I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was a sunny midday afternoon and traffic was bustling in downtown Seattle. A flurry of people rushed along a crosswalk as I waited at the light. One woman in particular caught my eye, she was pushing a baby in a stroller and seemed distracted. One of her hands pushed the stroller, and the other held a smartphone.
As she got to the middle of the crosswalk, she gave the stroller a slight push, which freed both of her hands. She then cradled her cell phone…and started texting. For a few seconds, the stroller moved along without a driver; in the middle of busy downtown Seattle.
Therapist Hilarie Cash might call this a tale-tell sign of smartphone addiction, and this mother is not alone. These days so many of us have an unhealthy attachment to our phones.
“We are very drawn to novelty and it activates a part of the brain that is curious and seeking,” explains Cash, the founder of ReStart, an internet addiction recovery program in Fall City, Washington.
"Cell phones are this powerful computer that gives us constant information. The new, the interesting and unpredictable. We feel rewarded with the next tweet and we are we ask ourselves, what will happen when I play Angry Birds?”
But as with any drug over time, overuse can be destructive. It isolates us from the world around us, and in cases where your undivided attention is needed (say driving or caring for a young child) the addiction can be downright dangerous.
Want to kick your habit? The first step is admitting you have a problem.
- Do you panic when you’ve misplaced your phone?
- Are you on your phone during social situations or in the presence of family?
- Do you carry your smartphone everywhere, even to the bathroom?
- Do you go to sleep and wake up looking at your phone?
Cash offers some simple tips to wean yourself:
Create Boundaries. Put your phone on silent. Stop alert notifications. Why do you need a notification to let you know someone “liked” your Facebook picture?
Cash says designate a time to check in and stick to it.
Out of sight out of mind. During family time or hanging out with friends, put your cell phone someplace where you won’t hear or see it.
DON’T sleep with your phone. The old excuse that “it’s my alarm clock” just won’t do. Buy an alarm clock – and store the phone somewhere else besides your nightstand or bed.
Go on a full detox. Use a weekend to do a full detox. Put it away on a Friday and don’t pick it up until Sunday. Cash promises that the world won’t end! Once you’re done with the detox, gradually implement some of the tips above. Cash says this action will give your brain a chance to normalize, and get back into the pace of normal life.
If you have problems setting these boundaries, Cash recommends additional therapy.
Are you addicted to your smartphone? Share some of your thoughts and experiences with us!