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The truth about tech addiction: A special report

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Memory loss, shrinking IQ, and flattened creativity are just some of the ways excessive smartphone use is damaging our brains. But what exactly is tech addiction? And how do we know when playing Wordle is not a game anymore? Health Tech World reports…

The chances are, you won’t make it to the end of this article. You may check your phone before you’re halfway down, or jump straight back into the rabbit hole that is social media, looking for the next dopamine hit. (It’s not your fault – it’s an epidemic that is sweeping the planet at an alarming rate). 

According to experts, a shortened attention span is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to changes happening to our brains. Excessive phone use could be leading us into new territory, in which we are damaging our ability to create, improvise, and even make memories. 

How addicted are we?

Research conducted by reviews.org concluded that Americans check their phones 344 times a day – once every four minutes, with almost half (47 per cent) admitting they were addicted to their device. 

That’s a startling number when you compare it with findings from Apple back in 2016, showing that we’re checking our phones 80 times a day. The numbers show that we’re checking our phones four times as often in 2022, suggesting that this is a trend heading only in one direction. 

So what can we do to tackle our unhealthy love affair with smartphones?

Behavioural specialist and addiction expert Abdullah Boulad, CEO of The Balance Luxury Rehab Centre, says we have reached a point of crisis with tech addiction. In an exclusive interview with Health Tech World, he offered his expertise and tips on tackling the issue, as well as some fascinating insights into addiction.

Addiction specialist, Abdullah Boulad

“We have an inner nervousness nowadays, flipping between headlines, and we are less able cognitively to focus,” he said.

“Every client I see has a problem with excessive phone and tech use. It may not be the primary reason that they visit, but it is always included in what they are being treated for.”

Abdullah shared how his rehab centre has a box for mobile phones, encouraging patients to place their devices inside it and walk away a few times a day. This encourages them to engage with one another for periods of time without a device in their hands, and allows them to observe their urges when they are away from it. 

“Our attention spans, our memories and even our creativity is being damaged by our excessive phone use,” Abdullah continued. 

“I’ve seen it more and more how people are not able to read a full article, or sit down with a book. They are not able to be mindful or be in the moment, because they are utterly consumed by the next hit, the next thing to grab their attention.

“When your brain is building long term memories, a certain level of time and focus is required for this. With a lack of focus and over-stimulation, they are not forming how they should. 

“In severe cases it can affect our sleep, our daily routine and our ability to be creative. We just don’t focus for long enough to create, and that has its own knock-on effects on our wellbeing. 

“If we continue the way we are going, I think we will see our capability for memory shrink, I think our intelligence levels will be noticeably lower, and our ability to be creative will be less. It’s important to be aware of the risks in order to tackle them.”

Is tech also making us sad?

A survey by Quizlet concluded that one in five members of generation Z experience feelings of depression as a result of social media use. Over a third (37%) of those surveyed claim that their mental health impacts the quality of their academic studies ‘most of the time’

Quizlet (UK) country manager Rahim Hirji spoke to us about the findings. He said: Social media plays a central role in the way we document our lives, socialise, and stay connected. Although it can be a safe space to communicate with others, build social networks, and express oneself freely – excessive use can be very damaging.

 “In the last decade, the rise of mental health diagnoses and treatment for mental health conditions amongst young people has paralleled a steep rise in the use of smartphones and social media. 

“This correlation is a cause for concern. In order to better understand the state of the UK’s mental health crisis, and get to the bottom of what is most impacting young peoples’ wellbeing, we conducted a study gathering insights from British students aged 18 to 25 years old. 

“Findings indicate that social media is a significant factor in the feelings of depression, loneliness, isolation, and inadequacy that young people face today.”

 

Doomscrolling our way to ill health

He added: “Excessive use of social media, and ‘doomscrolling’ can even lead to sleep deprivation, impaired concentration, and increased stress. These not only impact mental health, but also negatively affect a person’s ability to engage in schoolwork and academic performance.”

Digital wellbeing – tips from the experts

There are numerous ways in which you can identify and tackle unhealthy digital use. Abdullah Boulad shared these basic tips:

  • Book physical meetings with friends – engaging in person releases chemicals that we just don’t get from a screen, as does physical touch. Meet a friend face to face, and try not to check your phone while you are with them.
  • Create time limits – give yourself an hour in the evening to use your phone, and then put it away.
  • Put your phone on silent – if you create a situation where you have less triggers, you are of course less likely to fall into excessive phone use
  • Keep the phone away from your body – go for a walk without your phone, or try to be in the house without it constantly on your body.

Rahim Hirji added: “Whether government-backed or not, educational campaigns and initiatives must be in place to train young people on how best to navigate the ever-increasing technological world. 

“Younger generations are being born into a world where they are tech-savvy as toddlers, increasing their reliance and dependence on technology as they get older – but it is possible to achieve a healthy balance of screenless time, where smart technology is used as a tool, not as an essential aspect of their lives. For this reason, it is essential that educational institutions, parents, and governments inform young people on how best to navigate smart technology in the healthiest, most efficient way.”

Help for tech addiction

A few useful links if you, or someone you know is looking into getting help for tech-related addiction. 

 

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