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Digital Addiction: Increased Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression

Digital Addiction: Increased Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression

The use of smartphones in our daily lives has increased to the point of widespread digital addiction. The American Society for Addiction and Medicine and the American Psychological Society both recognize behavioral dependency, in addition to dependence on a substance, as indicative of addiction. Similar to substance addiction, digital addiction appears to have some neurological basis of support. Humans have developed automatic reactions to surprising stimuli, and from an evolutionary perspective, this has been beneficial to our survival. However, in the modern world, we are often triggered for this response by digital notifications, creating inherent distractions. When individuals choose to look at smartphone content, such as texts or videos, they experience neurological rewards that reinforce the behavior. This internal reward that we receive through smartphone and social media use has greatly contributed to the digital addiction. Consequently, individuals often repeatedly check their phone for notifications, even when no notifications are present. Furthermore, recent research suggests that after repeated exposure to smartphone content, individuals begin to experience difficulty pulling away from the device.

Peper and Harvey’s (2018) current study found that the heaviest smartphone users also report significantly higher levels of isolation, perceived loneliness, depression, and anxiety, compared to light users. The term “phoneliness” has been developed to specifically describe the perceived loneliness associated with excessive smartphone and social media use. In turn, the experience of actual social isolation and perceived loneliness significantly impairs physical health. Heavy smartphone users have a similar experience to on-call doctors, in which they are constantly checking for anticipated notifications. This continuous multitasking has likely negative effects on attention and task performance. Moreover, the incessant nature of modern smartphone use stunts neural regeneration. Like other muscles in the body, after periods of stress and activity, the brain requires time to pause for regeneration and for maintaining neural health. Rather, long-term excessive stimulation could lead to physical illness or some degree of brain damage. To become proactive regarding your smartphone usage, Peper and Harvey (2018) give the following recommendations: turn off notifications during work and social events, schedule time to check your phone, and schedule uninterrupted time to be creative or concentrate on something other than your technology devices.

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