Has your smartphone taken over your life?

Or maybe its not the smartphone as much as social media that you can’t switch off from?

Either way, smartphones are now so central to our lives that being separated from them for even a short time can put people into a high state of anxiety.

Yep, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this. But where’s your phone right now? Close to hand I’ll bet. And if it chirped or buzzed or rang you’d pick it up almost immediately to check who said what about whom where, and especially to see if it was a like for something you posted earlier.

For something that didn’t exist before 1992, the first smartphone was launched by IBM more than 15 years before Apple set the iphone loose on the world, smartphones have become an almost essential part of life today.

I actually didn’t have one until December 2016 and now can’t believe how I managed without one.

However, I am still happy to switch it off or even leave it behind when I go out. And here’s why. I don’t have a huge gallery of photos on my phone, I rarely take it out with me because I’m not used to using it as a pictorial diary that details my life and all my coming and going, and so I could lose the phone and little fuss would be made.

However, those people who suffer from ‘smartphone separation anxiety’ (a real thing) have phones that play a key part in recording their lives, in documenting their activities, in cementing their identity. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms act as a huge, continually evolving scrapbook of our lives. Posting about events you’re attending, what you’re doing and with whom, has become a key part of our experience and now plays a huge part in how we remember those events and talk about them with others. Phones are passed round for people to view our photos in the same way old packs of photos collected from the chemist when they’d been developed once were.

What’s worse is when we use social media, any and all of the platforms, our brain gives us a hit of dopamine.

‘Dopamine loops — With the internet, twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.’ Susan Weinschenk Ph.D.

And when your phone isn’t immediately at hand, you can’t post about what you’re doing or react to what your friends are posting. People are becoming more and more attached to their phones as the phones themselves evoke more and more personal memories, which in turn intensifies the tendency to always have your phone in close proximity. Usually in your hand or your pocket or by your side.

Whilst it may all seem a bit harmless now, technology is becoming increasingly personalised with smartphone and app development tailored to individual needs and tastes, which suggests an ever increasing level of dependency.

One 2013 study of mobile phone users in the UK found that more than half of the population claims to suffer from nomophobia – the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

In the 18-26 yrs age bracket, researchers found that people were only able to spend a few minutes away from their phone before getting stressed.And in further research, it was shown that people can derive comfort from just the presence of a mobile phone, which may act as a substitute for human connection, much like a baby blanket can soothe a fractious child.

In an increasingly disconnected world, where human contact is almost a choice, I fear the consequences of this further alienation from other flesh and blood people. I wrote about this in a previous blog, The Undiagnosed Killer of Millions,  about a  75 year long Harvard study that looked at what made people happier, healthier and more successful.

And it shows that good relationships with other people keep us happier and healthier. It turns out social connections are good for us. People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to their community are not only happier, they are physically healthier and live longer.

So what happens when that contact is through the distant, computer enabled reach of social media rather than up close and personal?

Connection is a fundamental human need and no amount of likes, votes up and comments can fill the void of person to person communication, all the smiley face emoticons in the world can not deliver the same sense of warmth, love and acceptance as a hug from someone who cares about you.

I recommend in my Releasing Stress mp3 that people have no phone hours and no phone evenings. I would suggest people start switching off at 7 pm and not switch on again until they are ready to leave home in the morning.

I believe that this is something that needs guidelines set out now, as many people do not regulate their mobile phone use at all and some parents allow their children unobstructed access to their smartphones night and day.

This is creating a mental, emotional and physical crisis that will hit us in the not so distant future.

Clinical hypnotherapy for smartphone addiction. It may sound silly and trivial, but its really not.

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