Phone Addiction – Are We Losing the Art of Being Able to be With Ourselves?

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At a comedy show recently I sat in my seat during the interval and studied the art deco theatre. I was admiring the intricate ceiling and the décor and looked across from where I was sitting to see three people engrossed in their phones. They seemed oblivious to the beautiful surroundings. This is a common sight I know. And those of us with smartphones often do this during a break.

This reminds me of couples and families out to dinner when everyone is on their phones or young children who seem bored and want to engage with a very distracted parent on their phone.

If we mislay our phone, we panic.

Is this a sign that we are addicted? Addicted to our phone?

Having access to our phone makes us feel connected. Connected to people we know and love and to strangers and the world in general. We can contact anyone we want, whenever we want, from the palm of our hand. 

Phones are a wonderful distraction. We are hard-wired to pick them up at any spare moment. Whilst we wait for a bus, when we can’t sleep, on a train journey, during adverts, or when we eat a meal. Spending time bored or alone without distraction feels like a thing of the past. With a smartphone, there’s no need to feel that anymore.

What are we missing or avoiding by becoming involved in our phones so much?

It may alleviate awkwardness

Rather than feeling anxious at being on our own and potentially lonely or rejected we can pick up our phone which makes us feel immediately connected to someone or something else. This distraction negates the difficult feeling we may have or the anxiety about the potentially difficult feeling if we are alone for too long. Picking up our phone solves this. But at what cost?

Creativity often arises when we let our minds wander

We see this in children who love playing imaginative games and role plays when they are left to their own devices. Think of the child who gets more enjoyment from playing with the cardboard box that their present comes in than the actual toy itself.

Writers and artists allow a spark of creativity to develop in many ways, often by letting ideas mull around in their heads. This isn’t possible if we continually bombard ourselves with information and distractions.

Daydreaming, thinking, planning ahead, processing things that have happened or just purely letting our minds wander can be so beneficial.

How does this relate to psychodynamic psychotherapy?

My clients are free to feel and say anything they want to but it’s rare for people to have that opportunity in everyday life. It can feel awkward, to begin with.

What should I say?

Am I getting it right?

But once you become more comfortable sharing your thoughts you usually discover unexpected observations and reflections which you wouldn’t usually be aware of. These can lead to exploring areas you were not expecting to talk about, but which are actually causing you current anxiety.

Spending time exploring these issues can bring insight and epiphanies which can be really helpful, and you soon realise what a precious space psychotherapy offers.

So, what can we do about our phone addiction?

The simple answer is to do a digital detox! But a week away on a mindfulness retreat for example is not practical for most of us. So why not try little steps?

  1. Leave your phone outside the bedroom overnight
  • Put your phone on silent when you eat a meal or watch a movie
  • Turn off notifications during phonecalls or when concentrating on a piece of work

If you can begin to feel more comfortable with those situations maybe you could work up to having your phone with you but on silent more often. So it’s with you for security but won’t disturb you whilst you do something on your own like going for a walk or working out.

The more we feel that our phone is something we are in control of, not the other way around, the more we are able to choose how much and when and where we use it.

This gives us a much healthier relationship with it and, in turn, ourselves and others.

Photo by Alireza Hosseini Moghadam on Unsplash