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Smart Phones: Loosening The Grip

Written By: Gateway, , Prevention

“Killing Time”
I have to put away my phone
I’m not trying to complain
But I never thought this small device
Would cause me any pain

I used to go unburdened
Not giving it a thought
But I realize now that it’s changed somehow
And I’m on it quite a lot

The phone keeps me connected
To what I sit and ask
To each and every person’s life
It’s becoming quite the task

I can watch my favorite shows
That doesn’t sounds so bad
The kitchen, car, airplane, and bathroom
Come on now, that’s just sad

I can search out every recipe
Endless work outs at my hands
But I get sucked in and can’t get out
Neglecting all my plans

So many pretty faces
Flawless bodies to compare
I scroll and like, reply and post
Then feel like life’s not fair

I have to put my phone away
Remove it from my sight
But I dread that anxious emptiness
Okay, that’s just not right

I need to move about more freely
Allow more space within my brain
Sit comfortably with my inner thoughts
Before I go insane.
-Alicja Carter, 2019


Do you have a smartphone?  If you said yes, then you are in good company with nearly 2.5 billion other people.  In many ways, these devices make our lives better, simpler, and easier.  They have redefined how we navigate our environment, communicate with our friends and colleagues, and purchase necessary (and not so necessary) goods and services.  Despite their many benefits, many of us believe that we spend too much time interacting with our smartphones and would like to reduce or be more mindful about our usage.  However, certain factors can make “unplugging” more difficult that we think.

  1. Convenience:  At one point in time, we had to have an alarm clock to wake us up, a CD player to play our music, a book or magazine to access a tasty recipe and a fold out map to get us where we wanted to\ go.  We were forced to pick up and put down these objects because not one could do it all.  These natural breaks made it less likely for us to form a habit around a single device.  Today, convenience and dependency often go hand in hand.
  2. Peer Pressure:  Today, many people carry smartphones in their back pockets or purses, ready to respond.  In turn, they can expect us to do the same.  We can come across as difficult, annoying, or even a little selfish if we do not answer a group text in a timely manner or wait until Monday to acknowledge a work email.  We may even hesitate to deactivate our Facebook out of fear that it would be harder for someone to reach us.
  3. The Dopamine Loop:  Our body rewards us with the neurochemical, Dopamine, every time we seek something out and find it.  This hit of pleasure encourages us to repeat the behavior.  It is no coincidence that Facebook or Instagram maintain screens that we can scroll through without interruption, coming across new content and feel good chemicals with every swipe.  In the same way, receiving notifications of text messages, emails, and sports highlights also trigger a release of dopamine.  However, similarly to substances, we can begin to develop a tolerance to these stimuli, needing more to achieve the same affect.  At some point, Dopamine levels may become depleted, leading to increased feelings of depression and disconnection.  Unfortunately, our answer is often to increase our usage, rather than decrease, as a way to cope.
  4. Withdrawal Symptoms:  Humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Although our screen time may be causing us to experience consequences, detoxing from them can prove equally as challenging.  Withdrawal like symptoms may include:
  • Restlessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep Problems
  • Craving access to your smartphone or other device

Technology is powerful.  Its accessibility, convenience, popularity, and intentional impact on our reward pathways make it difficult to “use in moderation” which can lead to a slow break down in our overall well-being.  However, by becoming more mindful of our smart phone behaviors and cultivating healthier boundaries around our usage, we can enjoy the benefits of technology while reducing the consequences.  The following are suggestions for achieving better balance:

  • Track it:  Many phones will allow you to view your screen time in order to assess where your time and attention is going.  As you review this information ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to be spending my time?” And “What would I rather be doing?”
  • Put it away:  Why not give into real human connection when we have the opportunity?  Turning off or putting away our phones and asking others to do the same can reinforce how valuable we are to one another.  Deeply engaging in the present moment with each other stands to both lift and sustain our spirits.
  • Turn off notifications:  Many of us may suffer from FOMO or a Fear Of Missing Out.  No matter how meaningful or exciting our present situation, we believe our phones have the potential to connect us to something “better.”  As we have previously learned, this frantic search for Dopamine hits will leave us unsatisfied and searching for more.  Turning off notifications reduces distractions and increases both our sense of focus and feelings of satisfaction.

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