Anxiety and Constantly Checking Your Phone

Yes, there is a correlation!

Do you have shiny penny syndrome or squirrel syndrome?

The human brain has a “novelty bias.” This means that the pre-frontal cortex becomes easily distracted by new things.

These days, your phone has become your biggest distraction.  You carry your phone with you everywhere and it has an app for everything on it. So your phone has become a problem for your pre-frontal cortex.

Your phone provides a constant distraction which is actually hard on your brain and body.

Your Brain on Phone Addiction

The constant distraction creates a dopamine addiction loop. Your pre-frontal cortex gets a dose of dopamine every time it responds to a phone distraction. Every time you check your phone or text/message or use a phone app, your brain gets its drug.  

Is this an addiction? You probably underestimate how often you actually do this because it has become an unconscious habit.

According to research reported by USA Today and Apple:

  • iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times a day
  • On average, we tap, type, and swipe our smartphones more that 2600 times a day!!!
  • People are more willing to give up food, sleep and sex than to lose their internet connections
  • Half of people in one study would rather have a broken bone than a broken phone!

 

Dopamine is a feel good brain chemical so your brain likes it! It’s the same brain chemical involved in all addictions.  Dopamine is the driver of heroin and cocaine addiction.

When your phone dings and you don’t immediately check it, you feel anxiety.

Because your brain gets addicted to that little dopamine rush, when it doesn’t get it, your brain goes into a stress reaction. Your body is signaled into an anxiety state.

This stress/anxiety reaction releases adrenaline and cortisol in the brain and your sympathetic nervous system is activated.

This activates fight or flight mode, and the following anxiety reactions can occur in your body: increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, perspiration, preparing muscles to fight or flight, and shutting down digestive processes so you aren’t able to digest food properly.

When your body spends too much time in this mode, it can also suppress your immune system (and therefore contribute to a multitude of health issues). It is also a big contributor to insomnia.

What To Do?

Because your brain likes that dopamine, it will not want to stop pursuing those shiny pennies and squirrel distractions on your phone. It will urge you to keep checking.

But your best strategy is to reduce the constant checking. This will help your brain fight off that stress and anxiety response.

Another strategy is to counter balance the dopamine addiction loop with periods of time of deep concentration or focus or mindfulness.  

Concentration calms your brain so the goal is to find an activity to focus on for a period of time, giving your brain a break from anxiety orientation that your phone creates.

The goal is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your brain and body.

Meditation is great for this, but you can also accomplish this with many different activities.

Put your phone away for a little while and concentrate on a yoga class. Try concentrating on reading, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Maybe coloring, or cooking, or Zumba.

Find something you love to do and see if you can zone out doing it. That feeling of zoning out, or losing track of time, is what you’re going for. No multi-tasking allowed! No phones allowed!

3 Things

Think of 3 things right now that might get you that into the zone feeling. That is the anti-anxiety feeling.

Pause right now and name 3 things.

My clients often ask me “what can I do to reduce my anxiety?”

Now you know 3 things you could do.

When will you turn off your phone and put it out of sight and try one of them?