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Your Phone Is Making You Sick

Does your phone worsen your ADHD symptoms?

Research Associates in Psychology at the University of Virginia ran an experiment to study the link between phone interruptions and attention-related symptoms. The results of the study were exactly what you’d expect.

“The results were clear: more frequent phone interruptions made people less attentive and more hyperactive.”

Original article here

Your phone definitely worsens your symptoms. But you already assumed that. So why share this information? Because the knowledge of this link does not offer a solution to the problem.

As addictive as smoking, smartphones offer an even more insidious addiction because the associated health risks aren’t as overt as yellow teeth, lung cancer and trach tubes. Mental health issues are often invisible, but no less dangerous.
Smartphones are our entertainment, our means of maintaining relationships and required equipment for many jobs.

In some ways, you could argue that cigarettes once helped facilitate social engagement as well, albeit in a different way.
Even the knowledge of the danger and aggressive anti-smoking campaigns could not break the hold that cigarettes had over society. People still wanted to smoke because their friends did and it made them feel good. Smoking was part of getting through the day. 

How many of us have felt a similar comfort from our phones. Late at night in bed with our face illuminated by our “feed.” Distracting ourselves from a thousand little agitations as we patiently wait to lose consciousness.

With smoking, very little changed about our behavior until new laws forced changes upon us. People grumbled for years. Many still do. I don’t know what the health statistics show, but the ceiling tiles at my favorite diner aren’t brown from years of smoke damage anymore. They’re white and you can smell the food cooking. And you can still smoke in the parking lot if that’s your thing.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on laws changing to save ourselves from pouring our time into the rectangular vortex. Government regulation is slow and obtuse. So what can we do to protect ourselves and our mental health? Well, first look at your phone habits. What do you use your phone for? Why? When? For how long? Would you change anything about those habits? Examining my own phone usage habits, here are some changes I chose to make. 

1. Set a hard bed time

No phone after 11 pm. For any reason. Otherwise I won’t sleep and it ruins my next day. I put this one at the top of the list because, as an atypical, sleep is your superpower. Take it seriously.

2. Limit apps to things that are actually useful

That doesn’t mean everything needs to be a productivity app. Entertainment can be useful. Just clean out the junk you don’t use and pay attention to what you use the remaining apps for.

3. Limit the times you look at your phone

I was addicted to reading the news for many months. I committed to looking at the news just twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. That helped. Remember, it’s not about succeeding every time. That’s an unrealistic standard. With ADHD, things feel black and white. But in reality, failing a few times doesn’t take away from all the times I succeeded. Think of the percentage of time you are succeeding, rather than grading yourself with a pass/fail system. 

Screen time limits can be useful too, although they’re easy to ignore unless you internalize a reason for honoring them. 

4. Turn off your notifications

Notifications are the worst kind of distraction. Determine which apps notifications are absolutely critical and turn off the rest. On my phone, I only allow text messages and voice calls to notify me. Even email notifications can be turned under normal circumstances. If necessary, set expectations with others that you will limit your email activity to specific times of day.

Most phones also have an Accessibility option to set the phone display to grayscale. You’ll be amazed at how much less appealing mobile games are without color.

5. Stop multi-tasking

I hate to admit it, but passive engagement with my phone, like second-screening a show while I work, or working while listening to a podcast, slows me down. I put my headphones on and instantly go time blind, without the benefits of hyperfocus. I tell myself that, “It’s comforting to hear a little conversation as I work. I’m not really focused on it anyway.” But the truth is, I am less productive and less likely to switch tasks efficiently when I have an immediate thread of distraction to pick up between every gap in my workflow. It’s right there! 

No one really multi-tasks. Instead, we end up switch-tasking; switching our focus from one thing to another very quickly. This interrupted thought process keeps our brain busy. That can be calming, but suppresses greater insight and big picture thinking. When I need real focus, I find that avoiding a second screen and putting away my headphones helps give me a boost. 

6. Recognize addiction

You are addicted to dopamine and a smartphone is the most advanced dopamine delivery system ever conceived. Weaning yourself off that sweet nectar will be difficult, but it is worth the effort. You will begin to feel sufficiently rewarded by real world accomplishments again, rather than rushing to the screen for a quick fix.

People who eat too much sugar, then quit feel like nothing is sweet enough for months. But gradually, their taste buds recover and they can enjoy healthier diets again. Expect your brain to resist. Expect failure. And keep trying.

Conclusion

This list is by no means comprehensive. Leave a comment with your suggestions for how to ease the telephonic grip. I’d love to read them. Whatever you try, make a commitment to stick with it. Set an achievable goal. Try something and then try it differently. The social pressure to use the phone constantly is intense, but atypicals aren’t made to function like everyone else. And mainstream behavior isn’t necessarily best for your health anyway. Make a conscious effort to try something new.

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