First it was the highlights from Simon Cowell talent competitions on Facebook.
Those somehow got me hooked on cellist Stjepan Hauser and opera clips. Can anyone beat Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma?”
Then I moved on to Instagram reels from the television show “Suits.” I can’t get enough of the Darvey episodes.
In other words, I’m hooked on my phone and all the giggling babies, prancing dogs and Twitter news at my fingertips.
I’m definitely not alone. An estimated 295 million people in the U.S. owned a smartphone in 2020, and many have been turning to it more than ever for some type of social engagement during the COVID-19 outbreak.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until my daughter said she was going to set a limit on her social media use. We both opted for two hours. It’s easy: go to the settings app on your phone, then screen time and app limits.
Your phone politely lets you know when your time on social media is up and even gives you an out if you can’t bear to turn off Twitter or Instagram. It also offers a handy-dandy report on how you did the previous week.
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My average that first week, during Christmas vacation, was an eye-opening five hours and more.
That’s when I started to worry. Was I actually addicted to my phone and just how bad is that?
Dr. Alana A. Balasanova, director of addiction psychiatry education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, offered some relief: I’m not rotting my brain.
Being glued to your smartphone isn’t even classified as an addiction by the DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
It can feel like it, though. Overuse may bear some similarities to gambling disorder, which is listed in the manual. Like gambling, your phone becomes a problem when it starts affecting other parts of your life.
Are you putting off running errands, going to the grocery store or even talking to your partner so you can re-watch the latest prancing chihuahua reel that you love so much? Are you irritated and depressed if you are forced to spend too much time away from your phone?
“The major issue is the loss of control over the behavior,” Balasanova said. “Do you feel like you’re doing it even though you don’t want to be?”
If you think you’re overdoing it, Balasanova said the first step is to keep a record of your behavior. Track when you turn to your phone, your mood and how you feel as you watch reels, videos and tweets float by.
“That will help clue us in to what some of the triggers are,” she said. “Then we can take it from there.”
If you are feeling a significant amount of stress, see a professional. There may be an underlying condition that can be easily treated.
If you don’t feel the need to see someone, keep track of your smartphone use on your own to see if you can identify a pattern. You may turn to your phone when you are bored or are hungry, and if you can recognize those triggers, you can eat something or engage in a hobby instead.
If you need to set a limit on your phone usage, do it, Balasanova says. You’re just taking care of yourself, just like if you’d turn to Bark, mSpy, Norton or Qustodio to keep your kids safer on social media.
A limit has worked for me. My average has dropped. Slowly.
It’s all about balance, Balasanova says. That’s good for you and sets a good example if you have children watching how much time you spend on your phone.
“In general, too much of anything isn’t usually recommended,” she said. “We want to have balance in our diet, physical activity and in our behavior. In those hours you’re not spending on the phone you can develop another interest or do another activity.”