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The Smartphone, addiction and societal plagues?

ISHP / Swiss Institute of High Performance
The Smartphone, addiction and societal plagues?

Worried about your smartphone or your Internet use? These tips can help you break the habit and better balance your life, both online and offline.

What is smartphone addiction?

While a smartphone, tablet or computer can be an extremely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school and relationships. When you spend more time on social media or playing games than you do interacting with real people, or you can't help but repeatedly check messages, emails, notifications, or apps, even if it's negatively impacting your life, it may be time to reevaluate your technology use.

Smartphone addiction, sometimes known as "nomophobia" (fear of being without a cell phone), is often fueled by an internet overuse problem or internet addiction disorder. After all, it's rarely the phone itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps and social networks they connect us to.



Smartphone addiction can encompass a wide variety of control and impulse issues, including:

  • Virtual relationships.

Addiction to social networks, dating apps, notifications, and messaging can expand to the point where virtual friends online become more important than real relationships. We've all seen couples sitting together in a restaurant ignore each other and interact with their smartphones instead. While the Internet can be a great place to meet new people, reconnect with old friends or even start romantic relationships, online relationships are not a healthy substitute for real interactions. Online friendships can be attractive because they tend to exist in a bubble, not subject to the same demands or constraints as sometimes complicated real-world relationships. Compulsive use of dating apps can focus your attention on short-term encounters instead of developing long-term relationships.

  • Information overload.

Compulsive browsing, social networking, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds can lead to decreased productivity at work or school and isolate you for hours at a time. Compulsive use of the Internet and smartphone applications can cause you to neglect other aspects of your life, from real-world relationships to hobbies, health-promoting activities and socializing.

  • Causes and effects of smartphone and Internet addiction

While you may encounter addiction issues with a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of smartphones and tablets means we can take them just about anywhere and satisfy our urges at any time. In fact, most of us are rarely more than six feet away from our smartphones. Like drug and alcohol use, they can trigger the release of dopamine in our brains and alter our mood. You can also quickly develop a tolerance to this dopamine release, so you need more and more time in front of your screens to get the same pleasurable reward.

Heavy smartphone use can often be symptomatic of other underlying issues, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. At the same time, it can also exacerbate these problems. If you use your smartphone as a "security blanket" to relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or embarrassment in social situations, for example, you will only succeed in cutting yourself off further from the people around you. Looking at your phone will deprive you of the face-to-face interactions that can help you connect meaningfully with others, alleviate anxiety, and improve your mood. In other words, the remedy you choose for your anxiety (interacting with your smartphone) actually makes your anxiety worse.



Addiction to the smartphone or the Internet can also have a negative impact on your life:

  • Increased loneliness and depression. While it may seem that losing yourself online will temporarily make feelings like loneliness, depression and boredom go away, it can actually make you feel worse. One study found a correlation between high social media use and depression and anxiety. Users, especially teens, tend to compare themselves unfavorably to their peers on social networks, fostering feelings of loneliness and depression.
  • Fueling anxiety. The mere presence of a phone in the workplace tends to make people more anxious and less efficient on given tasks. The more intense a person's phone use is, the greater the anxiety they feel.
  • Increased stress. Using a smartphone for work often means that work is always present in your home and personal life. You feel the pressure and need to always be active, never disconnected from work. This need to continually check and respond to emails can contribute to higher stress levels and even burnout.
  • Worsening Attention Deficit Disorder. The constant stream of messages and information from a smartphone can overwhelm the brain and make it impossible to focus on something important for just a few minutes before feeling compelled to move on.
  • Decreased ability to focus and think deeply or creatively. The persistent buzzing, pinging, or beeping of your smartphone can distract you from important tasks, slow down your work, and interrupt those quiet moments that are so crucial to creativity and problem solving. Instead of being alone with our thoughts, we are now always online and connected.
  • Disrupting your sleep. Excessive smartphone use can disrupt your sleep, which can have a serious impact on your overall mental health. It can impact your memory, affect your ability to think clearly and reduce your cognitive and learning abilities.



Signs and symptoms of smartphone addiction

There is no specific amount of time spent on your phone, or how often you check notifications, or the number of messages you send or receive that indicates an addiction or overuse problem.

Spending a lot of time connected to your phone only becomes a problem when it absorbs so much of your time and causes you to neglect your in-person relationships, work, school, hobbies or other important things in your life. If you find yourself ignoring your friends over lunch to read Facebook updates or compulsively checking your phone while driving or in class, it's time to reevaluate your smartphone use and find a healthier balance in your life.

Warning signs of excessive smartphone or internet use include:

  • Difficulty completing tasks at work or at home. Do you find laundry piling up and an empty fridge for dinner because you've been busy chatting online, texting or playing video games? You may find yourself working late more often because you can't finish your work on time.
  • Isolation from family and friends. Is your social life suffering because of all the time you spend on your phone or other device? If you are in a meeting or talking with friends, do you lose track of what is being said because you are checking your phone? Are your friends and family concerned about the time you spend on your phone? Do you feel that no one in your "real" life, even your spouse, understands you like your online friends?
  • Concealment of your smartphone use. Do you sneak off to a quiet, unobtrusive place to use your phone? Do you hide your smartphone use or lie to your boss and family about how much time you spend online? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
  • Have a "fear of missing out." Do you hate feeling out of touch or think you're missing out on important news or information if you don't check your phone regularly? Do you need to compulsively check social media because you fear others are having a better time or living a more exciting life than you? Do you get up at night to check your phone?
  • Feel terror, anxiety or panic if you leave your smartphone at home or if the battery dies. Or do you feel phantom vibrations? Think your phone has been vibrating, but when you check, there are no new messages or updates?



