Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with my iPhone. I try not to spend too much time scrolling through social media and checking email and texts, but somehow my phone always tempts me to open it up and see what’s new. Recently I found myself without cell service for a couple hours. I couldn’t believe how frustrated and irritated I felt when I couldn’t access my apps and connect with the world.
That’s when I knew I was addicted to my phone. There’s actually scientific proof that using iPhones and playing video games floods our bodies with dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter that plays a role in how much pleasure we feel. A new book called Dopamine Nation by Stanford University psychiatry professor Anna Lembke explains how and why the constant pursuit of pleasure can lead to pain. A simple explanation is that the body naturally tries to balance itself by producing feelings of irritation and anxiety (pain) in the absence of the dopamine (pleasure) fix.
This is a huge problem all of us are experiencing, often without even knowing it. Sometimes I wish for the days before smart phones when people actually looked at each other and talked in restaurants instead of staring at their phones; when you might start a conversation with a stranger on a bus or waiting in line at the store; when you had time to daydream and let your mind wander; when you took the time to stare out the window at the clouds passing by or the wind blowing through the trees.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Dr. Lembke, you can reset your addictions and retrain your body not to constantly crave a dopamine fix. It requires giving up whatever you are addicted to for a month. Dr. Lembke recommended this treatment to one of her patients, a depressed young man who was addicted to video gaming. She told him, “One month, no screens.” After a month, he reported feeling much less anxious and depressed and, going forward, kept his addiction in check by limiting his game-playing to no more than two days a week and two hours per day.
In my world, I can’t go a month without screens. I can limit my time on social media apps, however, and plan to start now. I look forward to reading more books (remember those?), spending time in nature, cooking, and daydreaming. Want to join me? Put down your phone and enjoy the moment in time you are in.