Research is showing that cell phone addiction can affect us in more ways than we think. It’s not just about social media, self-esteem, FOMO, and poor sleep habits.
Most young adults use texting as a primary source of communication and use them in many contexts in which older adults might not (while out to dinner, to break up with someone, to catch up with an old friend).
In a way, cell phones encourage us to be anti-social and limit face-to-face interaction. For kids and teens today, growing up with phones, it can stunt their ability to regulate their emotions, communicate well, and becomes their go-to coping mechanism. For those of us prone to anxiety, particularly social anxiety, this puts a bandaid on the problem. An estimated 7.1% of adults in the U.S. experience social anxiety, an increase from the previous year (NIMH).
Are you more likely to text someone “happy birthday”, or pick up the phone and call? If you could order your food online, would you rather do that versus calling the restaurant? And not just for convenience but because there’s something nerve-wracking about calling? Do you have no problem texting a romantic interest, but when it comes to actually going out, you get anxious at the thought?
When we’re afraid of something, and we take steps to avoid it, we are only increasing that fear in our minds. We convince ourselves that there’s actually something to be afraid of. By allowing phones to protect us from human contact, it can also prevent us from challenging ourselves.
If you answered yes to the above questions, here are some things you can do:
Don’t avoid it, just do it. Easier said than done, of course, but start small. Think about the things that make you anxious and start easiest to hardest. If it’s easier for you to call to set up a haircut appointment than it is to call your bank to dispute a charge, start with that. If it’s easier to start hanging out in small groups without looking at your phone than it is to go to big parties, do it. If it’s hard for you to not look at your phone in social settings, challenge yourself and maybe start by holding on to it but not looking at it, or allow yourself to check it once. By exposing yourself to things that make you anxious, but doing so in a way that lets you master small challenges as you work your way up to the things that make you most anxious, there is a sense of accomplishment and an ability to overcome, without overwhelming yourself.
Combine the experience with logic. What’s the worst that could happen? And is it really that bad? Challenge your own thinking and you will find that you are often capable of more than you think.
Use your strengths. Don’t try to be the life of the party if that’s just not who you are. Have side conversations within the group if that works well for you. Be proud of yourself and acknowledge it each time you challenge yourself, big or small. It will push you forward to doing more and going forward.
Commit to taking one step this week, challenge yourself to do the smallest thing you are afraid of, and see how it feels!