A friend of mine seems to be addicted to her iPhone. She checks it every few minutes for messages and e-mails. And she's far from alone. About one in every five baby boomers and one in every three teenagers-checks hisler cell phone at least once every 15 minutes.
Technically, my friend doesn't have an "addiction to her phone. She has a "compulsion," says Larry Rosen, PhD, past chair of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Disorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Palgrave Macmillan). Addicts do things because it triggers the release of dopamine in their brains, which feels pleasurable. Compulsives do things because it relieves anxiety-and anxiety is precisely what people who endlessly recheck their phones are feeling. They're worried that someone might be trying to reach them, that there could be breaking news or that they might have lost their phones.
Cell-phone compulsion can be a serious problem. It makes us seem distant and detracts significantly from our focus, which can damage our relationships and job performance. It prevents our brains from truly relaxing. Just keeping a cell phone within arm's reach at night reduces the quality of our sleep-even if the phone doesn't ring.
Dr. Rosen suggests that my friend turn her phone's ringer to silent and place the phone upside down or out of sight so that she can't see incoming messages. Then she should set a timer or a wristwatch alarm to buzz every 15 minutes, when she can quickly check her phone. She should gradually push the 15-minute interval up to 20 or beyond. Knowing that she'll soon be able to check her phone should be enough to allow her to calmly focus on other matters between buzzes.
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