Lifestyle, News

Can we live without mobile phones?

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By Jacque Talbot

Culture can plant ideas and thinking in our minds from birth, so it is quite worrying when children seem to prefer playing Candy Crush to playing outside. As technology advances, we find the line between what is ‘human’ and what is ‘technology’ is becoming greyer and further intertwined.

In fact, if you are ever out in public, particularly when you’re enclosed in a small space such as on a train or in an elevator, you will perhaps notice the seeming ‘zombification’ of your fellow humans. You will see them gawk aimlessly into their mobile phones at a recent text message, or scrolling through their Facebook feed to see their friends’ latest holiday pictures.

Using our phones is becoming so embedded in our cultural fabric that they are almost an electrical extension of our body, which is troublesome when you learn of the effect it can have on our mental health. The overuse of these devices gets in the way of our natural social stimulus, and, in extreme cases, can end up almost completely replacing it.

A recent study showed that withdrawal from gadgets and technology had similar effects as going through withdrawal or ‘cold turkey’ has on drug addicts. A number of studies explicitly show that there is a correlation between over usage of our phones and an increase in both depression and anxiety. This is interesting considering that, according to Psychology Today, today’s average high school student suffers from the save level as anxiety as a  psychiatric patient from the 1950s. Another study carried out  by Anxiety UK showed that 1 in 6 youngsters will experience anxiety at some point in their lives.

Practice not having your phone for a few hours, see if you can do it. You’ll undoubtedly feel uncomfortable and apprehensive. You may even reach into your pockets or bag unwittingly forgetting you don’t have it. Upon the end of this experiment, you may conclude that your behaviour and thoughts are not perhaps very healthy or natural. Or if you feel you don’t have the time to go without your phone, you may want to look at the following symptoms to see if your phone is having a negative effect.

·         Social withdrawal

·         A lack of interest in activities that don’t include a gadget, computer or phone

·         A feeling of restlessness and unease when without gadget, computer or phone

·         A feeling of elation or euphoria when online

·         Constant Facebook or Twitter checking

·         Constant text message checking

If you have found yourself with any number of these symptoms, it’s highly possible that you have ‘phone addiction’. The trouble with our phones is that they are just so easy and accessible. They are a great way to interact, but when do you know to stop? When is it too much? How many times have you checked your phone in between reading this article? The addiction you may have to your phone is firmly wired in your brain, but fear not, it is breakable.

In order to understand our addiction with cell devices, we must first look at the neuroscience behind it. Addiction is purely a habitational cycle. It is something which at first seems pleasurable but that then becomes damaging and difficult to stop. Addiction comes in many forms, not just alcohol, gambling and drugs. In fact, anything that you do which releases dopamine (the neurochemical which increases enjoyment) into the nucleus accumbens (the reward circuit of the brain) and that is harmful, can be classified as addiction.

There is misconception that our habits are driven by conscious intention, but actually this is far from the truth. When you do something too much, your brain will eventually start giving a ‘knee-jerk’ response, meaning that your body will galvanise automatically into doing the ‘habit’. This is why sometimes you will be picking up your phone, and checking your text messages or Facebook feed without even realising it.

The problem with our habits, especially bad ones, is that when they become wired into your brain, they are there for life. This is why you will always know how to ride a bike. Just as bad habits are easy to pick up, however, so are good ones. Have you ever noticed how hard and long your first day at work was? It seemed like it took a lot of effort and focus. But as soon as that particular habit became routine, you found you could do it without thought.

It is lucky then that we can put down our phones, just as easily as when we started to overuse them. It may be beneficial to take the time to practice being vigilant in taking time off from your phone. Perhaps set aside two hours a day when you can put your phone down and focus on doing worthwhile activities instead. We know a balanced lifestyle is important, so by implementing these ‘no-phone time zones’, you will find that your anxiety and depression levels drop significantly.

There is no surprise that a profitable product such as the mobile phone finds itself without scrutiny with regard to health and safety matters, which it is why it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and control our behaviours. If you believe you’re having trouble finding a balance, however, you can check out these helpful websites and apps in the links below:

Addicted to your mobile phone: 5 ways to beat your phone addiction

BreakFree Cell Phone Addiction

Coping with cell phone addiction

How to Break Smartphone Addiction: a step-by-step guide

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aAh!

aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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