Are you addicted to your phone?

Physicist and author Michio Kaku said, “Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969 when it placed two astronauts on the moon.” Smartphones are extraordinarily advanced and have changed the way we communicate. However, despite the positives of advancing technology, there are also drawbacks, such as the development of “nomophobia,” the fear of being without a mobile phone. People can also become addicted to social media; it is usually the games, apps and online networks that become addictive rather than the physical phones themselves.

As with a substance or alcohol addiction, Internet addiction impacts brain chemistry, particularly the ratios of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), creatine and glutamate neurotransmitters in the brain. These results are correlated to rates of depression and anxiety in the affected population, and the chemical imbalance can have physiological side effects including drowsiness and anxiety. Additionally, these sorts of addictions can negatively impact the quality of life by fueling anxiety, increasing stress levels, exacerbating attention deficit disorders, disturbing sleep patterns and diminishing concentration and critical thinking.

Addiction can also encompass a variety of impulse-control problems, such as online compulsions including gambling, gaming, online shopping, cybersex addiction (including compulsive abuse of pornography or sexting) and virtual relationships such as the compulsive use of dating apps.

So, how do you know if you’re becoming or already addicted to what’s on your phone? Warning signs can include trouble completing tasks (including homework and assignments), isolation from family and friends, experiencing FOMO (“fear of missing out”), hiding or lying about how much you really use your smartphone and feeling anxious or panicked if you leave your smartphone at home. Additionally, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping, irritability and craving access to your smartphone or the Internet are good indicators that you may have an addiction.

The good news is that there are a number of strategies you can use to get your smartphone and Internet use (or overuse) to what is manageable and healthy. The first step is (can you guess?) recognizing that you have a problem, so if any of the symptoms mentioned above sound familiar, take some time to reflect on whether your use of the Internet and smartphones is healthy and is improving the quality of your life, or if it is a distraction. Some self-help tips for getting your addiction under control include recognizing underlying problems that may support your compulsive behaviour, recognizing the triggers that make you want to be on your phone or the Internet and strengthening your support network by increasing the number of in-person interactions you have while reducing the number of online encounters where possible.

If you have any questions, would like to learn more or have suggestions for next week’s column, feel free to email me at healthintern@mta.ca. You can also email wellness@mta.ca to book any appointments at the Wellness Centre. Be sure to download the Campus WELL app for more interesting articles and the chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card! As always, stay happy and healthy!

Rachel McDougall
Rachel McDougall is a contributor to the Argosy.