Take a minute to think about whether your phone use might be problematic.
While “smartphone addiction” hasn’t yet become a diagnosable disorder, it’s clear that our dependency on electronics can easily become an unhealthy obsession.
But where is that line between a busy productive person who uses their phone for many hours each day and an individual who keeps scrolling and swiping to the extent that their behavior has become problematic?
Well, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the guide that mental health professionals like myself use to make an official mental health or substance abuse diagnosis), symptoms only become a disorder when they impair with social, educational, or occupational functioning.
So it’s less about the amount of time you spend engaging in a behavior, and more about how many problems that behavior causes in your life.
So when it comes to your smartphone use, there isn’t a set amount of hours or minutes that would determine your behavior is unhealthy. Instead, your use might be a problem if you experience these impairments.
1. It impairs your social life.
While many people try to convince themselves that their social media interactions are enhancing their social lives, quite often, online communication is impairing face-to-face conversations.
If you spend social gatherings staring at your phone, your relationships are likely being harmed. Or, if you opt out of social opportunities because you’re sitting around on your phone, your social life may be impaired.
2. Your friends and family express concern.
If other people are annoyed by your smartphone use, take it as a sign. While you might not think you’re on the phone too much–or you might believe you have to be on the phone to manage your workload–other people feel it’s impacting your ability to communicate and connect with those around you.
3. You engage in dangerous behavior.
If you can’t resist the urge to reply to a text message while you’re driving, it’s a problem. Similarly, if you are staring at your phone while you cross the street, you’re putting your phone ahead of your personal safety.
4. Your work suffers.
Whether you’re a student or you’re a graphic designer, if you can’t stop using your phone, your productivity will decline. You might produce lower quality work because you keep responding to constant distractions. Or, you might take twice as long to get your work done because you are distracted by your phone.
5. You get upset when you can’t access your phone.
If you feel sheer panic when you can’t access your phone or the internet for a few minutes, you may have a problem. You may grow agitated, irritable, or anxious when you can’t check social media or respond to your latest emails.
6. Your sleep is impaired.
If you stay up later than you intend because you’re staring at your phone–or you check your phone whenever you wake up in the night–your phone is interfering with your ability to sleep. You also might find you stall getting out of bed in the morning because you’re checking your phone.
7. You experience health-related consequences.
Some individuals experience acute pain–like finger pain from texting or neck pain from standing hunched over staring at a screen. But health issues might be more gradual too.
You might find you don’t take time to exercise because you’re using your phone. Or, you might grab more unhealthy food than usual because your phone time interferes with your ability to prepare healthy meals.
What to Do If You Have a Problem
If your smartphone use has become unhealthy, take steps to change your behavior. Use an app to track the time you spend on your phone and set limits on your use. You also might schedule times when you’re going to unplug–like during meals and after a certain time of day.
If you aren’t able to cut back on your use on your own, seek professional help. Just because smartphone addiction isn’t yet a diagnosable condition, it doesn’t mean you can’t get treatment. Talk to your physician about getting a referral to a mental health professional who can assist you.