You might not think of yourself as an addict, but you might be. Ever heard of nomophobia, doctor? Nomophobia is the fear of not having your smartphone, or the visceral feeling you get when you have no cell or internet service. Experiencing these feelings might be an indicator that you have smartphone addiction.
For many of us, smartphones have become socially acceptable security blankets. We alleviate our anxiety, chase away boredom, or sooth feelings of isolation with hours of mindless scrolling through social media, aimless web surfing, or candy crushing. All of this is fine in moderation, of course. But when it comes at the expense of actual human interaction, it becomes a bit more problematic.
Think this seems hyperbolic? Look around you. In a crowded elevator, how many people take out their phones to cope with the claustrophobia? At a bus stop, how many start scanning to deal with the boredom? At dinner, how many couples do you see staring into their screens instead of talking? Research shows our relationship to our devices has indeed gotten unhealthy.
Consequences of smartphone addiction
A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions set out to understand how the rise of smartphone use has influenced human behavior. Researchers also hoped to gain better context regarding other studies that have showed how excessive smartphone use has harmed “a minority of individuals.”
Study participants included 640 smartphone users, ages 13-69, who responded to a survey to assess Internet Gaming Disorder as well as problematic smartphone use, the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and the Ten-Item Personality Inventory.
The study links problematic smartphone use to anxiety, conscientiousness, openness, and emotional stability. Additionally, results showed that these factors, as well as age, were predictors of problematic smartphone use.
“Time spent using a smartphone was positively related to the length of ownership, narcissism, and anxiety, suggesting that increased time on a smartphone can lead to narcissistic traits and anxiety,” researchers wrote. “These findings were similar to previous research by Lepp et al. (2014), who reported a relationship between high-frequency smartphone use and higher anxiety, and to that of Andreassen et al. (2016), who demonstrated a relationship between social media addiction and narcissism. The findings also concur with research by Jenaro et al. (2007) who reported associations between high smartphone use and high anxiety.”
Social media use, which is practically impossible to separate from smartphone use, may be particularly problematic. A study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety looked into whether there’s any connection between social media use and depression among young adults. Researchers asked nearly 2,000 adults ages 19-32, to self-report their daily social media use. They also completed the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Depression Scale Short Form. When comparing the most frequent users to the least, the frequent users were at significantly increased odds for depression.
“There was a linear association between social media use and depression for all three social media use variables,” researchers concluded. “While some prior studies have found no association or mixed results, our findings are consistent with prior research that showed an association between social media use and mood dysregulation.”
What to do about smartphone addiction
Still not convinced your compulsive phone checking is a problem? Do a quick scan of this list of smartphone addiction warning signs from the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. If it seems like you have a problem, try the following ways to cut back on your smartphone use: