Digital Toxicity and Smartphone Addiction

April 05, 2020

Digital Toxicity and Smartphone Addiction

Do you feel panic when you realize your phone isn’t in arms reach? Do you feel frustration and anger if the internet is down or you find yourself somewhere without WI-FI? The overuse of digital devices that interferes with our daily lives as well as the use of digital devices that causes anxiety, fear, dread, or overdependence is known as digital toxicity. Digital toxicity has become a widespread concern as 1 in 5 Americans report that technology use is a source of stress for them.

Similar to digital toxicity, smartphone addiction is an overdependence on or overuse of digital devices, specifically the smartphone. A smartphone addiction can interfere with your daily tasks and attention, such as driving, working, sleeping, and being aware of your surroundings. If left untreated, a smartphone addiction can cause harm to yourself and others.  


Digital toxicity or smartphone addiction can interfere with our performance at work or school, developing and maintaining personal relationships, and even our safety and wellbeing. For instance, texting while driving poses a threat to yourself and others, and is an example of dangerous digital toxicity as the driver’s use of a smartphone is interfering with the task of driving safely.

It is important to recognize if you are experiencing digital toxicity or smartphone addiction and to take steps to help yourself regain independence from digital devices.


Digital Toxicity and Smartphone Addiction Symptoms


If you or someone you know are struggling with digital toxicity or smartphone addiction, you may display some of the following symptoms:

  • Often unable to resist temptation to use smartphone or other digital device
  • Anxiety or irritability when away from smartphone or other digital device
  • Frequently use smartphone or other digital device longer than intended
  • Family or friends feel that you spend more time on your phone or other digital device than with them
  • Experiencing increased conflict due to miscommunication or misunderstandings


Emotional Responses to Digital Toxicity and Smartphone Addiction

If someone is experiencing digital toxicity or smartphone addiction, how is their emotional health impacted? There are several emotional responses to digital toxicity and smartphone addiction, including the following:

  • Anxiety – fear of being away from your phone or other device, anxiously awaiting responses to texts or emails, experiencing anxiety from the information seen on your social media feeds or other online sources
  • Depression - sadness, fear, lack of trust, irritability, guilt, and lowered confidence.
  • Low Attention – making more mistakes, experiencing more falls or accidents because you are paying attention to a digital device, being reprimanded at work or school for being distracted. Digital toxicity and smartphone addiction causes increased errors due to multi-tasking.
  • Insomnia – using smartphones and other digital devices before bed can impact your quality of sleep and even prevent you from falling asleep as you regularly would

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Digital Devices

Healthy boundaries are constructs that we live by based on our values. We all develop boundaries differently in all areas of our lives — boundaries with friends, family, coworkers, food, exercise, and so forth. If we fail to create boundaries or honor them, we risk becoming powerless in that area of our lives. In order to maintain control of our behaviors and emotions, and to ensure that they are in alignment with our values, we must create healthy boundaries for ourselves.

With the amount of information available on the ways in which smartphones and other digital devices impact our emotional wellbeing, personal relationships, and work performance, it is important that we now consider establishing healthy boundaries with our digital devices as well. Below are the ways in which we may do so:

  • Turn off smartphones during staff meetings, meals at restaurants, meals at home, driving, and while watching movies.
  • Avoid checking emails before 9:00 am
  • Do not check social media until the end of the day
  • When possible, opt for in-person communication over phone, text, or email

While these suggestions will not remove the use of smartphones or other digital devices in your life, they can help create healthy boundaries around how you use such devices and how much you use them.

There is no doubt that technology is here to stay and that there are very real benefits and advantages to using digital devices; but there is also no doubt that their overuse can lead to addiction and digital toxicity. Begin by assessing your use of digital devices and whether you may benefit from creating healthier boundaries in this area of your life.


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