cellphone addiction students

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How healthy is your relationship with your phone and what can you do?

It may be time to face up to your cellphone addiction – but if this is you, here are a few questions and answers you can look at.

cellphone addiction students

Image: Adobe Stock

Are you addicted to your phone? It may be time to ask yourself how healthy your relationship with your electronic devices is and, also, what you can do about it.

The question arose again this month with the release of the Netflix docu-drama The Social Dilemma, which warns of the dangers of social media.

Not everyone who has a cellphone uses social media, of course, or is addicted to it, but there are warning signs of overuse of smartphones all around you.

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According to the Independent Communications Authority of  South Africa (Icasa) 2020 State of the ICT Sector report, South Africa’s smartphone subscriptions stood at 53.38 million in 2019.

Contextually, this puts it at only a few million shy of the country’s total population of 58.78 million people. The internet penetration rate stands at 62%, which means that there are 36.54 million internet users in the country.

The 18-24 and 25-34 age groups make up over 80% of social media users in South Africa. Most of South Africa’s youth spend a significant amount of time in the virtual world.

Is this a cause for alarm and, if so, how can we win the war against phone addiction?

‘But I don’t have a problem, do I’?

When you search “how to know if you’re addicted to…”, the prompt “your phone” appears as one of the top suggestions.

Concerns about phone addiction are as high as sugar, alcohol and nicotine addictions. This highlights the crisis facing most of today’s youth.

Whilst some websites give you the option to take a quick quiz; most online resources provide a list of symptoms which give you the space to self-diagnose.

cellphone addiction
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Signs of cellphone addiction

The most common sign of phone addiction is trouble completing tasks in the physical world.

If you find yourself struggling to complete chores at home or work because you are spending most of your time on your phone, experts suggest that you might be overusing your phone.

This symptom also shows up as putting off doing essential tasks due to the amount of time you spend on your phone.

Secondly, if your online connections get in the way of your physical relationships, you might be addicted to your phone.

Whilst our phones bring us closer to people who are further away, they often drive a wedge between you and the people nearby.

If your family and friends express their concerns about how your social life is suffering because of how much time you spend on your phone, it might be time to investigate your relationship with your phone.

cellphone in bed
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Gen Z and their phones

According to research, millennials and Gen Z’s spend an average of 45 hours a week on their phones, and their phones are never more than 10m away.

The third question is: “How do I feel when I don’t have my phone in my hands or more than an arm’s length away?”

If being away from your phone triggers feelings of panic or anxiety, it might be a sign of an unhealthy attachment, or even cellphone addiction.

This symptom also appears as continually checking your phone for messages, or feeling phantom vibrations even when you don’t receive any notifications.

This is not a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms, and you can find more here.

Phone addiction might not appear dangerous, but research shows that it can have harmful side effects such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.

I might have a problem, now what?

While it is easy to think “I can just leave my phone alone and I’ll be fine”, it is crucial to take pro-active steps to improve the relationship with your phone.

The first step is to identify your triggers. When do you use your phone the most, and why do you do it?

Is it because you feel lonely or bored? Is it because you can’t sleep? Once you figure this out, it is essential to find healthier ways of filling your time and entertaining yourself.

Solutions to cellphone addiction

Place some barriers around your phone use. Apps like Forest, Offtime and Flipd will help you unplug from your phone by blocking the use of certain apps during a specific period.

BreakFree takes it a step further by breaking down the score into an addiction score. The lower your phone usage, the lower your score.

This is great for challenging yourself and getting the satisfaction of reaching your goals.

Develop hobbies away from your phone. It might feel like your entire life is online, but it is vital to feed your physical self as well.

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Real-life activities can replace most games and social media apps:

  • Journalling can replace writing multiple social media posts a day.
  • You could replace numerous hours on phone with physical quality time with friends and family members.
  • Real-life dance parties can replace TikTok dance routines for one.

Be kind to yourself, because as the saying goes “Rome was not built in a day”. It is essential to understand that there will be withdrawals and relapses, but they are a part of the journey.

Keep going, even when it seems like you’re not making any progress—every small step matters.

  • Disclaimer: These are self-help tips, and addiction is hard to beat, so seek professional help and outside support where necessary.