As much as we may not like to admit it, we rely pretty heavily on our mobile phones these days. Whether it’s finding directions, messaging a friend, researching a topic, sharing a photo, or paying for something, phone use had become embedded in our society. So, our phones are almost always in close proximity. Given this, excessive phone use is becoming more of a norm.
Given the prominent place of phones in our lives, many researchers have started investigating the effects of excessive phone use. Recent studies have found links between excessive phone use and depression, anxiety, stress, and poor sleep (Yang, 2020; Ying et al., 2020; Zahra, 2018). Phone use has also been found to have a negative relationship with anxiety and stress (Stanković et al., 2021). This means that as phone use increases, anxiety and stress decrease (and vice versa).
It’s important to note here that a link between phone use and anxiety/stress does not mean that greater phone use causes greater anxiety/stress, nor that greater anxiety/stress causes greater phone use. It is possible that mobile phones simply provide a temporary escape for people experiencing uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety/stress. This makes sense, as it’s natural to want to avoid emotional discomfort, and phones can serve as a very accessible distraction tool.
Given their ability to relieve anxiety/stress in the short-term, we can start to rely on our phones for this purpose. It can become compulsive and addictive. This is made even more difficult to avoid by the strategies used by phone applications to maintain your engagement. For example, many apps give us notifications when we receive a ‘like’ or ‘follow’, which can serve as a reward and keep us coming back for more. We also know that many apps use an algorithm to track our interests and continue to show us what will keep our attention, and keep us using the app.
So, while our phones can’t give us anxiety, excessive phone use can maintain our anxiety. As such, it can be helpful to set limits for our phone use and, when we are using our phones, choose to engage with a purpose in mind. Both anxiety/stress and excessive phone use can be successful managed with gold standard treatments, and the OCD Clinic has helped countless people reclaim control over their lives by doing just that.
Blog post written by Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at The OCD Clinic. If you have questions about psychological therapy please contact our intake team: firstname.lastname@example.org