It’s true that we’ve entered an era in which almost everyone owns a smartphone and has it in hand at all times, whether commuting to work or going to the bathroom (it’s the perfect time to catch up on the news, am I right?). Some look at this increasing dependency on technology and social connectedness as a bad thing (ahem, Baby Boomers) while others see these gadgets as a simple way to make our lives easier.
“Before the smartphone era, we had to make the best of what was in front of us, be with the present moment and learn to enjoy it, and make an effort to connect with people who were in front of you, and now we don't have to,” says Foojan Zeine, PsyD, MFT, a clinical psychologist and renowned expert in body image and addiction issues. Though she says it’s not all that bad: “Technology has strengthened our global connection, making us more aware of diversity and transparency.”
In other words, there are obvious pros and cons that comes along with the daily functions served by our smart devices, as well as our dependency on their ability to serve these functions. But for our health and our happiness, and the survival of the relationships we hold dear, it is important to save the time we are on our phones for practical use. If you use yours on the reg, you’re far from alone, but if your use sounds anything like what’s listed below, you might be full-blown addicted.
You downplay the amount time you spend on your smartphone
According to Dr. Zeine, one key sign of addiction in general is the denial and minimization of the usage of the substance, object or action someone is addicted to. In relating it to overusing your phone, if you feel the need to defend how frequently your eyes are glued to your keypad, especially if you’re doing it because those around you are complaining about your behavior, chances are you’re overdoing it.
You use your smartphone as a distraction
Do you ever notice yourself fidgeting with your phone the night before you have a paper or a big presentation due? Dr. Zeine points out that a symptom of underlying addiction is the inability to deal with emotions, one of which being stress. For this reason, many people distract or numb themselves with a substance—which, yes, could be your smartphone. “If you don't know how to handle your boredom, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, shame or guilt and, instead of dealing and releasing and communicating it with people, you distract yourself with your smartphone, you might be addicted,” she says.
You like to spend more time on your smartphone than with people IRL
This one is hard to admit, or come to terms with, but if you notice yourself withdrawing from social activities or from interacting with those around you, you might be stuck in an unhealthy relationship with your phone. “Many addicts isolate due to their mental obsessive thoughts and constant preoccupation with the substance or action that they are addicted to,” Dr. Zeine explains. “If you lose interest fast because you are preoccupied with catching the latest news, playing your game or finding out where your friends have gone without you and cannot be present or interested in conversing with people around you, then are too reliant on your phone.”
You always have accessibility to your smartphone
If you keep your smartphone by your bedside so that your alarm wakes you up in the morning, that’s totally normal, but if you can’t be in a room without it by your side, or resist charging it because you wouldn’t be able to simultaneously use it, you might be addicted. “Most addicts make sure they have a stash some place close to them for the next craving,” explains Dr. Zeine. "Those addicted to forms of technology are no different. According to Dr. Zeine, it’s a red flag if you get very anxious about not being near your smartphone and constantly need to reassure yourself by touching it or turning it on and off to make sure that it is actually on and charged.
You have a ritual of checking your smartphone regardless of all other daily activities
Checking your messages is normal, especially when it comes to checking emails for work or texts from family and friends. But if you find that you’re constantly refreshing your email app so that they’re coming in by the second, that’s not healthy, says Dr. Zeine. “Most addicts prioritize the ritual of using a substance or an action despite all other activities,” she adds. “If you find yourself taking minutes of every hour to complete a certain ritual of checking every application on your phone, you may want to consider unplugging for a period of time.”
You check your texts or emails while driving despite knowing the consequences
Another symptom of addiction, according to Dr. Zeine, is using a substance or action regardless of the heavy consequences it entails for yourself or others. So, if you catch yourself texting and driving or have gotten into accidents due to use of your smartphone but go back to the same routine, then you are addicted—point blank. Speaking to a psychologist, especially one who deals with addiction, can help free you of this unhealthy dependency.