I was recently on a sunny vacation, where I was determined at the outset to leave my smartphone alone. It was really hard! I succeeded in leaving it in the hotel room most of the time, but I must admit, I’d reach to check it and scroll my social media accounts quickly when I got back to the room.
According to Dr. Nikola Grujich, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook, reaching for our smartphones throughout the day can be a normal response, a compulsion or an addiction.
“Are you checking your phone to reduce your anxiety? That could be a compulsion,” he explained. “An addiction is typically a behaviour one would engage in to achieve short-term pleasure, associated with negative longer-term consequences”.
Dr. Grujich says many of us have an increased need to have a phone at our side at all times (mine is currently on my desk within arm’s reach).
“We often see our cellphones as an extension of our body and mind,” he said. “The cellphone carries all of our messages and communication – both professional and with loved ones. Access to the internet, in the palm of our hand, provided us with infinite information. Our photos, videos and social media feeds store many of our memories. Hence, smart phone equals indispensable.”
If your phone use is compromising your functioning in some way at work or school, or in your relationships, it might mean you need to cut back. If you can’t get through a real-life conversation without picking up your phone, that’s a sign of overuse.
“It is impossible to be present in a ‘live’ social interaction if you have your eyes on your phone,” Dr. Grujich said. “I am cognizant about the impact it has on my kids: if they see their parents glued to their phone, it will certainly distract from our time as a family.”
For people with work phones, it means your work-home life can blend together, and it might be difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance if you are continually check your work emails and respond. “I would challenge people to set firm boundaries around checking your phone and to respect cellphone-free time during the evening, or at least don’t check work email”.
Many phones now allow you to set time limits or reminders about your screen time.
“If you still can’t break the habit, and it’s affecting your life in a negative way, it might be time to get some help.” Consider seeking consultation from a mental health specialist.