Mental Health: The impact of smartphone overuse on our mental wellbeing

Our increasing dependence on our smartphones is causing a range of mental health challenges.

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Smartphones have been a part of our lives for the better part of the last 20 years.

These devises have revolutionised our lives and we can hardly remember how we lived without them.

Smartphones are a very useful technology that allows us to communicate with ease, work from anywhere and have access to unprecedented amounts of information.

However, our increasing dependence on our smartphones is causing a range of mental health challenges.

Are you struggling with smartphone overuse/addiction?

  • Are you spending excessive non work or school related time on your smartphone?
  • Do you fear being separated from your smartphone or do you panic if you cannot locate it for even brief periods of time?
  • Do you constantly check your phone even if it hasn’t given you notifications?
  • Do you panic if you run out of data or cannot access Wifi even for brief periods of time?
  • Are you neglecting important responsibilities and duties due to time spent on the phone?
  • Is your phone the first thing you interact with in the morning and the last thing you interact with at night?
  • Do you find yourself unable to resist using your even when in work meetings, in class at school or when spending time with family and friends?

Effects of smartphone overuse on out mental health

Effects can be physical, psychological and social.

Physical effects include:

  • Poor sleep: the light emitted by smartphones interferes with sleep hormone production leading to poor sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Thumb or wrist pain
  • Risk of physical injury when we use smartphones in risky situations like walking in a busy street, driving, operating machinery or even cooking

Psychological effects include:

  • Addiction: many of us may have developed an addiction to our smartphones and we will get irritable, aggressive or sad if we are cut off from our phones as we suffer from withdrawal symptoms
  • Distraction from school and work, poor concentration and poor performance
  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety problems particularly with overuse of social media sites

Relational/ social effects include:

  • Decreased meaningful social interaction with family and friends leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Relationship breakdown as virtual relationships take precedence over real life relationships and the access to smartphones increases access to potentially inappropriate relationships
  • Escaping into smartphone use to avoid dealing with real world challenges

What can I do to overcome my smartphone overuse/addiction?

  1. Do a digital detox daily, weekly and even for extended periods of time. Put your phone in an inaccessible place for set times to allow for non-digital activities and to sleep. During the weekend take extended hours away from your phone. Consider taking time offline for holidays and vacations.
  2. Monitor your smartphone usage. Most phones have technology that can report how much time you are spending on your smartphone, which apps are taking your time, how many random checks/pick-ups you are doing, how often you are checking your phone at night.
  3. Regulate your use. Turn off non-essential notifications. Consider deleting some social media apps off your phone and only using them on a laptop or desk top. Try and do work or school related digital activities on a laptop or desktop.
  4. Invest in your real world relationships. We all have more friends on social media than we do in real life. Take time off your smartphone and connect with your friends and family in a digital free zone giving each other precious undivided attention. It will do wonders for your mental health.

If you think that you or someone that you know maybe struggling with mental health challenge, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

  • Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse  is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback on WhatsApp: +263714987729)

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