Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives, for better or for worse. We are connected to friends and family around the world at the tap of a screen and have the entire world wide web at our fingertips. Whilst these technological advancements have made our day-to-day lives easier in many respects, there is increasing evidence that our reliance on smartphones is becoming harmful to our health and wellbeing.
Adults in the UK now spend an average of two and a half hours on their mobiles each day, unlocking their devices over 50 times. While of course some of this time may be answering important emails, or checking in on family and friends, a large proportion of this time is spent procrastinating on time-wasting apps such as Facebook or Instagram. Many employers have even taken to banning mobiles during working hours, in an attempt to increase productivity and reduce procrastination.
Seeing the amount of time wasted on a handheld device can be a sobering experience and might just make you reduce your screen time
Over 50 percent of teens now consider themselves to be addicted to their smartphones, drastically altering the way they interact with one another. Whilst unlimited access to the internet can provide teens with the ability to connect to friends and access news and information, the ease of access can lead to compulsive and problematic smartphone use or increase the likelihood of ‘Facebook depression’, a term coined by researchers to define depressive episodes associated with excessive social media use.
At times, our smartphones can feel like an escape. Sometimes it is easier to immerse yourself in the “picture perfect” lives of others rather than face the realities of a stressful job or distressing things going on in the world. Instagram may be full of arty shots of avocados or ‘#fitspo’ posts, but it shows a distorted view of the world that people can become obsessed with comparing themselves to.
We all show our best selves on social media, choosing to forgo posting snaps of piles of laundry or half-finished essays in favour of glamourous snapshots of the one night a week we leave the house. As such, we are continually bombarded with images of how our life should look, which can cause anxiety, depression and sleep disorders in anyone from teens to middle-age smartphone users.
Teens may get the worse rap for being obsessed with their phones, but one in ten adult smartphone users admit to using their phones in the shower and even during sex. An even more horrifying revelation is that 50 percent of people admit to using their phone when driving, despite the fact that it is six times more dangerous than driving when drunk.
The term “nomophobia”, the fear of being apart from your smartphone, was first coined in 2008. With similar symptoms to anxiety disorders, nomophobia is not yet classed as a mental disorder but increasing research into our smartphone reliance has begun to uncover some of the negative impacts that excessive smart-phone use may have on our mental health. A YouGov study found that over 50 percent of mobile phone users in Britain develop anxiety-like symptoms when they lose their phone or their battery becomes low. If you feel anxious when you are without your phone, get phantom smartphone vibration syndrome or if you are constantly checking your phone for new texts, you may have some level of smartphone addiction.
At times, our smartphones can feel like an escape.
Apps such as ‘offtime’ or ‘BreakFree’ (iOS and android) can track your usage and screen unlocks and help to get your addictive habits under control. Seeing the amount of time wasted on a handheld device can be a sobering experience and might just make you reduce your screen time. Turning off notifications from social media can also reduce the temptation to check your phone every time you feel a vibration. No meme on Facebook is so urgent that it can’t wait to be responded to for a couple of hours while you focus in the library.