Many people reach for their phones first thing in the morning. Or, they pull it out while they are waiting in line or at a doctor’s office. Some people feel uncomfortable when their cell phone isn’t within reaching distance. Some will even panic when they have misplaced their phones.

If you carry your phone with you around the house and everywhere else, you may want to think about a digital detox. Or, a reboot, at least. You can develop a healthy relationship with your phone with a few small tweaks. You can turn things around to ensure you’re the one driving what you do, not your cell phone.

Why are people so attached to our phones?

The simple truth is, many people are essentially addicted. They are addicted to the release of dopamine that happens in our brain’s reward center each time we pick up our phone and get some kind of social validation. Dopamine is one of the brain and body’s “feel good” chemicals. It plays a pivotal role in motivating behavior. When you eat something tasty, buy something to reward yourself, or have sex, dopamine is released in your brain.

 People get addicted to that dopamine release stimulation, and that addiction increases the chances that they will do those behaviors again. You might not experience a dopamine release every time you pick up your phone, though. If there are no “likes,” or nothing that “feels good,” it’s often easier to put the phone away. However, your brain gets hooked on the buzz when it can find it, and that keeps you going back for more.

What about when it doesn’t always feel good?

Checking your phone doesn’t always feel good, though. For instance, you may check your work email after-hours. This type of checking often makes you feel stressed instead. Or, if you’re already having a difficult day and you jump on social media, you may start comparing yourself to others who seem to have better lives and be happier than you.

People have gotten so accustomed to keeping busy with their phones, and sometimes, they may choose the stress of checking their work email or comparing themselves to others over spending time in stillness or doing other things. They may feel afraid of or uncomfortable with boredom and are not sure how to sit with themselves without something to “do.”

You may think it’s dramatic to suggest that cell phones and tech devices are addictive. However, there are genuine ways that phones, email, and social media translate into symptoms of addiction, including:

  • Using the phone to get rid of or suppress uncomfortable or challenging emotions
  • Using the phone without conscious awareness (auto-pilot instead of mindfulness)
  • Spending large parts of the day using the phone
  • Feeling it’s nearly impossible to give up the phone
  • Choosing the digital world over reality
  • Feeling irritable and distracted if you can’t get your fix

Reducing or breaking an addictive behavior can be challenging. Unfortunately, sometimes you must feel worse to feel better eventually. Changing your habits with your phone means you get less dopamine, feel-good pleasure, and more uncomfortable “gotta check my phone” urges.

Phones are an inevitable part of the modern world. We must have them to function in society. But, if you’ve started to develop unhealthy habits, it may be time to take a break. If you need help taking the reins back and deciding for yourself how much to use your phone, you can turn to a clinical psychologist for treatment, like counseling in Palatine, IL from Lotus Wellness Center, for help.