Advice and help for smartphone addiction

There are a number of steps you can take to control your smartphone and Internet use. While you can initiate many of these steps yourself, an addiction is difficult to break on your own, especially when temptation is always at hand. It can be too easy to revert to old patterns of use. Seek outside support, whether from family, friends or a professional. It is for this reason and usefulness that the Swiss Institute of High Performance has set up an Express Consultation line at 0900 158 158 (CHF 2.50/min).


To help you identify your problems, keep a log of when and how often you use your smartphone for non-work or non-essential activities. There are specific apps that can help, allowing you to track the time you spend on your phone. Are there times of the day when you use your phone more? Are there other things you could be doing instead? The more you understand your smartphone usage, the easier it will be to curb your habits and take back control of your time.

  • Identify the triggers that cause you to pick up your phone. Is it when you're lonely or bored? If you suffer from depression, stress, or anxiety, for example, excessive smartphone use can be a way to soothe agitated moods. Instead, find healthier and more effective ways to manage your mood, such as practicing relaxation techniques.
  • Understand the difference between interacting in person and online. Human beings are social creatures. We are not meant to be isolated or rely on technology for human interaction. Interacting socially with another person face-to-face, making eye contact, responding to body language, can make you feel calm, safe, and understood, and quickly put a stop to stress. Interacting via email or messaging bypasses these non-verbal cues and therefore won't have the same effect on your emotional well-being. Also, online friends can't hug you in a crisis, visit you when you're sick, or celebrate a happy occasion with you.
  • Develop your coping skills. Maybe tweeting, messaging or replying to posts is your way of coping with stress or anger. Or maybe you have trouble relating to others and find it easier to communicate with people online. Developing skills in these areas will help you overcome the stresses and strains of everyday life without always relying on your smartphone.
  • Strengthen your support network. Set aside time each week for friends and family. If you're shy, there are ways to overcome social awkwardness and make lasting friends without relying on social networks or the Internet. To find people with similar interests, try contacting co-workers, joining a sports team or club, signing up for a class or volunteering.
  • Change the use of your smartphone, step by step.


To cut back on your smartphone and internet use, think of it more like going on a diet. Just as you still need to eat, you probably still need to use your phone for work, school, or to stay in touch with friends. Your goal should be to get back to healthier levels of usage.

  • Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. For example, you can schedule use at certain times of the day, or you can reward yourself by spending a certain amount of time on your phone once you've completed an assignment or finished a task, for example.
  • Turn your phone off at certain times of the day, such as when you are driving, in meetings, at school, at the gym, having dinner or playing with your children. Don't take your phone into the bathroom with you.
  • Don't bring your phone or tablet to bed. The blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your sleep if used within two hours of bedtime. Turn off devices and leave them in another room overnight to charge. Instead of reading e-books on your phone or tablet at night, pick up a paper book. Not only will you sleep better, but research shows you'll also remember more of what you read.
  • Replace smartphone use with healthier activities. If you're bored and lonely, resisting the urge to use your smartphone can be very difficult. Have a plan for other ways to fill the time, such as meditating, reading a book, or talking with friends in person. Have you ever thought, "Ah, if I had more time, I could do...". Total up the number of minutes or hours spent on your smartphone and you'll see that you'd actually have plenty of time to do other things.
  • Remove social media applications from your phone so that you can only view Facebook, Twitter and other applications from your computer. And remember: what you see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives. People exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing aside the doubts and disappointments we all experience. Spending less time comparing yourself unfavorably to these stylized representations can help improve your mood and self-esteem.
  • Control the limits. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. If you need help, there are apps that can automatically limit when you can access your phone.
  • Limit your fear of missing out on important things. Accept that by limiting your smartphone use, you'll probably miss out on some invitations, the latest news or new gossip. There is so much information available on the internet that it's almost impossible to stay on top of everything anyway. Accepting this can be liberating and help break your addiction to technology.



How to help a child or teenager addicted to the smartphone?

Any parent who has tried to keep a child or teen away from a smartphone or tablet knows how difficult it can be to separate children from social networks, messaging apps or online games and videos. Young people don't have the maturity to limit smartphone use on their own, but simply confiscating the device can often backfire, creating anxiety and withdrawal symptoms in your child. Instead, there are many other ways to help your child find a healthier balance:

  • Be a role model. Kids have a strong tendency to imitate, so it's important that you manage your smartphone and internet use yourself. There's no point in asking your child to log off at the table while you look at your own phone or tablet. Don't let your own smartphone distract from your parent-child interactions.
  • Use apps to monitor and limit your child's smartphone use. There are a number of apps available that can limit your child's data use or restrict texting and web browsing to certain times of the day.
  • Create "phone-free" zones. Limit smartphone or tablet use to a common area of the house where you can monitor your child's activity and limit time spent online. Ban phones from the dining room and certain bedrooms and insist they be turned off after a certain time at night.
  • Encourage other interests and social activities. Get your child away from screens by exposing him or her to other hobbies and activities, such as sports and music. Spend time together as a family while being unplugged.
  • Talk to your child about underlying issues. Compulsive smartphone use may be a sign of deeper problems. Is your child having trouble fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, such as a move or divorce, that may be causing stress? Is your child experiencing other problems at school or at home?
  • Get help. Teens often rebel against their parents, but if they hear the same information from another authority figure, they may be more willing to listen. Try a teacher, coach, doctor or family friend. Don't be afraid to seek professional advice if you are concerned about your child's smartphone use.



I hope that this theme has allowed you to obtain some advice and tools. To go further in your organization and productivity, contact us, we have exactly the services you need.

If you need quick and targeted advice, our telephone line is at your disposal at 0900 158 158 (CHF 2.50/min).

For personalized support, contact us via our website

- Benoit Zwick, Director of ISHP -


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