How Excessive Smartphone Use Affects Us

Smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives, and with the increase in notifications and social media, many will agree that it can be hard to put our phones down. The constant need to check for messages or updates can lead to anxiety and detachment from the real world. 

Studies have shown that excessive smartphone use can lead to decreased productivity, social and mental health problems.

And although many big tech giants are trying to make us even more dependent on their products and services, many addiction treatment specialists are expanding on how therapy and counseling can help individuals regulate their use. 

Elisabeth Dantendorfer, clinical manager at CATCH Recovery clinic in London, believes that excessive smartphone and social media use has a similar effect on the mind to substances. 

“In essence, you are creating an environment of instant gratification and reward. Compulsive behaviours in any form can hijack the reward pathways in the brain, which in turn can leave some individuals craving more of the activity they enjoy”. 

She added: “The difficulty is that smartphones are an integral part of our lives now, so unlike substance abuse, moderation is the main goal in treatment. 

The Dopamine Rush from Notifications

Notifications on smartphones can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the feelings of pleasure and being rewarded. When we receive a notification, the brain experiences a small rush of dopamine, creating a sense of satisfaction and making us want to check our phones more frequently. This cycle of reward and reinforcement can lead to a dependence on notifications and, ultimately, on smartphone use. 

Research has shown that the frequency and predictability of notifications can further increase their addictive potential. For example, intermittent notifications (where notifications are received at random intervals) have been found to be more addictive than constant notifications. Additionally, notifications that provide social feedback (such as likes or comments on social media) can be particularly potent in triggering dopamine release and reinforcing smartphone use. 

It’s important to note that not everyone who receives notifications will develop a dependence on their smartphone. However, notifications can exacerbate problematic smartphone use for those vulnerable or who have underlying mental health issues. By understanding the science behind notifications and smartphone addiction, we can take steps to manage our phone use and reduce the negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.

The Use of Colors & Features for Keeping Us Hooked

It’s no coincidence that app icons and interfaces sport specific color schemes. App developers cleverly use colors to keep users hooked and addicted to their apps. Colors can influence emotions and behaviors, which is why app developers use them strategically. For instance, red creates a sense of urgency and prompt action, while blue is associated with trust and calmness.

App developers can make their apps more visually attractive and engaging by appealing to our subconscious. This results in users scrolling and clicking for extended periods, increasing engagement and usage. Nonetheless, it’s critical to be mindful of this tactic and use apps wisely. While getting caught up in the colorful and visually appealing interfaces is easy, taking breaks and limiting usage if necessary is crucial.

Four Things to Do to Limit Your Smartphone Use

  1. Set boundaries: Limit your phone use to specific times, such as during lunch or after work. This helps you stay focused and avoid distractions.
  1. Turn off notifications: Notifications can be a considerable disturbance. Turn them off or restrict them to essential messages only.
  1. Use apps to help: Many apps can track your phone usage and set limits. For Apple users, the Screen Time feature allows users to track their phone usage and set time limits for specific apps. Android users can use the Digital Wellbeing feature to monitor their app usage and set screen time limits. Another popular app for both Apple and Android users is Moment, which tracks phone usage and offers personalised coaching to help users reduce their screen time. Forest is another app that encourages users to stay off their phones by growing a virtual tree that dies if the user leaves the app. These apps can help users be more mindful of their phone usage and maintain a healthier relationship with technology.
  1. Find alternative activities: Consider engaging in activities such as reading, going to the gym or running, or spending quality time with loved ones instead of immediately reaching for your phone.

Written by Lara Harper