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Cell Phone Addiction and Mood

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The cell phone began as a harmless tool, used to add convenience to our lives and connect us to people far away. Since its inception, the cell phone has evolved from communication key to ever-stimulating multipurpose tool. Information and stimulation are always right at our fingertips. From email notifications to photos of a friend’s vacation, to live, breaking news, information is convenient and easily accessible. Our smartphones are a constant connection to other phones and social media accounts, to calendars, email, news, stock prices, and entertainment. Notification upon notification, hour after hour, minute after minute, always pulling us in. Eventually, something intended to enable communication has become addictive, anxiety-inducing, and a nuisance for many. How does this happen? How can a device become like a drug, luring us in and affecting our mood?

Addiction and Anxiety

Cell phone addiction is regarded as an impulse-control disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V (DSM-5), much like gambling or internet addiction.[1],[2],[3] These behaviors become addictive when feelings of reward and satisfaction are involved. For instance, it can be quite gratifying to check one’s phone and see new text messages or emails, or to check a social media account and find “likes” or comments on personal content. The process of checking and finding elicits a rewarding sensation, which is biochemical in nature. Whenever satisfaction is experienced, pleasure centers in the brain are stimulated and dopamine is released.[4],[5] Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for positive reinforcement and the feelings of reward or pleasure.[6] It’s a feel-good chemical that drives motivation, aids in forming habits, and has implications in addiction.[7] Often, we turn to our phones for stimulation, entertainment, or communication as a distraction from the stress or anxiety we experience in our environment.[8] Lower emotional states, such as depression or anxiety, are usually the catalyst for developing an addictive behavior. We form habits of scrolling through our phones for several minutes at a time to experience some level of relief from reality. However, this relief is short-lived and is often followed by a sense of shame or regret after spending too much time detached from our surroundings.[9] This cycle of poor mood, cathartic phone-checking followed by more poor mood, forms compulsive habits and addictive behavior related to cell phone use.[10] Once this habit has been set after months or years of habitual phone checking, detachment from one’s phone becomes difficult. Some people report feeling paranoid or anxious when they aren’t near their phones.[11] Eventually, chronic and impulsive cell phone use can have negative consequences on the user’s life, from feelings of anxiety and shame to poor performance in school or work due to increased distraction.[12],[13]

Master Your Phone

Although cell phone use can become an impulsive and addictive behavior, there are a few key steps we can take to minimize the potential mood disturbances that cell phone use can cause. Tristan Harris, a former Design Ethicist at Google and leader of the non-profit movement Time Well Spent, has worked to make phone and social media stimulation more ethical. His goal is to inform producers and consumers alike how to reduce the “hijacking” effect phone usage can have on the brain. In an essay published on his website, Harris provides seven essential tips for making phone usage a mindful, intentional activity. Tips include reorganizing the phone’s home screen to only contain applications that don’t draw the user in for long periods of time are placed up front, such as Maps or Calendar; as well as charging the phone outside of the bedroom at night, which maximizes the distance between user and phone at times when usage isn’t productive.[14]

Another way that cell phones can impact our mood and behavior is from the electromagnetic field (EMF) emitted by devices. Data suggests that high exposure to EMFs can induce anxiety-like behavior by upregulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is responsible for stress responses and mood regulation.[15] Fortunately, the use of EMF shields placed on devices, such as phones and tablets, has been proven to reduce toxic EMF exposure from Internet-enabled devices.[16] As cell phones provide a valuable link to the rest of the world, it is unlikely that any one of us will cease using our phones on a daily basis. Like all things, cell phone use is best in moderation. In the hopes of preserving our mood and sense of well-being, it’s important that cell phone usage becomes a more intentional and less impulsive habit. We need to be the master of our devices to prevent them from becoming the masters of us.

Resources

[1]Alavi, S. S., PhD., Mohammadi, M. R., M.D., Jannatifard, F., Bsc, Kalhori, S. M., Bsc, Sepahbodi, G., Msc, BabaReisi, M., Msc, . . . Kasvaee, V. H., Msc. (2016). Assessment of semi-structured clinical interview for mobile phone addiction disorder. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 11(2), 115-119.
[2] Carlisle, K. L., Carlisle, R. M., Polychronopoulos, G. B., Goodman-Scott, E., & Kirk-Jenkins, A. (2016). Exploring internet addiction as a process addiction. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 38(2), 170-182.
[3] Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). Social networking sites and addiction: Ten lessons learned. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(3), 311.
[4] Wieland, D. M. (2015). Behavioral addictions. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 53(10), 13-15.
[5] Volkow, N. D. (2007). The neural substrates of addiction. Psychiatric Times, 24(13), 66.
[6] Wieland, D. M. (2015). Behavioral addictions. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 53(10), 13-15.
[7] Volkow, N. D. (2007). The neural substrates of addiction. Psychiatric Times, 24(13), 66.
[8] Op. cit. Weiland et al. 2017.
[9] Op. cit. Weiland et al. 2017.
[10] Op. cit. Weiland et al. 2017.
[11] Op. cit. Kuss and Griffiths. 2017.
[12] Long, J., Tie-Qiao Liu, Yan-Hui, L., Chang, Q., Hao-Yu, H., Shu-Bao, C., & Billieux, J. (2016). Prevalence and correlates of problematic smartphone use in a large random sample of Chinese undergraduates. BMC Psychiatry, 16.
[13] Gupta, N., Garg, S., & Arora, K. (2016). Pattern of mobile phone usage and its effects on psychological health, sleep, and academic performance in students of a medical university. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 6(2), 132-139.
[14] Harris, T. (2016, January 27). Distracted in 2016? Reboot Your Phone with Mindfulness [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.tristanharris.com/2016/01/distracted-in-2016-welcome-to-mindfulness-bootcamp-for-your-iphone/#more-741.
[15] Shehu, A., Mohammed, A., Magaji, R. A., & Muhammad, M. S. (2016). Exposure to mobile phone electromagnetic field radiation, ringtone and vibration affects anxiety-like behaviour and oxidative stress biomarkers in albino wistar rats. Metabolic Brain Disease, 31(2), 355-362.
[16] Usanova, L. D., Usanova, A. D., & Skripal’, ,A.V. (2009). Device for protection of biological objects from electromagnetic emission of a cell phone. Biomedical Engineering, 43(6), 249-254.

Clinical Contributor

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Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

Connie Shoemaker, ND

Connie Shoemaker, ND

“Educating Sanesco’s clients is the culmination of a life’s work.” Beginning when she left the hospital environment to manage a functional laboratory, Genova Diagnostics (formerly Great Smokies Laboratories) in 1987, Dr. Connie Shoemaker has continued to increase her knowledge of herbs and biochemistry as a journey of love. With her bachelor’s in science from Western Carolina University, she had worked in hospital laboratories for the first twelve years of her career. Then, personal health challenges led her to discover a new approach to her health and a determination to share it with others. In 1991, she began teaching and educating innovative practitioners in the U.S. and internationally as a manager of marketing, sales, and customer service.

The addition of her Doctor of Naturopathy degree to her existing knowledge base expanded her knowledge and her respect for a more natural approach to healing through balance. At Sanesco, she initially served to oversee technical development of products and services.

Now, she educates Sanesco’s clients on application of the CSM™ model for their specific patients and how to integrate the CSM™ model with other modalities they offer in their practice. In her personal life, Connie educates private clients on various health topics.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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