ANXIETY
December 17, 2013

Cell Phone Misery

We all love our cell phones, but they can increase anxiety and reduce overall life satisfaction. They're not too good for grades, either.

Is your cell phone making you miserable? That's what it seems to be doing to students at Kent State University.

Young people are earlier adopters of technology than their elder counterparts, and when it comes to cell phones, it's been suggested that college students have led the way at making them an indispensable part of their life.

Whether in class, the library, the cafeteria or even in bed, they never seem to be without their phones. This is one reason researchers often turn to college students when investigating how cell phones are changing people's lives.

Researchers at Kent State recorded the amount of daily cell phone use of 500 students. They also measured their anxiety levels, general satisfaction with life, and obtained their grade point average (GPA).

Poor grades, high anxiety, heavy cell phone use, and low satisfaction with life all tended to occur together.

Using a statistical method called path modeling, they found that high cell phone use was linked with a student having higher anxiety and a lower GPA. Not surprisingly, high anxiety and low grades were each linked with having lower life satisfaction.

So heavy phone use, at least for these students, was also indirectly linked with having lower life satisfaction.

In other words, poor grades, high anxiety, heavy cell phone use and low satisfaction with life all tended to occur together in these students. Which one, if any, is responsible for the other(s) is not known.

It might be that heavy cell phone use causes dissatisfaction or that dissatisfaction causes higher cell phone use; or the two may be totally unrelated. There's no way one study can untangle precisely how any of these four factors interconnect.

But even though the results are not conclusive, they should give perennial cell phone users some second thoughts about their own phone use and will hopefully encourage them to see whether using their phones less improves their lives.

With people spending more and more time on their phones and afraid to leave them behind for even an hour, it's one thing to suggest cutting down on phone time and another to actually be able to do it. Leaving the phone behind may produce separation anxiety worse than that of a child on the first day of school. But it can be done.

If you think you need to be a little less connected to your phone, here are a few suggestions on how to get started:

  • When eating out, have everyone place their phones face down on the table. The first person to pick theirs up pays the check. Or if you're afraid you'll lose, just have everyone put their phone in a basket until the meal is over. This also works for meals at home.
  • Set times and stick to them. This could either be the times of day that you'll respond to texts and email or the times of day when you absolutely, positively will not answer your phone. Or you could simply set a limit on your total daily phone time and stick to it.
  • When in bed, make sure your phone is in a different room. If you live in a single room, keep the phone hidden in a drawer or other difficult place to get to when in bed.
  • You must know someone who rarely seems to be on the phone. Ask them how they do it.
  • Every year there's a national day of unplugging. In 2014, it will be March 7-8.

You might also ask yourself if you're in charge of your phone or if your phone is in charge of you.

The idea of machines revolting and taking over the world from their human masters has been a popular theme in science fiction since the middle of the twentieth century,. It still is. But no one ever suspected that phones would be leading the charge.

The study appears in Computers and Human Behavior.

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