Original Post

You may not even be aware of how many times a day you send and receive texts. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life researchers found that 1 in 3 teens send more than 100 text messages a day, or 3,000 texts a month. A significant amount of time spent looking at your phone screen.

While not everyone will develop a significant addiction to texting, your phone is working to hack your brain. Like other addictions, such as gambling, it can have significant negative affects on your life.

Are you a compulsive texter?

Having a way to communicate with your friends whenever you want can be a good thing. And while it’s true that phones can help connect us and enhance our relationships, there is a dark potential looming right around the corner. When it begins to impact other aspects of your life, it may have become an addiction.

In a 2015 study published in Psychology of Popular Media, Kelly M. Lister-Landman explains that it’s not just the number of texts teens are sending that is problematic. She told The New York Times,

“Compulsivity is more than just the number of texts teens are engaging in…What is their relationship with phone use?” When you receive a text, do you feel you can ignore it? Do you find yourself constantly checking your phone even when there are no signs (rings, vibrates) that you received a text? Do you feel anxious when you aren’t next to your phone?

These can all be signs that your relationship with texting has turned against you.

The study compared symptoms of compulsive texting to that of gambling addictions. Researchers found that both addictions had similar symptoms like lying about the number of texts and inability to stop texting.

An addiction to texting can lead to significant loss of sleep and a decline in students’ grades. When using your phone as a procrastination tool, it can force you to stay up later and later to finish homework. Not only are you limiting your ability to focus, you may be getting less and less sleep.

When you feel the need to constantly interact with your phone, it stops you from interacting with your friends, face-to-face. You’re in fear that you’ll miss out on an important text so much that you only engage with your friends via your phone. The opposite of what you’re intending to use it for: to connect.

The good news is, this isn’t rare; you’re not alone.

How does texting affect your brain?

When texting becomes an addiction, it takes more than just stepping away from your phone to help because the anxiety you feel when putting your phone down forces you to pick it back up.

In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, correspondent Anderson Cooper set out to discover how deeply impacted we are from our phone usage. Psychologist Larry Rosen, an interview guest, explained, “The typical person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less. And half the time they check their phone there is no alert or notification. It’s inside their head telling them, ‘Gee, I haven’t checked Facebook in a while. I haven’t checked on this twitter feed for a while. I wonder if somebody commented on my Instagram post?’ That then generates cortisol and it starts to make you anxious. And eventually your goal is to get rid of that anxiety so you check in.”

Former Google product manager Tristan Harris says it’s like playing a slot machine. You are constantly wondering what you’re going to get. And our phones are being designed to do so. Harris told Anderson that Silicon Valley is actually engineering them to keep you hooked. They want you to keep coming back. Your phone is hacking your brain because it’s designed to only give you a reward once in a while. When you keep coming back, they make money.

The technology on your phone is designed to tap into your dopamine response system. Dopamine response can be viewed as a pleasure reward system. But it is really causing you to want, desire, seek out, and search. When you receive a text message, it spikes your level of arousal, which sends you into a loop.

You seek. You are rewarded. Which makes you seek more.

So, what can you do?

According to Harris, we are currently stuck in a seemingly no win situation. We can’t stop the addictive qualities of texting, so we are left with an all-or-nothing approach. Either become addicted or turn it off for good. Right?
That’s not where we want to be. Because we want to be connected to our friends, especially those we don’t see every day. Similarly, 98% of parents say the reason their child has a phone is to get in contact with them no matter where they are. It allows you to feel safe knowing you can always reach someone if needed.

So, the question remains. What can we do to curb the negative effects?

First, knowing that your phone is being programmed to highjack your brain is important. It allows you to make small changes that can help alleviate the side effects. Try limiting when you have your phone on you. Or turn it off during certain hours.

Keep track of the number of texts you send per day. Just knowing that you send 100 messages a day may cause you to think twice. When sending a text ask yourself, “Is this really important?” Do you need to send this or are you just doing it because the phone is in your hand. When you get that feeling of anxiety, remind yourself that it’s your reward system being activated.

Talk to your friends about it. Sounds simple, right? Except you have to do it in person. Perhaps knowing that others are having the same problems can help curb your fear of missing out (avoiding FOMO!).

Join the conversation on a larger scale by urging technology companies to create more socially conscious (less addictive) social media apps. Being a part of the movement is the best step you can take.

While you may not be able to completely shut off from your phones, the little steps you take to help curb those addictive qualities can help. Limit your texting. Be aware of its potential negative impact. Talk to your friends face-to-face. While your phone is a great way to stay connected, don’t let it be your only connection.


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