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Jessica had a lot on her plate. She had spent four years in college to a get a degree in a subject that didn’t help her land the job offers she was hoping for. She was currently working in an administrative type of position for a company that she didn’t much like, with a boss who undermined her on a regular basis. She had gone out on a few dates but none of the men who she went out with seemed like great boyfriend material. Her studio apartment made her feel isolated and lonely, especially since she had just moved from a different state a few months ago. She didn’t have a lot of new friends here, and work gave her just enough money to stay afloat. In short, she felt lost.
The one thing she could count on though, every day, was the outlet her phone provided for her. She would check social media obsessively at work throughout the day, and look at all of the pictures that her old friends would post of their supposedly fabulous lives. Later at night when she got home, she would scroll through social media, or dating sites, or compulsively watch Netflix series until she had to fall asleep. She knew that her life felt meaningless and she knew she was unhappy, but the phone provided a fantasy world for her to feel connected to other people.
Jessica, like so many others, struggles with an addiction to her phone. 30 years ago, we met people through daily encounters, and made friends by having to connect with real people. Now, none of that is necessary because we have an outlet that connects us to other people, and we don’t even have to leave the house.
If you feel like you can’t even stand in line at Starbucks without checking your phone, you aren’t alone. There are chemical and emotional reasons behind your addiction, and there are solutions out there that will lead to a more fulfilled, reality-based life. Here are some things to know about our addiction to cell phones.
1. Loneliness and insecurity are part of the root cause. Not everyone who is addicted to their phone is lonely or feeling isolated, but many are. Sometimes, interacting on an interpersonal level with other people in real life has made us feel awkward and insecure. Maybe we don’t feel comfortable being our true selves, or we become stressed about meeting people in the old-fashioned way. Cell phones provide a way for us to connect with others and fulfill our loneliness without putting on the added pressure of actually dealing with people in real life.
2. The addiction is similar to a drug addiction, physically. Clicking on apps, scrolling through Facebook, and looking at our “likes” gives us small rushes of dopamine, similar to other drugs out there, (albeit on a less intense scale). When we see a new response to something we’ve posted online, or a new “heart” on one of our Instagram posts, it gives us this small rush, which makes us come back for more. Like any addiction, the only way to solve our obsession with more dopamine, is to go “cold turkey”, or at least to cut back, if possible. It will be difficult, and you will probably feel more anxious for a few days, but after a while you will notice the beautiful world around you and start getting a natural high from reality-based encounters.
3. An addiction to your cell phone causes anxiety. Many of us become addicted to our cell phones because we have anxiety disorders, and our phone provides a temporary release of anxiety. Think of it like a cigarette, we know it’s bad for us, but it calms us down, momentarily. However, just like a cigarette, our addiction doesn’t actually calm us down. Looking at everyone else’s supposedly “happy” life on Facebook can make us feel more depressed and alone. And the problem is, many of the posts that we see don’t even depict reality, so there’s no need to feel depressed and anxious! Nobody posts a picture on social media while they look their worst! What you see on there probably isn’t what is really going on in that person’s everyday life. So why torture yourself?
4. Real experiences are more rewarding. A lot of times when we go travel, we see everyone taking out their phones to take a picture of a specific landmark or location. While it’s great to take a picture of a wonderful memory in time, it also distracts you from actually enjoying the memory in that very moment. Instead of pulling out your camera right away, look at the beautiful sunset with your own eyes for a few minutes. Stare in awe at the Statue of Liberty and take it in. Then, take a picture later, after you’ve soaked in the beauty.
5. Cell phones can destroy relationships, so start putting yours away more often. We see it all the time. Couples will go out to dinner, and while eating, both people on their phones. One is texting another friend, and the other is checking in on Facebook to show off how fabulous the restaurant is. Why are we doing this? Try and make it a point to put your cell phones down while eating or hanging out with your significant others. Interact more, get to know one another. Everything on that phone can wait, at least another hour or so.
It’s difficult in our modern-day society to simply give up our cell phones if we have an addiction to them. We need our phones in order to communicate with one another, our employers, and the rest of the world. That being said, we can try and minimize our time on our phones by only using them during certain hours of the day. Or, take a break completely and let everyone know that you are “unplugging” for a few days. Get outside, take a walk, interact with people around you. Learn how to enjoy what’s right in front of you instead of what’s on your screen. Your mental health will thank you later!