Mindfulness & Anxiety

The Link Between Cell Phones and Anxiety

By Kyra Heenan

Cell phones are more ubiquitous than ever. You’d be hard-pressed to find an American adult who leaves their home without their cell phone in their pocket or purse, even if just for a quick errand. With the rise of smartphones, we have access to anything we want—communication, games, information, navigation—with a few taps of a finger.

On top of that, with the influx of social media use, seemingly everyone is connected at all hours of the day, and most of us rarely choose to turn off our phones and disconnect from it all for a bit.

Naturally, while this connectedness allows for a more globalized world, it also comes with its downsides, especially when it comes to mental health.

The Studies on Cell Phone Use and Mental Health

As cell phones have become more commonplace, researchers have increasingly studied their effects on our mental wellbeing.

In a review of 23 peer-reviewed articles on the topic, researchers found ample evidence that exhibits a link between smartphone use and anxiety, as well as depression and increased stress levels. With higher levels of smartphone use came reported higher levels of these disorders.

One study found that participants who had high levels of regular cell phone use experienced separation anxiety from being apart from their phones. On the other hand, participants who had lower levels of cell phone use did not experience those high levels of anxiety when separated from their phones.

Another study even found that some highly cell phone dependent participants experienced the same symptoms of addicts experiencing withdrawal. When we get a notification, we experience a hit of dopamine—and it can become addictive.

How You Can Mitigate the Negative Effects of Cell Phone Use on Your Mental Health

Our phones have practically become an extension of ourselves. For many of us, when we take a hard look at our phone habits, we realize just how attached we have become to our devices.

Since we have concrete evidence on the link between cell phones and anxiety, it is smart to break down bad cell phone habits. These are a few practices you can implement to keep yourself from mindlessly staring at your screen and scrolling through social media apps.

  • Establish strict no-phone times in your typical routine. Decide on a few times during your typical day when you aren’t allowed to look at your phone. Maybe you don’t bring it to the dinner table, or you officially disconnect 30 minutes before bed. Setting this ritual will help you approach these moments more mindfully, and bring down the anxiety associated with constantly checking your phone.
  • Set a no-phone timer. When you are at home or work, you might be particularly prone to mindlessly checking your phone – even if you haven’t received any notifications. Throughout the day, set aside some chunks of time where you aren’t allowed to look at your phone until a timer goes off. Even allotting just 20 minute periods of time can be beneficial. You’ll still be able to satisfy the need to check your phone, but won’t be automatically reaching for it every free moment you have.
  • Set a daily time limit reminder on apps. Certain social media apps have created a setting that you can turn on where it warns you when you’ve reached a set daily amount of time on the app. Many also track the amount of time you spend on an app so that you can go over this data. Take a look at this information – the data on the average time spent per day on an app might be enough to convince you to limit the scrolling.
  • Turn off notifications for the non-essentials. If your phone beeps or vibrates every time you get a new like on Instagram or a friend request on Facebook, you have more of a temptation to check your phone more regularly. Leave your ringer on for the essential notifications – like phone calls and text messages – but turn off any noises for apps that are less vital.
  • Don’t leave your phone on your bedside table at night. Anxiety and a poor night’s sleep go hand in hand. Add the temptation of checking your phone when you can’t fall asleep, and you have a night of no rest ahead of you. If you use your phone as your alarm in the morning, leave it on the other side of the room. Better yet, get a real alarm clock, and leave your phone in a different room as you catch some Z’s.

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