SMARTPHONE addiction is becoming a more prevalent problem in modern society.
Disengagement from society and increased stress and anxiety levels are all consequences of the growing phenomenon.
The Evening Echo spoke to counsellor and psychotherapist Emma O’Leary Doyle to get a handle on the issue.
Ms O’Leary Doyle works part-time with My Mind, an organisation which provides affordable and accessible mental health services across four centres nationally in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
Emma said from her experiences as a counsellor and psychotherapist, she has noticed smartphone addiction is a growing issue.
“I am seeing it more and more in sessions,” Emma said.
“It creeps in when people are talking about stress, anxiety and having relationship issues. It seems to be a factor in a lot of broader issues and it is on the increase.”
New research by iReach Insights appears to back this up, finding that almost half of people in Ireland (48%) think smartphones should not be allowed in schools at all.
The survey which asked 1,000 adults about their mobile use and their opinion about smartphones in Irish society, also found that 64% of people with children who own a smartphone think that their child is addicted to it.
More than that, 88%, think that Irish teenagers are addicted to their phones, and 83% say that smartphones should offer more settings to protect children and teenagers.
Ms O’Leary Doyle emphasised the value in smartphones but said for some people they are a vice.
“Smartphones are a fantastic resource. 90% of the population have access to a smartphone. They are really good for people who are suffering from depression, that want to reach out anonymously to others. They are good for fitness and they are a good all-around source of information.
“However, definitely how we are interacting with them as a population, and the impact they are having on us is an issue.
“I suppose it is changing who we are as people and it is also intensifying issues such as anxiety, stress and sleep deprivation and all that.”
Emma said the issue has become particularly notable in the past two years and said the problem affects people from all walks of life.
“It is not just social media and young people, it is also older people, middle-aged people, that are suffering from a lot of pressure at work and they have constant access to their emails. They never actually switch off and it is just magnifying the stress. So in the last couple of years, I have definitely seen a bigger increase in it.”
Emma said smartphone addiction often comes with other issues, such as anxiety.
“For a number of people, it seems to be an underlying factor in their overlying issues.
“I think if someone has anxiety or low self-confidence, and then they go on Instagram, looking at all these pictures on their phone, comparing themselves to others, it can intensify body issues.
Looking at the consequences of smartphone addiction Emma said it can have a big impact on relationships with partners, family, friends and colleagues.
“If you are in a relationship and you are constantly on your phone, it can lead to jealousy and trust issues, because a partner is looking you on your phone, wondering what can be so important.
“The person can start to feel devalued as you seem to prefer your phone to talking to them. Also, it can impact people’s ability and willingness to engage with people.
“A lot of people are texting and emailing so much they forget how to interact on a human level. It can actually cause people to get anxious about real social situations, where they need to interact with people or react to something off the cuff because they can’t hide behind their phone where they can think of a response.
“The everyday things like walking down to the shop, people are getting anxious over that because they are so used to communicating over the phone.” Another thing that can occur is increased levels of stress and frustration.
“Over the phone, we can get answers to things pretty quickly. We have instant gratification, if we want to look up something, if we want to connect on Facebook, it is very very instant and that doesn’t apply to normal life.
“So if you are at work or you are doing a very normal task, it can actually cause you to become stressed out because you are used to getting everything quickly.”
Another problem Emma outlined with smartphone addiction is a negative effect on cognitive ability.
“I think it can have an impact on people’s brain power because you are accessing so much information so quickly, you are not actually thinking for yourself.
“You are going on to Google to get your answers for everything because you are not actually using your brain. This can affect your cognitive ability and your literary skills also are reduced through overuse of the smartphone.”
When looking at tackling the problem, Emma said the first thing to figure out is the extent of the addiction.
“First you need to know if it is actually a problem for you. Smartphones are an excellent resource, but you need to know how much is too much.
“You can check that by looking at how many times you interact with your phone, throughout the day. Notice if you are checking your phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night, notice if your bill is going too high. Notice your reaction if you forget your phone or your battery dies, are you able to get on with your day?
“Also notice when you are speaking to others, do you have your phone in your hand, that’s a big one.”
Once you have established the strength of your addiction, Emma said there are a few small things that can help such as reviewing your phone and the apps you have on it.
“Look at your phone and see what apps you have on it. Figure out which ones are helpful and which ones do you use the most.
“Then look at your notifications and see if you are getting push notifications from apps that you no longer use and causing interference that you don’t need.
“Look at your friends on Facebook and the Instagram pages that you follow and notice if any of them bother you, because some people like to really persecute themselves and go look at peoples pages and suddenly you are looking at the girl up the road who goes on holiday every week, has ten kids and looks like a Victoria Secrets model and is wrecking your head, so get rid of it.”
Another helpful tip is to leave your phone down when you come into your home.
“Get a little box, put it near your front door and get into the habit of putting your phone in the box and leaving it there. You can put on your ringtones so if it does ring you can answer it, but you are not walking around mindlessly with it.
“That will help you to consciously engage with your phone, because what happens an awful lot of the time is you intend to make a phone call we pick it up, we make a phone call, and then we are flicking through apps, so pick it up say ‘I am going to make a phone call and then put it back in the box’.
“I also think people should challenge themselves to go without their phone for a little while. So maybe take a short walk down to your local shop or do some activity without your phone. Just do something small and try to remember what it was like without all the noise.”
Other helpful tips include not using apps and google to figure out things you probably already know.
“Use your natural resources more, such as your brain more often. Like when you were young and you forgot the name of a song, you would be racking your brain trying to think of it and now you can just Shazam it. We are losing the satisfying feeling of figuring out things for ourselves.”
Emma’s final tip is to buy an alarm clock and stop using your phone in bed at night.
“What happens is, you end up checking it and then you can’t sleep properly. Forget about your phone, get a proper rest and wake up to an alarm clock.”
As more and more people become addicted to their smartphones, Evening Echo reporter Roisin Burke talks to a counsellor and psychotherapist who has witnessed the problem up close.