Breaking digital addictions

girl holding smartphone while looking out window

Did you see the recent study from Harvard noting that increases in Facebook use correlated with decreases in well-being, even after controlling for baseline levels of use? This was the case even when the study participants were “liking” and posting, rather than merely “lurking” on social media. The authors conclude:

“The full story when it comes to online social media use is surely complex. Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences. What seems quite clear, however, is that online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing.” – Shakya & Christakis, 2017 (emphasis is mine)

In previous posts, Phubbers and the iPhone Effect and Stuck in Cyberspace: The hidden dangers of Internet addiction, we discussed the power of technology to pull us out of our everyday lives and even put our relationships at risk.

Nonetheless, we all see the benefits of using computers and smartphones, and even television and video games can have valued uses. Ideally we want a balanced relationship with our technological gadgets. Remember that overuse of technology is a habit, and like all habits, it can be hard to break. Also, we often handle social anxiety by retreating into our digital worlds; this doesn’t help us build relationships or deal with discomfort.

This HelpGuide.org resource lists key features of smartphone addiction, includes an online quiz, and offers tips to help break digital addictions. Here are some of the highlights, along with a few tidbits I’ve learned through working on my own smartphone use:

  • Make technology your servant, not your master.
  • Goal is to cut back to healthy levels of use.
  • Think before you automatically pick up phone.
  • Turn off notifications on apps and games.
  • Review responses before sending.
  • Make “good habits” easier and “bad habits” harder. Remove apps or move icons off home screen
  • Keep phone away from bed (light filter).
  • Read “real” books in bed. Also, e-readers that do not emit light should not disrupt sleep.
  • Buy an alarm clock.
  • Adjust your settings to silence your phone at night. The timer/alarm will still go off and certain contacts can still call through for emergencies.
  • Realize: You don’t get those minutes back that you spent aimlessly drifting through the internet.
  • Set goals for when you can use your smartphone and use a timer to keep yourself honest.
  • Turn off your phone at certain times of the day.
  • Replace your smartphone use with healthier activities (e.g., physical activity, talking to others, reading, etc.).
  • Spending time with other smartphone addicts? Play the “phone stack” game: Everyone stacks their phones in a location out of arm’s reach, and just interacts with each other.
  • Limit “checks” of your phone. Wean yourself off compulsive checking.
  • Maybe most importantly, curb your fear of missing out, and tune in to what is going on around you. You may really be amazed at what you see and who you talk to when your face is not stuck in a screen!

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s

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