Digital fasting – the solution to get rid of phone addiction. What are the signs of addiction?

We use our smartphone to make payments, to connect with people close to us, to shop, to find a recipe, to read, and the list goes on and on. Most of us spend over 7 hours a day with our phone in hand. And this means addiction, draw the attention of the specialists, who emphasize that this addiction is like that for gambling or tobacco.

The disease that prevents us from putting down the phone – Photo Archive

Mobile phone addiction is similar to gambling, tobacco, drugs or alcohol, experts warn. A study from 2023 shows that Romanians spend 7 hours and 3 minutes on the phone every day, of which at least two hours are spent on social networks alone. That puts us above the global average of 6 hours and 37 minutes, and also surpasses Americans, who spend 6 hours and 59 minutes with their smartphone in their arms.

But like any addiction, it can be treated, experts say. “First of all you have to admit that it is an addiction, a lot of people are in denial because there is a false impression that you can be in control and get rid of your phone at any time”, says psychologist Keren Rosner.

Digital dopamine

Romanians do not give up their phone even when they go to the toilet, 81% of respondents to a study conducted by the Daedalus company admitted that they take their phone in the bathroom, and this has become a habit over time. At the same time, the phone is the first thing we reach for in the morning and the last thing we use before going to bed.

Young people are the most exposed to the phenomenon, but even adults are not better off. We deal with control issues, we can't help but put the phone down, that's also because some apps are built to play with our psyche and we feel the need to repeat the behavior as often as possible to get satisfaction. Our body secretes happy hormones when an activity gives us pleasure, so we want to repeat it.

Mirela Husaru, counselor and certified emotional development coach, emphasizes that “excessive use of mobile phones can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Reducing the time you spend on your phone can help improve your mental well-being. Staying on the phone for too long can affect our ability to concentrate and be productive. By reducing the time we spend on the phone, we can be more efficient in our activities. It can also affect our relationships with those around us, reducing face-to-face communication and interaction“.

From the games that offer us virtual prizes, to the refresh button and likes, notifications, comments, all these are the features that make us become as addicted to the phone as possible. One molecule is blamed for addictions: dopamine, because it plays an important role in the brain's reward system, moreover, dopamine receptors are also affected by the anticipation of something pleasant.

We identify the addiction at the moment when we would like to give up the phone and cannot: that is, we involuntarily look for it, there is a feeling of restlessness, agitation, discomfort that disappears when we have access to the phone. It seems to you that you are losing something important, that you are helpless, all kinds of anxieties appear. That's how you realize that there's a problem, that it's about more than the need to use the phone. It's about pleasure, security, you feel like you're in control, when you have your phone close at hand, and that gives you a sense of well-being. On the other hand, it is about doing pleasant things: you listen to music, read the impressions of someone who has traveled, watch a video, and then you also project some positive things for yourself“, explains Keren Rosner.

Anna Lembke, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, argues that the smartphone is like a hypodermic needle, providing an endless supply of “digital dopamine” for billions of users.

Digital media activates the same part of our brain as drugs and alcohol, releasing dopamine. With repeated use, our brain adapts by down-regulating dopamine transmission. With enough continuous exposure, our brains enter a dopamine-deficient state characterized by depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and food cravings. Once this happens, we reach for digital media not as a tool to accomplish a specific task… but to get out of the dopamine deficit and stop feeling bad.“, explained the expert, quoted by the BBC.

How do you know you're addicted to your phone?

Do you check your phone even when you don't get notifications? Do you take your phone everywhere with you, even to the toilet? Does your day start and end with your hand on your phone? Do you use the device while talking to other people? Do you panic when you can't find your phone? These are just some of the signs that you're addicted to your phone, experts say.

Over time, this addiction can affect our sleep, decrease concentration or lead to blockages of creativity, it also worsens attention deficit, brings anxiety, stress, loneliness, insecurity, psychological disorders or damaged relationships.

It affects relationships because you're not paying attention, you don't stay connected with others, you lose important information, the person next to you sure feels neglected and unimportant, and over time the relationship deteriorates. The most affected relationships, which are no longer so complex, are those between parents and children, who no longer talk like they used to, but prefer to stay in their own virtual world“, explained Keren Rosner.

We often say we can't give up our phone because we need it to get things done, but we could be lying to ourselves because of the addiction.

This is the paradox: we confuse the need to use the phone with addiction. Addiction is when you don't have to do anything important with your phone, when it doesn't help you, but you simply feel the need to be connected, to see what others are doing. To heal you have to be very disciplined and measure the time you spend and the actions you do according to your needs. By being disciplined, you can end up taking your dopamine and pleasure from other activities, being very connected in the present in the activity you're doing. Every sense should be activated and be aware, you will no longer do some things automatically, while your mind is connected to the virtual world”, says psychologist Keren Rosner.

The solution: Digital fasting

Discipline, establishing rules such as no phone in the bathroom, at the table or in the bedroom, but also replacing the time spent on the phone with other pleasant activities are among the most important things we have at hand to get rid of this addiction. We can do a kind of digital fasting – a period of time where we give up the phone.

Take regular breaks from your phone, including during the work day or during your free time, to rest your eyes and mind. Try to be aware of the negative effects of excessive phone use on your mental and emotional health and motivate yourself to reduce the time you spend on your mobile device. And don't forget: real life happens offline“, advises Mirela Husaru.

Setting time limits for phone use can help us: “You can set a maximum time per day or avoid using your phone at certain times of the day, such as at dinner or before bed. Replacing phone activities with offline activities such as reading, walking outdoors or socializing with friends and family will give you a different kind of satisfaction”says the consultant, who also urges us to turn off the notifications of the apps that constantly distract us.

On the other hand, psychologist Keren Rosner confesses what solutions he has found for people who have undergone therapy for this type of addiction: “Some people started going on weekends to areas where there was no signal, then there was no choice, they were forced to find other activities. This is how they learned that they can live two days without being connected to the phone“.

Another method offered by the psychologist involves leaving the phone somewhere far away, out of reach. “You have to start gradually, because if you are addicted and go to the other extreme, some very unpleasant states of agitation, restlessness, anxiety, fear are activated. Put other activities in place, don't leave it empty, because if you don't have something in place, it will be very difficult for you“, says the psychologist.

Some new terms have even emerged to describe the characteristics of phone addiction:

– Nomophobia: Fear associated with not having a phone.

– Textaphrenia: Fear of not being able to receive or send text messages.

– Ringxiety: Feeling like a notification has come on your phone when it hasn't.

– Textiety: Feeling anxious to receive and respond to messages immediately.

Signs of obsession

Signs and symptoms of phone obsession:

  1. The lie about using smartphones
  2. Loved ones expressing concern
  3. Negligence or problems performing tasks at work, school, or home
  4. Using a phone for more and more time
  5. Repeatedly checking people's profiles because of anxiety
  6. Poor or non-existent social life
  7. Fear of losing something
  8. Isolation from loved ones
  9. Annoyance or irritation if phone use is interrupted
  10. Touching the phone when they are alone or bored
  11. Limiting phone use is difficult
  12. The desire to have access to a smartphone or other device