Is Your Smart Phone Stressing You Out?

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

Do you feel like you can’t escape the stress from work, or from your social obligations? Do they sneak up on you, even as you’re trying to have a few relaxing moments to yourself after a long day, or during a weekend that you’ve purposely left open for some well-deserved “me-time”? It might be your cell phone that’s causing the problem. We use our cell phones, especially our smart phones to stay constantly connected to the people who are important to us. We can instantly share news and photos with family via Facebook, find your friends’ hangouts via 4square, and check up on the office by logging into our work emails. This might seem like a great relief, but it can also be too much of a good thing.

There are a large number of mobile phone users who admit to feeling naked without their cell phones, and can’t stand to leave home without it. Cell phones keep us in touch, especially smart phones that allow us to check email and social networks just about anywhere. While being connected might give some of us feelings of security, there is also an abundance of evidence that links cell phone use and mental health problems. One study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests that we can blame our smart phones and other mobile devices for disturbed sleep patterns, increased stress symptoms, and even a rise in clinical depression! Women appear to be particularly affected by cell phone overuse, resulting in higher levels of stress and sleep disturbances. Both men and women are affected by the high accessibility of cell phones which contributes to stress, problems sleeping, and depression.

The effects of smart phones and other mobile devices on your mental health should be reason enough to take a break from checking your email and tweets every few moment. Unfortunately, so many of us have become dependent on these devices. Here are a few tips to help you reduce smart phone related stress:

  • Give your phone a break! It’s ok to turn your phone off on occasion. In fact, you might even find that you get more done. Despite the popular belief that we are all great multi-taskers, our brain works best when we focus on one thing at a time. Instead of bouncing your attention between your friends’ Facebook updates, your constantly updated newsfeed, and your work—turn your phone off and allow yourself to take care of your obligations quickly and effectively.
  • Step away from the Android! …or Blackberry, or iPhone. If you can’t turn off your phone, whether you’re waiting on an important phone call, or need to be accessible in case of a family emergency, consider leaving your phone in another room or out of easy reach. Leave your ringer and alarms on—but turn off other notifications. The temptation to check up on your social network versus finishing your current task will be much easier to resist if you have to put out more effort to get to your phone.
  • Set a goal, and make your smart phone the reward. Knowing that your phone will be back on and in your hands soon might encourage you to work harder. Whether at work or at a social event, set a goal for your phone usage. Maybe you need to finish the first draft of a report before you can check your newsfeed, or you need to make it through the conference speakers’ addresses before you can text your buds. As a bonus, not only will you be more motivated to work, but you’ll appear more engaged to those around you.
  • Don’t forget to give yourself real alone time. These rules for limiting your smart phone usage have a wider reach than just your time at work. While you are relaxing and taking time to yourself, distance yourself from your phone and focus on de-stressing. Even taking 5 minutes completely for yourself can help you get back into a beneficial state of mind.
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