Start powering down your devices one to two hours before bedtime.

For more from Melani, visit abrighterwild.com, or find her on social media @abrighterwild