What to do if you’re ad­dicted to your smart­phone

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - CAREERS - BILL HOWATT

Chief of re­search for work-force pro­duc­tiv­ity at the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada and for­mer chief re­search and de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer of work-force pro­duc­tiv­ity with Morneau She­p­ell

You’re walk­ing down the street and sud­denly think you feel a vi­bra­tion com­ing from your pocket or purse. You be­lieve your smart­phone has just gone off, so you stop to check and dis­cover it hasn’t. This in­no­cent check may be a sign that your body has be­come con­di­tioned to ex­pect an in­ter­ac­tion with your smart­phone, so it is an­tic­i­pat­ing a vi­bra­tion. It’s called phantom cell phone vi­bra­tion.

The sci­en­tific rea­son why this hap­pens is not fully agreed upon or un­der­stood. Re­gard­less, it’s fur­ther ev­i­dence that smart­phones are hav­ing an im­pact on shap­ing hu­man be­hav­iour. If this hap­pens to you, one way to stop this phantom vi­bra­tion is to move your phone to an­other lo­ca­tion, turn off vi­brate and turn on the sound on your phone.

A study in the United King­dom re­ported that 51 per cent of par­tic­i­pants ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere anx­i­ety when sep­a­rated from their smart­phone.

Es­tab­lish­ing a healthy norm is key as a base­line to mon­i­tor your smart­phone use. A 2017 study re­ported the av­er­age Amer­i­can spends 2.51 hours a day on their smart­phone.


The in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple get­ting ac­cess to smart­phones and the in­creased amount of screen time they’re en­gaged in, both at work and for per­sonal use, has re­sulted in more users de­vel­op­ing a risk for smart­phone be­havioural ad­dic­tion. Many be­havioural ad­dic­tions, such as gam­bling, shop­ping, food, on­line porn and sex trig­ger the brain’s re­ward sys­tem that ul­ti­mately drives the cy­cle of ad­dic­tion.

Any de­lay in grat­i­fi­ca­tion for those who have de­vel­oped a de­pen­dency on their smart­phone can re­sult in a form of pain and anx­i­ety that builds and im­pacts their emo­tions and think­ing un­til they check for a mes­sage or no­ti­fi­ca­tion.


Each be­havioural ad­dic­tion has its own unique pat­tern. It be­comes prob­lem­atic when the be­hav­iour starts to drive psy­cho­log­i­cal urges, com­pul­sion and loss of control. For ex­am­ple, smart­phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions go off and you feel you must im­me­di­ately check; you’re not ca­pa­ble of de­lay­ing that ac­tion with­out feel­ing some form of in­ter­nal dis­com­fort or anx­i­ety.

For a per­son at risk for a smart­phone ad­dic­tion, the urge to check their smart­phone is like a gam­bler chas­ing a bet to win; each bet is an op­por­tu­nity.

If you be­come aware that you’re at risk for a smart­phone be­havioural ad­dic­tion, the next step is to make a con­scious de­ci­sion to re­gain control.


The key to re­duc­ing the risk of be­com­ing con­trolled by your smart­phone is to be aware and pay at­ten­tion to how it’s in­flu­enc­ing your be­hav­iour and what you’re miss­ing out on be­cause of it.

Rec­om­men­da­tions for pre­vent­ing a smart­phone ad­dic­tion:

Set a daily max­i­mum and mon­i­tor your per­sonal screen time. Screen-time apps can mon- itor how much per­sonal time you spend on your smart­phone. If you set two hours a day for per­sonal screen time as your max­i­mum and you can’t ad­here to this limit, it may be a red flag that you’re be­com­ing con­trolled by your smart­phone.

Sleep in a dif­fer­ent room than your smart­phone. Train your brain to sleep and re­lax. Wak­ing up through the night to check mes­sages as you hear a no­ti­fi­ca­tion is a sign that you’re be­ing pulled in by the stim­u­lus­re­sponse power of a smart­phone.

The Globe and Mail and Morneau She­p­ell have cre­ated the Em­ployee Rec­om­mended Work­place Award to hon­our com­pa­nies that put the health and well-be­ing of their em­ploy­ees first. Read about the 2018 win­ners of the award at tgam.ca/work­placeaward. For more in­for­ma­tion about the award go to www.em­ploy­eere­c­om­mended.com.

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