Mobile phone addiction and digital detox
"It's not your smartphone that's the problem, it's what you do with it"

Your smartphone is your friend and assistant, right? Yes and no. These pocket-sized all-rounders can be extremely addictive, particularly for young people. Psychologist Alice Baldinger describes the warning signs that could point to problematic usage, and how finding a digital balance can help us have a healthier relationship with our smartphones.

Telephone, alarm clock, wallet, camera, games console: the smartphone is a true all-rounder. It replaces countless items, combining all their functions into a single device that you can fit into your trouser pocket or handbag and take with you everywhere you go. Practical, no? Absolutely. The smartphone has unquestionably made the world easier to navigate, and many people simply cannot imagine life without it. But it does have a dark side. The potential for addiction is extremely high, particularly among young people who are active on social media. According to the JAMES Study, 12 to 19-year-olds spend on average three hours per weekday on screens, and even longer at weekends. Issues such as permanent contactability, social comparisons with others and fear of missing out all have a negative impact on young people's health.

Always connected, but nevertheless alone

Whereas in the early days of the smartphone the chief concern was the radiation it emitted, studies of user behaviour are now focusing increasingly on mental health. "Excessive smartphone use often leads to increased feelings of loneliness," says Alice Baldinger, a psychologist at santé24. This is due to the constant comparisons on social media, which frequently result in feelings of low self-esteem. The vast majority of posts on these channels highlight the beautiful and exciting side of life. So when countless fantastic experiences are compressed on a small mobile screen and strung together to form a never-ending scroll loop, you can quickly get the feeling that your own life is less exciting and insignificant. The buzzword here is FOMO, the fear of missing out. It creates feelings of inferiority and creates additional stress for young people, who are already under immense pressure to fit in.

"Users should decide when to reach for their smartphone, not the other way round." Alice Baldinger, psychologist

A return to greater self-control

Boredom is no longer in a smartphone owner's vocabulary. The urge to reach into your pocket whenever you have to wait anywhere is almost instinctive. But if you keep catching yourself scrolling unconsciously, you should do something about it as soon as possible. "Users should decide when to reach for their smartphone, not the other way round," stresses Baldinger. But how do you do this when your device offers entertainment of all kinds, at all times? One easy step is to make your smartphone less attractive. For example, push notifications – often the trigger that makes you reach for your mobile – can be turned off completely or for individual apps. Time limits for apps or visual restrictions such as monochrome mode can also prevent you from slipping into an uncontrolled scrolling session.

If you want to go a step further, you could try a digital detox. This trend, which took off in the USA some years ago, refers to a period of time during which you don't use your smartphone at all, or only if absolutely necessary. "If you go completely offline for a while, you may discover a quality of life that you remember from your younger days or have perhaps never experienced before," explains Baldinger

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