YOUR SMARTPHONE AND YOU — Is It Time To Take Control?

Two blogs ago I wrote about being   Anxiously Overwhelmed.  At the time I had somewhat of an information overload that led me into writing last months blog titled      Social Media And Our Emotions. Well, it appears that I still had some information that I wanted to share that I felt would round out the series with this last blog which I titled “Your Smartphone And You –Is It Time To Take Control?”                       

All three of the blogs even though each one had its own theme, they all shared a common denominator. The denominator being communication technology and the influence it has on our lives. If any of you have a Facebook account perhaps you have seen a meme that shows a serene image of a lovely cottage next to a lake surrounded by woods. It asks, “Could you live here for free if it meant going without cable, internet and phone?” Most people responded by saying they would have no problem whatsoever, sign them up! Of course this was their answer while they had their phone in their hand, were still connected to the internet and the tv was probably on in the background! (insert major eye roll here)!

So, how about you? Would you be able to go without any of these services? To be honest, I’m not sure just how long I could go without them. This technology has become such a part of our everyday lives we probably don’t realize just how much we take for granted that we can and expect to be connected 24/7 to the world around us by something we carry in our pocket. It sounds like a wonderful thing but I wonder, are there any drawbacks?

95% of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind and the share of Americans that own smartphones is 77%. Smartphones are now basically full fledged computers that research has shown the average time spent per day by individuals on their devices is over four hours. People start and end their days on these devices, not only referring to them through out the day for information, communication and entertainment but using them in business as well. A lot of business today happens online instead of in an office or meeting room. Between phone calls, texts, emails, and notifications from multiple social media sites, keeping up with all the inputs can feel like a full-time job.

I personally find these facts interesting because I remember when there was no such thing as a personal computer, laptop, or any type of cellphone, let alone a smartphone that did everything. My telephone growing up was tethered to a wall somewhere in the house by a cord that constantly kinked. A “text” was something read from a book. My TV viewing consisted of three channels or maybe five or six with a UHF antennae. AND, at 2:00am after the stations went off the air? — Nothing, nothing but white noise until the next morning when the stations signed on for the day. And “man oh man!” my friends wouldn’t have even thought to call me late at night!

Now I will say that smartphones can and has made navigating through life much easier in so many ways. However, as with most things there is a flip side. For some people, instead of owning the technology they have allowed the technology to own them. Don’t you find it ironic that through technology we gained freedom to take our phones anywhere in the world and yet with that same technology we can find ourselves restricted by the short leash we have tied psychologically to our smartphones?

It is this “flip side” that I want to talk about. In the past, people could “switch off” after work by just going home or they could take the phone off the hook so any callers would be met with a busy signal until they were ready to re-engage again. But smartphones with all its capabilities and notifications popping up has brought with it an expectation that everyone should be available all of the time. Constantly being available has lead to skyrocketing levels of stress and anxiety for many people. When a person feels like they must be available at all times, their brain is never truly able to relax, which greatly increases their stress level.

As I wrote that last paragraph it got me to thinking. And now I beg the pardon of anyone reading this in advance who might be too young to appreciate what I am going to share now. But after I wrote about taking the phone off the hook I recalled how I felt when I would do that. I remember feeling a sense of relief that I had taken charge of my time. I would be oblivious if someone was trying to get ahold of me. When I was ready to re-engage I would simply put the phone back on the hook. I don’t even think I gave it too much thought. Nor do I remember worrying about if someone had tried to get ahold of me. I just figured if it was important they would call me back later. Easy-peasy!

Being connected 24/7 is not all it’s cracked up to be. Our dependence on mobile devices has crept up on us over time. Software makers have mastered the ways to keep smartphone users compulsively engaged. The technology has been manipulated to leverage our brains habit-forming tendencies. The down side of this has led to a range of problems. Here are a just a couple of fascinating albeit troubling facts that this non-stop connectivity has brought about:

  • Sixty-five percent, or about two in three people, sleep with or next to their smart phones. The percentage is even higher among college students.

  • It can cause disconnect anxiety; a feeling of discomfort that occurs when a heavy internet user is unable to access the online world.

  • Nomophobia – (Yes, this is a real term) The fear of being without a mobile device, or beyond mobile phone contact. It is said that 66 percent of all adults suffer from Nomophobia.

  • More than half of users never switch off their phone.

  • Instead of interacting with one another in person, we interact with keyboards and screens and we are becoming disconnected from one another.

  • It has blurred if not obliterated the lines between work and life, causing real unwanted consequences both at work and at home.

If you find yourself relating to any of the above facts or recognize any of the behaviors below, it might be beneficial to seek professional help:

  • You constantly check your smartphone, even when it doesn’t ring or vibrate.

  • You turn to your smartphone when experiencing unwanted feelings such as anxiety or depression.

  • You regularly lose track of time while using your smartphone.

  • You ignore what’s happening in real time around you in favor of what’s happening virtually.

  • You get paranoid when you do not have your smartphone with you or when your battery dies.

  • You check emails, browse the internet, or text while driving.

Communication devices have become so invasive. They are overly present at every occasion. Whether it is the workplace, dinner table, family gatherings, you name it, where there are people, some form of communication device will be present. Research has shown that the over usage of this technology can impact our mental health in a negative way.

If you can relate to many of the behaviors above and feel concerned about your smart phone use, try to take some time away from it. If you find that you unable to, maybe it’s time to get some help. The good news is there are treatment options available to you. Please call me (Kris Henderson) at 616-516-1570 or click on the website link to schedule an appointment and together we will find a way to put you back in charge of your time and technology.