Sunday, January 28, 2018
Escaping From Cell Phone Compulsion
(Dedicated to HO)
Everyone seems to agree we spend way too much time on our mobile phones.
No one discusses actual ways to beat the habit.
I devote this posting to the topic.
But first, a quick tangent:
It has become au courant to consider excessive cell phone usage an addiction. People throw the word, addiction, about carelessly.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) (and whether they actually know is debatable), an addiction represents a primary, chronic disease involving brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.
Notice the highly mechanized, dehumanizing nature of the definition, betraying contemporary society’s penchant for neurocentrism. The ASAM definition continues:
Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
I tend towards hyperbole, but nonetheless am loathe to view heavy use of your mobile phone as a type of diminished recognition, a progressive illness involving cycles of relapse and remission, or a habit leading to premature death.
But, then again, it could.
For example, texting while driving may lead to death, premature or not.
I prefer to think of excessive cell phone usage as a compulsion, hardly a better problem. At the intersection of psychoanalysis and psychiatry lies a real consideration of brain processes. In other words, and comporting with the philosophy of monism (meaning all things are reducible to one), the difference between addictions and compulsions may be more academic than pragmatic.
Excessive cell phone usage elicits dopamine surges—like alcohol or heroin usage. So perhaps the addiction/compulsion distinction is moot.
In any event, I prefer to consider it a compulsive problem because you can beat it without seeing an MD.
It allows exercise of free will.
Imagine that, free will.
Has it gone out of style?
If you think of it, any compulsive pattern reflects a loss of freedom. Whether you’re checking your locks 20 times, washing your hands 50 times, or checking your cell phone 100 times, you’ve lost a chunk of freedom.
Channeling anxiety, from myriad sources, into checking your cell phone creates multiple problems:
- You lose your capacity to consider whatever else might be bugging you.
- You learn to leave the moment—almost every moment—because you’re focusing on your cell phone buzzing or bleating or making whatever bizarre sounds you’ve set it to make. You’re not present to whatever you are actually experiencing in the moment. (Like birds singing, or clouds in the sky, or the eyes of your lover, or music, or dancing, or that cool new Ferrari driving by, or the shape of your hips or your bulging biceps.)
To use a provocative example, infants and toddlers (particularly boys) tend to grab onto their genitals when stressed. This normal type of auto-erotism calms them.
It’s kinda cute when a little kid does this.
If you think of you and your friends as grabbing onto your crotch every few seconds, well, a more disturbing image comes to mind.
Whether you consider it an addiction or a compulsion, excessive cell phone usage has definitely become a global problem. According to recent survey research, American adolescents spend 6.5 hours per day on cell phones. Sixty-percent of them believe they are addicted to them.
Here are five quick methods for relinquishing your excessive dependency on what Paula Poundstone calls, “your flat things:”
- Imagine your mobile phone as a penis or a vagina. You may find this appealing. But I’m pretty sure you won’t. Would you grab your genitalia while driving, while having dinner with friends, or while sitting in a classroom? If you create the genital image in your mind, perhaps you’ll ease up on reaching for your…
- Consider what a monkey you’ve become. Yes, we have mirror neurons, another example of our obsession with things neurological. We love to conform; we fear not conforming. If you realize you look like a dumb monkey, a mimic, a conformist, just-like-everybody-else, perhaps you’ll set your device down for a while.
- Because we humans despise facing whatever really troubles us, you might be using your mobile phone as a defense mechanism. You could call up a friend a have coffee, but they might say no. You fear rejection, so instead you sit at home and look up stupid little facts on your cell phone. If you’re using your mobile to avoid, deny, escape, then knock it off. Face reality.
- Closely related to number 3, we humans like stimulation. So what. Nothing wrong with it. But then get out and get stimulated, find someones’ else genitals to play with (with consent of course), take a hike, read a book, see a movie, or get to work. Stimulation is awesome, but why get most of it from your flat thing?
- If you rely on it for anxiety reduction (also related to number 3 ), consider you are not addressing whatever is the real problem. I’m thinking of a patient of mine, a successful attorney, who literally fears not checking his cell phone every few minutes. Really? Do his clients really need him so desperately? Is he really tracking (I doubt it), the effect of his constant gaze at the flat thing on his children, wife, and friends? Nope.
God forbid, you might consider hiking, seeing a movie, going to dinner, cooking, eating, reading, writing, and so on WITHOUT bringing your cell phone.
Could you actually do that?
If not, please re-read the above paragraphs, follow steps 1 to 5, and…
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP