People who described themselves as displaying addictive behaviors toward their cell phones (cell phone addiction) and the Internet score a lot higher on scales for depression and anxiety compared to those who are not addicted. Estimates by the Pew Research Center are that 77% of Americans have a smartphone. Cell phone addiction is a form of a process addiction or behavioral addiction, which also includes compulsive texting.  Among those between 18 and 29 years old, almost 93% say their phone is useful in avoiding the people they’re with or it keeps them from being bored. This is an important fact because a recent study now links cell phone addiction with anxiety and depression in college students, but just in certain types of situations.

Another study found that problematic cell phone addiction resulted in sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, and depression. In addition, that review reported on the coexistence relationship between problematic cell-phone use and substance use such as tobacco and alcohol.

The research sought to find out whether someone’s cell phone addiction or their internet and cell phone use was associated with any mental health issues. Researchers surveyed 318 psychology students at the University about the state of their mental health, how much time they spent using their cell phones and on the Internet, and why they looked to their cell phones. A sampling of the questions included, “Do you think your school work has been negatively impacted due to your cell phone use?” and “Do you think without the Internet life would be boring, sad and empty?”

Researchers discovered that people trying to avoid negative feelings, thoughts or experiences turned to their cell phones for escape. Regarding the 93% of people 18 to 90 years old that grabbed their cell phones to relieve boredom, no connection was found between their phone and Internet use to escape boredom and negative outcomes in terms of their mental health.

Fascinated by the correlation that was revealed between mental health problems and higher cell phone use as avoidance and coping devices, the researchers looked a little further. When they did a follow-up study they brought in 84 undergraduates of the University of Illinois and placed them into three separate groups.

Participants in each group were given 5 minutes to jot down a paragraph about a weakness or personal flaw they had. In an attempt to put them under stress, researchers explained to them that they would be undergoing a video interview discussing their responses and to add more stress they were told that graduate students in psychology would be analyzing their paragraphs. Only the participants in one of the three groups were permitted to keep their cell phones in their possession during the assignment.

What this task revealed to researchers was that participants in the group that was allowed to keep their phones while dealing with the stressful assignment were much less apt to be negatively impacted by the stress when compared to participants in the two other groups.

Just having their cell phone with them seemed to help that group be less sensitive or somehow resist the stress of the situation, but this association was short-lived. But, researchers were able to conclude from the experiment that cell phones might offer a level of comfort for certain people when facing stressful situations. The researchers are suggesting that distractions provided by cell phones in moderation can be helpful at times, but in some case can contribute to cell phone addiction and a worsening of symptoms.

Using devices for emotional coping was associated with anxiety and depression, but using cell phones to cope with boredom was not associated with psychological problems. For people being treated for anxiety-induced disorders or depression, reducing their technology or cell phone use may be helpful so they can learn more effective methods of coping with their emotions.  If you need help coping with depression, anxiety and cell phone addiction, please give us a call!

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