Being highly engaged with, or even ‘addicted’ to mobile phones is linked to elevated levels of anxiety and depression, new research finds.
However, simply using a phone as a way of alleviating boredom is not linked to depression or anxiety.
People seem to use their phones as a kind of security blanket in anxiety-provoking situations.
While this is not necessarily a problem, the study also found that using mobile phones as an emotional coping mechanism was linked to depression and anxiety.
For the study, over 300 people were surveyed and asked questions about their cellphone and internet usage, their mental health and so on.
The questions included:
“Do you think that your academic or work performance has been negatively affected by your cellphone use?” and “Do you think that life without the Internet is boring, empty and sad?”
Professor Alejandro Lleras, who led the study, said:
“People who self-described as having really addictive style behaviors toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales.
However, [there was] no relationship between cellphone or Internet use and negative mental health outcomes among participants who used these technologies to escape from boredom.
Thus, the motivation for going online is an important factor in relating technology usage to depression and anxiety.”
In a follow-up study, the researchers tested the effect of a stressful situation on cellphone usage.
Professor Lleras explained that the phone sometimes acted as ‘comfort item’:
“Having access to a phone seemed to allow that group to resist or to be less sensitive to the stress manipulation.”
Just using your phone when bored won’t lead to anxiety or depression, Professor Lleras said:
“We shouldn’t be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones.
The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored.
This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology.”
The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (Panova & Lleras, 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Sad smartphone user image from Shutterstock