Are you addicted to your smartphone? We're here to help...
Time Out Bahrain staff
The GCC is home to the highest number of smartphone users in the world. Jenny Hewett investigates the surge in addiction to the devices and speaks to Dr Saliha Afridi of The LightHouse Arabia about curbing your use.
In the past five years, and crucially with the launch of mega-screen iPhones and Androids, checking your smartphone has become more routine than brushing your teeth. In the Gulf, the increased accessibility to the latest gadgets alone makes us more likely than any other place in the world to indulge. A recent study showed our neighbour, the UAE, actually uses smartphones more than any other country in the world. But while technology evolves, our personal relationships are deteriorating, says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of GCC-based community psychology clinic The LightHouse Arabia.
‘There is new research coming out that our attachment to our children and spouses is very much fragmented these days because of the smartphone. The quality of our relationships has plummeted in the last decade. Yes, we’re spending more time together, but it’s completely disorganised, choppy and lacks depth,’ she says.
But while you may believe the conflict lies within your personal relationships, Dr Saliha says that smartphone addiction is, in some cases, the underlying problem. ‘No one really comes into our clinic and says, “I have a smartphone addiction”. They’ll come in with a secondary issue, but once you peel off one or two layers, you find that a disruptive pattern of communication and disruptive focus due to electronics is the root.’
Drawing us in with on-the-spot entertainment and instant social gratification, Dr Saliha says an impulsive habit to check your smartphone, withdrawal symptoms when you don’t and thinking about it when you’re not wired in, are the three red flags of smartphone dependence.
‘Research finds that the same neuro pathway used in other forms of addiction is being worked upon. Dopamine is released every time you check your phone, so there is a pleasure and reward system being activated.’
Many of us check our phones as soon as we wake up and just before we go to sleep, and Dr Saliha also believes this seemingly menial subconscious habit is preventing our ability to tap into heightened creativity.
‘The most creative times of the human brain are just before you go to sleep and when you are about to wake up. So we are really stunting our creativity and we are stressing our minds and bodies. We no longer slowly transition into the day. There’s a very abrupt beginning to all of the day’s tension right as you wake up,’ she says. ‘The smartphone is a wonderful device, but we are using it very thoughtlessly and recklessly.
I think people are the unhappiest they’ve ever been because they tend to live in this virtual reality, so disconnected from actual reality.’
So where does this constant need to be connected stem from? Dr Saliha explains, ‘A smartphone is more than just a phone. It’s our window to the world and it’s how we connect to other people. It’s how we distract ourselves when we are feeling bored, anxious or depressed and we use it for social media, productivity and for work.’ When it comes to social media, Dr Saliha says, ‘We have a social comparison built into us and we’re constantly looking to see what the other person is doing and it feeds into our unhappiness. People will always present an airbrushed version of themselves on social media. It feeds into your anxiety about how good you are and how good you want to be.’
Inevitably, those perceptions shuts down when you take a smartphone away. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, isolation or tension, or extreme symptoms of withdrawal when you’re away from your phone, it’s likely you have a dysfunctional relationship with the device.
And, as with most addictions, there is no quick cure. ‘We would treat it like any other addiction. First we’d assess your use, then we’d see if there are any triggers, for example when you’re socially anxious or bored. We’d then come up with solutions to manage those triggers so you don’t reach for the smartphone, and we’d help you make a commitment to use the device consciously and in a way that is healthy,’ says Dr Saliha. As with most things, it’s all about moderation. ‘Create some structure with the things that are important to you and then use the smartphone as a support device rather than as the central one.’ www.lighthousearabia.com. (04 380 9298).
Psychologists and clinics in Bahrain
King Hamad University Hospital A full range of mental health services are offered by a culturally diverse staff. Muharraq, www.khuh.org.bh (1744 4444).
American Mission Hospital Both the Manama and Saar branches of AMH offer psychology, psychiatry and mental health therapy services. Various locations, www.amh.org.bh, main hotline: 1717 7711.
Psychologist Bahrain Dr Anne Mostafa offers individual and couples therapy for a range of mental health issues. Amwaj Islands, www.psychologistbahrain.com (3631 7033).