Electronic Addiction

It has become increasingly clear that there are many who struggle with electronic addiction. The woman whose untrained dog tripped me while I was running the other morning with barely a glance up from her cell phone screen to apologize. The man on that same run who rolled through a stop sign and almost ran me over while staring at a screen in his Lexus. The men and women swiping left and right while standing within speaking distance at a bar. The families who eat dinner together but with the television on and a screen in every member’s hand.

Electronic addiction (or E-addiction) is a tricky situation because they're something the majority of us “need” in our daily life, for work, easier connection to loved ones, etc. The quotation marks are because ultimately for basic survival we don’t need them but they’ve become such an integral part of our lives that it’s difficult to imagine life without them. Disconnecting entirely would make it very difficult for many of us to live the lives we currently life. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a problem.

E-Addiction Warning Signs

Negative Emotions: Anxiety, restlessness, moodiness, shame, guilt, depression, or irritability when using electronics or being separated from them. This includes the zombie-like state post half a day (or longer) staring at a screen. Or the “Oh crap!” moment when you’ve left your smart phone at home. Such emotions can also lead to behaviors such as lying about your engagement with technology to others or becoming defensive when others point out concerns to you. “Oh gosh, I’m so rarely on facebook… only every ten minutes (whispered).”

Compulsions: There's the impulse to constantly check your email or various social media or respond immediately to text messages. You find yourself thinking about it until you do and for a moment that urge is reassured. Until it resurfaces minutes later. “I just need one more hit of the keyboard man!”

Lapses of Time: You may find yourself needing increased amounts of time online or using electronics in general in order to feel satisfied. This includes staying on them longer than intended. You know, you logged on just to check a facebook message and next thing you know you’re attending weddings of people you never knew existed previous to that last click.

Avoidance of Real Life: You use technology as a replacement for feeling emotions, dealing with problems, or interacting with others in person. The real world can be a scary, overwhelming place for some so engaging with others in what seems to be a more safe environment is quite appealing. However, this may lead to neglecting real life relationships, not getting enough sleep, not bathing, forgetting to eat, and not handling life responsibilities. It also isn't a replacement for real life human connection and good old fashioned self-care. So you might want to pay closer attention to your electronic usage if you’ve had multiple family members or friends tell you to put the devices away. Or if you’ve lost or almost lost things that are important to you as a result (relationships, jobs, school).

Can't Stop: You've ,ade multiple attempts at cutting back on electronic usage with no success. Like any addiction if you can’t give it up you probably have a problem.

Physical Symptoms: There are also physical symptoms when using too much technology, such as weight gain or weight loss, carpal tunnel syndrome, head, neck or backaches, and dry, red eyes.

What to Do

Admit It’s a Problem: It’s easy to make what seem to be legit excuses. But I need to be reached at all times. My boss expects an immediate reply. What if something happens to my kids? It’s time to take a deep look at yourself and ask with sincerity, “Am I that important?” No offense, but unless you’re an on-call doctor or other emergency responder, the answer is probably not. So if you’re making yourself as important as life and death it’s time to reassess some things. Then admit it at least to yourself and for further accountability others that can support you.

Set Boundaries for Yourself: It’s unlikely you’ll completely give up technology. For many that’s unrealistic, especially if you have no choice but to use it for work. However, if you take an honest inventory of what you need to use it for and for how long, you’ll see where you can make changes that work. There are infinite ways to manage electronic usage so that it isn’t an addiction. It’s simply finding what works best for you and your lifestyle. That might be a full detox, whether it’s 1 day, 3 days, or a week, and you might need to detox periodically when you catch yourself spiraling out of control.

Or maybe making smaller changes is easier for you. Some things that work for people are:

  • Set aside a certain amount of time (or times) per day that you check your email.

  • Only check social media once a day for 10 minutes.

  • Remove social media apps from your phone.

  • Turn off instant notifications.

  • If you have to do work on your computer, use software that blocks certain sites that you don’t need and tend to be time suckers.

  • Ignore beeps on your phone for a set amount of time, 1 minute, 5 minutes, until a designated time of day...

  • Don’t allow electronics when gathering with loved ones.

  • Designate electronic free zones, whether that’s one day a week, certain hours every day, or other amount.

  • All else fails have someone else hide your electronics for a set amount of time.

This is all about figuring out what works for you and making the commitment to do it. When you feel relief and see your life improving in ways you want it to you’ll know it’s working. If you don’t experience that try something different.

Set Boundaries for Others: If people expect you to always be available to them and you are they will continue to expect it. I repeat, with all the love in the world, you are probably not as important as you think you are. By responding quickly to others they don’t have to sit with and alleviate their own anxiety. You’ve done it for them. So they continue to expect you to do it for them. Of course, when you initially stop it will be uncomfortable for everyone. They’ll be frustrated at first because now they have to handle their own anxiety and you don’t want anyone upset with you but they will adjust and everyone will be happier as a result. No one has a right to dictate your time.

Add to Your Life: People often use electronics to fill a void. However, if you’re connecting with others and doing things you enjoy you will have less of a void to fill. Particularly if you’re engaging in activities that don’t allow electronic usage during them. Exercise classes. Meditation groups. Religious gatherings. Hikes into mountains where there’s no service. People often find that once they get over the initial anxiety of not being connected they don’t miss it because they actually become more connected, to themselves, others, and their environment.

Accept Relapses: It will happen. You’ll just have to check Instagram every 5 minutes after you posted a photo. Or you find yourself reading a million comments after an op ed article. Recognize it, be kind to yourself, and begin again. Relapse is a part of addiction and berating yourself won’t help.

Get Help: If you’ve tried to cut back on your own and can’t and it’s really a problem for you there are rehabs, organizations, 12 step meetings, therapists, and therapy groups  that focus on and are quite effective in treating e-addiction.

While of course, there are benefits to technology and engaging with it, there's always too much of a good thing. There's a lot to experience out there in the real world and I'd hate for you to miss it because you're glued to a screen. Seeing something on a screen is never quite the same as experiencing it yourself. Also, the rest of us would love to be able to navigate our surroundings safely and from time to time make eye contact with you.