Most of us reach for our smartphones when we’re commuting, standing in line at the grocery store, or doing something otherwise unentertaining. It's a habit we've become pretty reliant on, but the tech addiction might be worse for our mental health than we thought. Previous data has linked smartphone use with depression, now new research suggests that reliance on our smartphones can lead to loneliness and depressive symptoms.
While many believed that it was the other way around, with depression and loneliness being precursors to smartphone dependency, the new data out of the University of Arizona suggests otherwise. Researchers surveyed over 300 adults between the ages of 18 and 20 and had them rate statements on a four-point scale, such as, “I panic when I cannot use my smartphone.” Three months later, they were given the same survey and those who were considered to be dependent on their smartphones at the beginning of the study showed an increase in depressive symptoms and reported loneliness by the end of the study.
So why is it important to note that dependence on a smartphone comes before psychological distress? Of the findings, master’s student and co-author of the study Pengfei Zhao said, "If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, we could reduce dependency by adjusting people's mental health. But if smartphone dependency [precedes depression and loneliness], which is what we found, we can reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing."
What’s more, this study is one of the first to focus on smartphone dependency rather than general smartphone use and depression. Lead researcher, Matthew Lapierre said, "The research grows out of my concern that there is too much of a focus on general use of smartphones. Smartphones can be useful. They help us connect with others. We've really been trying to focus on this idea of dependency and problematic use of smartphones being the driver for these psychological outcomes. " In other words, using your smartphone GPS to get from point A to point B, or even using it in moderation to connect with others on social media, is probably not going to make you feel lonely or depressed. But if you find yourself anxious when you can’t check Facebook, there could be a larger problem at hand.
The good news is, your smartphone itself isn’t making you depressed or lonely, and we now have some insight into how we can have a healthier relationship with our tiny tech companions. To encourage good mental health, pay attention to your habits and make sure you have other activities to partake in when you’re feeling bored or stressed. "When people feel stressed, they should use other healthy approaches to cope, like talking to a close friend to get support or doing some exercises or meditation," Zhao said. So, practice self-care by curling up with a good book, chatting (in person!) with a loved one, or simply taking a healing moment to focus on your breath.