Many teenagers have told me that they wished that there were no smartphones. They have related many reasons that the smartphone causes them to become anxious.
“I check my phone many times a day to make sure that I am not missing out on something with my friends. If nothing is going on, I wonder if my friends are avoiding me.”
“If my friend doesn’t reply right away, I worry that I have done something wrong. It’s even worse when I’m ghosted.”
“When I find out that my friends are texting and making plans with other friends but not me, I worry that I’m not popular. This makes me sad.”
“I become really upset when friends take me out of conversations.”
“I’m uncomfortable when friends have sent me inappropriate photos and have asked me to respond with photos.”
“When I get together with my friends, sometimes we just sit around and use our phones rather than interacting.”
“I’ve been cyberbullied.”
“Some of my friends say very mean things by text, which they would never say to me in real life.”
“Whenever my phone notifies me that I have received a text I want to check it right away. This distracts me from my homework and then I worry that I didn’t do my homework right.”
“I often get upset playing games on my phone, which affects my mood for a long time.”
“I get in trouble during mealtimes because I’m on my phone.”
“My parents keep taking my phone away whenever I do something wrong. Even when it has nothing to do with my phone.”
“I got into trouble when I accessed porn on the net. I wasn’t even looking for it when it first popped up. I could not get those images out of my mind.”
“My mom gets mad at me all of the time because I’m spending so much time on my phone watching videos and playing games. I lose track of time when I play my games.”
“I would rather just turn off my phone. But then I worry that I will be out of the loop with my friends.”
Indeed, studies have shown that the more adolescents and adults use social media the more likely that are to become anxious or depressed (Shensa, 2018; Boers, 2020). In addition to the reasons mentioned above, people can become stressed by incorrectly thinking that social media postings are accurate representations of their peers’ lives, which they cannot match.
I encourage my patients to give themselves and their friends the benefit of the doubt when they become anxious because of uncomfortable social media and smartphone text interactions. For example, rather than thinking that a friend is intentionally ignoring them, patients might consider the possibility that the friend’s phone has been confiscated or is broken. I remind them that text interactions are prone to causing misunderstandings because they do not convey emphasis on particular words or non-verbal cues. Finally, I suggest that most people avoid publicizing events that are at odds with the persona they would like to portray, and thus social media portrayals are virtually always distorted.
An Unrecognized Pitfall
I recently became aware of yet another pitfall resulting from our easy access to smartphones, other electronic devices, and social media.
In teaching people how to use hypnosis to gain insight, I instruct them to “park” their conscious mind in order to allow their subconscious to express itself in a way that the conscious can perceive it. Such “parking” can be achieved through focusing on the breath or imagining being in a calm place. By giving themselves time to think, people often come up with very helpful self-advice and occasionally even experience epiphanies.
I suggest that even Albert Einstein recognized the importance of quieting the mind when he said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
As I explained this method recently, I suggested, “Parking your conscious mind is the opposite of engaging it with a smartphone interaction.” At that moment I realized how smartphones have led to a marked decrease in the time we allot to listening to ourselves. When we have some spare time, rather than using our mind for contemplation we often end up engaging our conscious in a non-productive activity such as playing an electronic game, or social media interactions. Further, we might experience an on-going memory from a podcast or YouTube video voice that is yet another impediment to our ability to hear ourselves.
The process of coming up with new ideas might also be prolonged by frequent breaks as a result of smartphone interruptions. Further, if we do come up with a new idea, many of us are tempted to post it through social media to gauge people’s reactions. If the reaction is non-affirming an idea might be abandoned before it can be further refined.
In 2022, use of a smartphone is an important part of daily life. However, it is clear that its near constant use is detrimental. Therefore, I coach my patients to limit use of their smartphones to two or three specific times of day, and for less than half an hour at a time. Further, I recommend that they turn off the volume of their phones or other electronics when engaged in a creative activity.
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Ariel Shensa, et al. 2018. “Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis.” Am J Health Behav. 42: 116–128.
Elroy Boers, et al. 2020. “Temporal Associations of Screen Time and Anxiety Symptoms Among Adolescents. Can J Psychiatry. 65:206-208.