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Signs your cellphone use is a serious problem

Signs your cellphone use is a serious problem
(Dreamstime)

While smartphone addiction hasn't (yet!) become a diagnosable disorder, it's clear that a dependency on electronics has become an unhealthy obsession for many.

But where is that line between a busy, productive person who uses her phone for staying up to date and someone who keeps scrolling and swiping to the extent that his behavior is addictive, problematic and creating tension with loved ones?

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Well, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the guide that mental health professionals like myself use to make an official mental health or substance abuse diagnosis), symptoms become a disorder when they impair social, educational or occupational functioning.

So it's less about the amount of time you spend engaging in a behavior and more about how many problems that behavior causes in your life.

When it comes to your smartphone use, there isn't a set amount of time, per se, that would determine your behavior is unhealthy. Instead, your cellphone might be a problem if you experience these impairments.

1. It impairs your social life

While many people try to convince themselves that their social media interactions are enhancing their social lives, quite often, online communication is impairing face-to-face conversations.

If you spend social gatherings staring at your phone, your relationships are likely being harmed. If you opt out of social opportunities because you're too busy messing about with your phone, your social life likely is impaired. If you are on a date or having dinner with a friend and you keep looking at your cellphone, that's a problem.

2. Your friends and family express concern

If other people are annoyed by your smartphone use, take it as a sign. While you might not think you're on your cellphone too much, or you might believe you have to be on the phone to manage your workload, other people may feel it's affecting your ability to communicate and connect with those around you.

3. You engage in dangerous behavior

If you can't resist the urge to reply to a text message while you're driving, it's a problem. Similarly, if you are staring at your phone while you cross the street, you're putting your phone ahead of your personal safety.

4. Your work suffers

Whether you're a student, a lawyer, a barista or a graphic designer, if you can't stop scrolling through your cellphone, your productivity will decline.

You very well may produce lower quality work because you allow your cellphone to distract you. Or it might take you twice as long to get your work done because you are constantly engaged with your smartphone.

5. You become agitated when you are away from your phone

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If you feel sheer panic when you can't access your phone or the internet for a few minutes, you have a problem. If you grow agitated, irritable or anxious when you can't check social media or respond to your latest emails, that's troubling.

Try to simply sit quietly outside for 15 minutes and enjoy beautiful weather or think about a problem without using your cellphone. Have a conversation with another human being and don't look at your cellphone. Can you do it?

6. Your sleep is impaired

If you stay up later than you intend because you're staring at your phone or you check your phone whenever you wake up, your phone is interfering with your ability to sleep.

7. You experience health-related consequences

Some people experience finger pain from texting or neck pain from hunching over the screen. You might also find you don't take time to exercise because you're using your phone. Or you might grab unhealthy food because your phone time interferes with your ability to prepare healthy meals.

If your smartphone use has become unhealthy, take steps to change your behavior. Use an app to track the time you spend on your phone and set limits on your use. Schedule times to unplug, such as during meals and about an hour before bedtime.

If you aren't able to cut back on your use on your own, seek professional help.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, a lecturer at Northeastern University and a mental strength trainer.

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