The addiction problem nobody is trying to fix

I have a serious question for you about your relationship.

Not your romantic one…

I mean the one with your phone!

Or, more specifically, your relationship with the internet (and all its many platforms, tools and alerts) as it exists in a little black box you carry around with you.

How much time do you spend on it? How distracted does it make you? How anxious, angry, irritated or inadequate does it make you feel?

And how uncomfortable do you feel when you DON’T have access to it?

Because I can confess, smartphones drive me mad.

I’ve a naturally addictive personality – as you know from the stories I’ve told about my numerous issues with eating carbs and sugars to ridiculous excess.

And smartphones are no different.

Given free reign, I could scroll for hours through social media posts, news items, commentary, forums and whatever… without barely registering what’s happening around me.

Yet do I enjoy it?

Not really – because when I send too much time on my phone my anxiety levels rise from all the bad news, worrying predictions, and general horror in the world.

But despite this, I end up habitually checking my phone, even when I don’t need to, thereby letting myself get sucked in time and time again.

It’s also not great for my ability to work productively…

To write newsletters like this every day I need to focus on research and writing…

And when I am not doing that, I need a break from screen time for the sake of my poor eyes and brain – not to go straight to my phone for yet more digital input.

Sometimes I find myself out on a walk, in the inspiring and beautiful English countryside, only to find myself checking my phone…

And for WHAT!?

I started to think about this subject after I got an email from a Good Life Letter reader, Valerie, who writes:

“Personally, I think that one of life’s pleasures is sitting round my dining table with my family, enjoying a nice meal without interruptions from mobile phones, but it seems that many people can’t be bothered. Sadly, the world is not getting better with all the dependence on technology.”

I completely agree.

Although I’d argue that it’s not just that people can’t be bothered – it’s that they have become physically and psychologically ADDICTED.

And when I say, physically, I mean it…

The chemical reason why we constantly reach for our smartphones

When you find an exciting piece of info on a newsfeed, watch a short video clip, or get a notification (eg. a message or ‘like’ on social media) your brain releases dopamine.

This creates a sense of pleasure and reward, encouraging you to repeat the behaviour.

Over time, your brain associates smartphone usage with feeling good. The more you use it, the more your brain expects another reward, creating a cycle where you keep reaching for your phone to get that dopamine hit.

Just like with other addiction, your brain builds a tolerance to dopamine. This means you need to use your phone more and more to get the same pleasurable feeling.

When you try to reduce your usage, your brain misses the dopamine and gets withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling anxious, irritable, or bored.

This makes it harder to stay away from the phone, pushing you to use it again to feel better.

In that sense, it’s a lot like drugs or alcohol!

Yet it is not a problem being properly addressed or fixed because it is not considered an immediate health threat.

I’d argue that this isn’t the case, though.

  • The dopamine-driven addiction can result in prioritising phone use over healthy physical activities and meaningful relationships.
  • Constant notifications and the pressure to respond quickly can lead to heightened anxiety and stress levels.
  • Social media images of rich folk with enhanced physical features, or filters that ‘improve them’ can create feelings of inadequacy. Comparing ourselves with others online can negatively impact our self-esteem and lower our mood.
  • The blue light emitted by smartphones can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This can lead to issues like insomnia, low energy and poor concentration.
  • Prolonged screen time can cause eye strain, leading to symptoms like dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches.
  • Constantly looking down at a smartphone can lead to poor posture, neck and back pain.
  • Overuse of fingers and thumbs for texting and scrolling can lead to repetitive strain injuries.
  • Spending excessive time on a smartphone can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle, increasing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other health issues related to lack of physical activity.

So this is definitely a slow burning health issue – and one that will have far-reaching effects.

But there are signs of a backlash…

The Digital Detox Trend

Last month I read about how kids from Generation Z are ditching ‘smartphones’ for ‘dumbphones’ that you can only call or text on – like we used to have in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

For example, ‘The Boring Phone’ is a featureless flip phone that’s becoming popular.

Joe Birch, a technology analyst at research company Mintel told The Guardian that “there is evidence of this generation modifying their smartphone behaviour, with concerns around the negative impacts of being constantly digitally connected driving this.”

Then last week I read an interesting article about a trend in The Netherlands for ‘digital detox’ cafes and clubs where people voluntarily give up their phones at the door.

Groups like the Offline Club and Off the Radar organise events where attendees are totally cut-off from the internet!

The article explained that too much screen time and reliance on technology lead to addiction, lack of healthy coping mechanisms, and social-emotional underdevelopment.

But psychologists claim that taking some proper time offline can reverse some of these negative effects.

If that’s true, then it’s good news for any hardcore smartphone addicts reading this – that is, if you can find a way to control your digital urges.

Here is what I do…

  • I switch off all non-essential notifications on my phone.
  • I don’t have the social media apps on my phone – I only access them in controlled periods via my computer.
  • I have an automated setting that turns the screen black and white and shuts down any incoming alerts from 10pm until 7am.
  • I try to leave my phone in a different room when I am working, researching, reading, cooking or eating meals.

But of course, you’ll have your own methods which suit you and your lifestyle.

The key is to recognise when you’ve gone from using your phone as a tool… to becoming a tool that is being used by your phone!