You go to the store, which is owned by licensed brands and corporations. You speak to a uniformed employee. You choose the model that best suits you. Then you purchase a contract so that it has data, texting and a few extraneous minutes for when you actually pick up the phone and call someone.
Oh, yes—of course we’re talking about purchasing a smartphone. And while the above steps seem aboveboard, what you’re really buying is an addictive substance.
You can see it happening all around you, too. People grab for their phones every few minutes, scrolling mindlessly through apps or responding to texts in the middle of real-life meetings, lunch dates and strolls to the corner store. They can’t help themselves—they have to check their phones all the time. They’re addicted.
As time goes on these addictions can worsen, and extreme overuse of an addictive substance—including a smartphone—should be called by its proper name: an overdose. But how do you know if you’ve overdosed on technology? Here are some of the telltale symptoms and how to reverse them.
Symptom: Neck and Back Pain
Craning your neck to look down at your phone all day, every day, is not a great choice when it comes to neck and spinal health. Your spine was built to support your head in its upright position. Every inch you lean forward puts extra strain on your neck in order to support the added weight as gravity pushes down on your noggin.
The end result is an overloaded neck—and a painful head and spine that can cause numbness in your fingers, plus headaches and sad posture. Every addiction has physical effects, and your smartphone overdoses can cause some serious pains in the neck (and back).
Symptom: Damaged Relationships
Again, addicts have a reputation for particular types of behavior, and your tech addiction will make you no different. In fact, a study published in January 2016 examined whether “technoference”—or interruptions in relationships due to one party checking his or her phone—caused emotional strife or rifts within said relationships.
What researchers found probably comes as no surprise: Those who reported more “technoferences” in their relationships were more likely to have conflict over technology use, lower levels of satisfaction within the relationship, a greater likelihood for depression and a lower overall life satisfaction. These side effects do not help to forge a strong bond.
Symptom: The Constant Itch
Finally, you’re potentially OD-ing on smartphone time if you find yourself physically unable to leave it unchecked. Even if it doesn’t buzz, do you grab your phone and click to see the screen light up, just in case you somehow missed a notification? Do you rely on it to get through a boring commute or a boring commercial break?
If your instinct in the majority of downtime situations is to grab for your phone, you might have a serious addiction.
Fix: Cold Turkey Switch-Off
It works for some addicts. You might just have to cut yourself off from your phone completely in order to get over your addiction. Even an afternoon where you consciously leave your device at home can work wonders and remind you why real-life is a bit more fulfilling than a digital one.
If you can’t go without it in your presence, at least make a point to leave it beyond easy reach. Stow it away in a pocket or bag. Without it in sight, you might find it easier to go about your business.
Fix: Sound Off
You can also combat your tech addiction by turning off vibrations, alerts and other notifications that grab your attention. Even something as simple as a notification that lights up the home screen of your phone can distract you and get you right back online.
A “Do Not Disturb” mode exists on many phones so you can turn off the noises without going offline. Try it out and see if you’re better able to function without tech.
Researchers who have looked into addictive behavior and its links to smartphones have found that, while mobile phones truly do mirror other substances in terms of their addictiveness, the addiction formed can be broken.
The main thing is wanting to break the cycle. Most addictions perpetuate unless a person has high levels of motivation to fight it off. So make a conscious effort to pinpoint your addiction and get rid of it. Time to unplug!
Image: Jorge Gonzalez, CC-BY
Anum Yoon is Paste’s Unplugged columnist and a Philly-based blogger who founded Current On Currency.