Dr Saliha Afridi of The LightHouse Arabia on curbing your phone usage
With the UAE 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 Dubai, the increased accessibility to the latest gadgets alone makes us more likely than any other place in the world to indulge. A Statista study last year found that nearly three out of four people in the UAE own a smartphone, making it the country with the highest smartphone penetration in the world. But while technology evolves, our personal relationships are deteriorating, says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of 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,’ she says.
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.’
Dr Saliha says a similar attachment also applies to social media. ‘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, the access to 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 balance and 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.’ The LightHouse Arabia, Villa 2, Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 2, www.lighthousearabia.com (04 380 9298).
Three more clinics for addiction treatment
LifeWorks Deals with addiction, depression and anxiety-related matters. Villa 996, Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim 1, www.counsellingdubai.com (04 394 2464).
Purposeful Coaching Offers counselling and coaching in areas including addiction, stress management and dealing with major life changes. Various locations (055 978 8364).
German Neuroscience Center Sessions cover everything from abuse and depression to addiction and more. Dubai Healthcare City, www.gncdubai.com (04 429 8578).