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How often do you find yourself glued to your smartphone?  And do you find yourself justifying the long hours you spend on your devices?  Do you stop to ask yourself why you might be so hooked?

 Some of us will blame it on social media, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or more personal messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp. Well, psychologically speaking, there’s a term now popularly used to “explain” why we might be addicted to social media and it’s called FOMO, which is an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out.

You see when you are constantly bombarded with images of happy couples, vacation paradises, online shopping and people sharing the most intimate details of their lives, you become hooked. So, when you’re not on your phone checking someone’s Facebook profile or the Instagram pix of their latest vacation, you literally feel as if you’re missing out.

It has become so bad for some of us that we have actually had to activate “Screen Time” and other such apps that tell us how many hours we are spending on our devices. Twenty years ago, a group of friends would go out to dinner and they would actually have a conversation with each other at the table. In that same scenario today, each of those persons would have their phone on the table, eagerly awaiting an alert of some kind to justify checking their phone while they are supposed to be out “socialising.” The amount of time that we spend on these devices is killing interpersonal relationships. We have lost the art of what it means to actually sit with someone and have a conversation without being distracted by our devices. Who cares about love letters anyways when you can just text, right?

Screen addiction can also affect the amount of quality time we spend with our kids, who we may also be leading down the same path. When giving our children a smartphone or a tablet to keep becomes our default means of keeping them occupied, we are signalling to them that it is okay to shut out the world and to be consumed by the “screen.” The next time you think of scolding your child for being on their device, you might want to do some introspection so that you don’t come

across as a hypocrite. When we sit to “play” with them, are we giving them our undivided attention or do they have to compete with an inhuman object Do they know what it means to go and play outside or are virtual games all they have ever known about?

So what can we do to solve the problem of screen addiction? We can first start by recognising that it’s actually an addiction, just like using a drug, with the only difference being that it is entirely psychological and there is no medication to help you through it. So this means that you have to find ways of “coping.” The steps are simple:  recognition, acceptance and management of the addiction.

 Here are some ways to help you get  you started:

1) Place a timer on your phone:

If you realise you are wasting a lot of time on social media that you could be using productively, set a timer for each time you go into an application that’s particularly addictive. If you spend an hour on Facebook, try to cut it down to half an hour. You want to get to the point where you are not spending more than 15 minutes wasting your brain cells watching silly posts.

2) Delete unnecessary applications:

Do you really need to be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and messenger all at once? Choose two and delete the rest. You are definitely not missing out. Try loading a business app like LinkedIn, where you can make meaningful connections to improve your prospects in life.

3) Leave your phone in the living room:

Your phone should not be the first thing you grab when you wake up in the morning. Don’t make the excuse of needing to check your email or answer calls. Mornings and nights are made for cuddling with your loved ones, not your phone!

4) Have a conversation without your phone:

When you sit to have a meal with family or friends, your phone should not be on the table. If you must have it with you, leave it in your bag on silent or vibrate.

When you are having a conversation, you want the other person to feel as though they have your undivided attention.

5) Limit your children’s screen time:

You have raised little human beings, not zombies, so actual human interaction is good. Limit your child’s screen time to two hours max in the day. Remember that playing traditional, educational games, both indoors and outdoors, will develop their motor and cognitive skills, while being glued to a screen won’t.

Remember, we could all become addicted to our devices at some point in our lives. What is important is that we are aware of how this may be affecting our relationship with those around us and be cognizant of the fact that there are steps we can take to manage this addiction.

Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department. You can send questions or comments to her at aliciaroopnaraine@gmail.com

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