By Vanessa Kensing, LMSW
A few weeks ago, after a long day at work, I got home, and almost immediately dropped my phone into the toilet. I know, gross. And while my phone was meant to be waterproof, during the disinfection process I dropped it again, this time on the floor, thus ensuring its total demise. In the following 36 hours without a phone, I realized my dependency on the device in ways that were troubling. Repeatedly, I found myself picking up or reaching for it in my purse, despite knowing that it was not functioning. As it happened time and again, I began to check in with myself and saw a pattern emerging.
Read a stressful email on computer- pick up phone
Worry about previous day’s events - pick up phone
Think about to do list around home- pick up phone
Wonder what to do this weekend - pick up phone
Think about an appointment, friend, scheduled event, etc. - pick up phone
As I continued to follow this pattern, I realized how much I used my phone as a tool to distract, avoid, and alleviate my anxiety in any given situation. Which lead me to think… Am I addicted to my phone?!?!
So what does constitute an addiction? According the American Psychological Association (APA), an addiction is a complex condition wherein a behavior is done compulsively despite harmful consequences. While the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5) focusing almost solely on addiction to substances, such as alcohol or other drugs, there has been a push towards both diagnosing and treating behavioral addictions, such as gambling, internet, sex, love, and yes, even an addiction to our phone.
Why do we become addicted? While there are many theoretical avenues we could explore, simply put, addiction is about seeking pleasure and reward, avoiding negative thoughts or feelings, and self-soothing.
What does it look like to be addicted? Certainly there is a lot of individual differences and diversity when it comes to addiction. However, we can look to this cluster of behaviors to get a general picture:
Urges and cravings to engage in a behavior
Engaging in said behavior decreases anxiety temporarily, and lifts mood (reward)
A need for more of the behavior over time to achieve the decrease in anxiety and reward, also known as tolerance
Dysphoric state (restlessness, irritability, preoccupation) when not engaged in the behavior
Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop the behavior
Engagement in behavior even when it has a negative impact
What to do? Perhaps like myself, you identify with some of the behaviors mentioned above. Whether it’s in relation to your phone, the internet, Netflix, etc., you recognize a hyper reliance on a specific behavior to help you cope with negative thoughts and feelings. The healthiest way to address this is by expanding your insight and means of coping. Therapy is a great place to understand why this pattern began and begin to find alternative ways to deal with distress. Depending on your situation this may include, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, identifying additional self care activities, and so forth. Likewise, if you are noticing a greater severity in relationship to these maladaptive behaviors, more intense treatment may needed. To explore this topic further in therapy please reach out to Cobb Psychotherapy.
Vanessa Kensing, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like to work on developing alternative coping mechanisms or increasing mindfulness, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.