The Stress of Constantly Checking Your Phone

Survey finds constantly checking electronic devices linked to significant stress

The Stress of Constantly Checking Your Phone

WASHINGTON — A decade after the emergence of smartphones, and , more than four five adults in the U.S.

(86 percent) report that they constantly or often check their email, texts and social media accounts, according to part two of the American Psychological Association’s report «Stress in America™: Coping with Change» released today.

This attachment to devices and the constant use of technology is associated with higher stress levels for these Americans.

Constant Checkers Experience Higher Stress

This excessive technology and social media use has paved the way for the “constant checker” — those who check their email, texts and social media accounts on a constant basis. The survey found that stress runs higher, on average, for constant checkers than for those who do not engage with technology as frequently.

On a 10-point scale, where one is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” the average reported overall stress level for constant checkers is 5.3, compared with 4.4 for those who don’t check as frequently.

Among employed Americans who check their work email constantly on their days off, their reported overall stress level is even higher, at 6.0.

“The emergence of mobile devices and social networks over the last decade has certainly changed the way Americans live and communicate on a daily basis,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy.

“Today, almost all American adults own at least one electronic device, with many being constantly connected to them.

What these individuals don’t consider is that while technology helps us in many ways, being constantly connected can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health.”

For the past decade, the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America™ survey has examined how stress affects American adults’ health and well-being. The survey was conducted online between Aug. 5 and 31, 2016, among 3,511 adults 18+ living in the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association.

Parents Struggle to Manage Children’s Technology

Parents also seem to be feeling the pressure when it comes to balancing their children’s technology use when it comes to familial interactions.

While 94 percent of parents say that they take at least one action to manage their child’s technology usage during the school year, such as not allowing cell phones at the dinner table (32 percent), or limiting screen time before bed (32 percent), almost half (48 percent) say that regulating their child’s screen time is a constant battle, and more than half of parents (58 percent) report feeling their child is attached to their phone or tablet.

Additionally, almost half of parents (45 percent) say they feel disconnected from their families even when they are together because of technology. More than half of parents (58 percent) say they worry about the influence of social media on their child’s physical and mental health.

Effects of Social Media and Need for Digital Detox

Social media also negatively affects a greater proportion of constant checkers compared with those who do not check as frequently.

More than two in five constant checkers (42 percent) say that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress, compared with 33 percent of nonconstant checkers.

Additionally, 42 percent of constant checkers say they worry about negative effects of social media on their physical and mental health, compared with 27 percent of people who don’t check as often.

Almost two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) somewhat or strongly agree that periodically “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important for their mental health. However, only 28 percent of those who say this actually report doing so.

“Taking a digital detox is one of the most helpful ways to manage stress related to technology use,” Bufka said. “Constant checkers could benefit from limiting their use of technology and presence on social media. Adults, and particularly parents, should strive to set a good example for children when it comes to a healthy relationship with technology.”

For the first time in the survey's 10-year history, APA released it in two parts, including this section focusing on stress related to technology and social media. The first section (released on Feb. 15) highlighted how Americans are stressed about the future of our nation, with concerns about the current political climate and the outcome of the presidential election.

To read the full Stress in America report or to download graphics, visit the Stress in America webpage.

For additional information on stress, lifestyle and behaviors, visit the Psychology Help Center webpage. Join the conversation about stress on by following @APAHelpCenter and #stressAPA.


The Stress in America™ survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of APA between Aug. 5 and 31, 2016, among 3,511 adults ages 18+ who reside in the U.S. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.

Data were weighted to reflect their proportions in the population. Weighting variables included age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income. Propensity score weighting also was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

Hispanic respondents were weighted for acculturation, taking into account respondents’ household language as well as ability to read and speak in English and Spanish.

Because the sample is those who were invited and agreed to participate in the Harris Poll online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. A full methodology is available upon request.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes more than 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students.

Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.


Is your phone making you feel anxious or depressed?

The Stress of Constantly Checking Your Phone

  • A study from the University of Arizona showed teens who were addicted to their smartphones also showed signs of depression.
  • Some research has shown that teen phone use negatively affects sleep, which leads to depression and anxiety. 
  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding screen time at least 30 minutes before bed. 

These days, smartphones are ubiquitous. They seem to be in the hand of every individual, young and old — that subtle blue glow is always reflecting off their eyes as they scroll, text and swipe. 

This technology, which sometimes seems magic, has completely changed our lives. It's easier than ever to find information, purchase items and communicate with people around the world. 

Lately, though, it feels our phones have been even more front-and-center in our lives. Whether it's another virtual video happy hour, telehealth visits with our doctor or ordering groceries, technology has been a big part of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Sure, this technology has been incredibly helpful over the last few months. But are there adverse effects, too? Read on to learn more about the side effects of too much phone use and how you can take steps to find digital balance in your life. 

What the research says 

While more research is needed to examine the effects of smartphones on adults, there have been several studies looking at the relationship between devices and young people. However, most studies haven't been able to show a direct connection between digital devices and mental health.

Recent research from the University of Arizona showed that adolescents who were dependent on or addicted to their smartphone were more ly to show signs of depression and loneliness. Researchers are still determining why that relationship exists.

A 2018 survey sponsored by Hopelab and Well Being Trust showed that teens and young adults (14- to 22-years-old) had mixed feelings about social media use. Respondents who had symptoms of moderate to severe depression said they were more ly to feel left out when they use social media, or think that others are doing better than they are.

“The increase in screen time during the pandemic, while pretty much mandatory, may be causing stress in adolescents and teens,” says Robin Henderson, PsyD chief executive, Behavioral Health for Providence Oregon. “But working to find healthy boundaries with technology is a step in the right direction for developing good mental health at a young age.” 

Phones and sleep habits

While scientific studies haven't found many direct relationships between digital devices and depression, research has shown that they can hurt mental health because of how they impact sleep. A 2017 study from the Journal of Child Development found that smartphones can cause sleep problems in teens, which led to depression, anxiety and acting out.

Phones cause sleep problems because of the blue light they create. This blue light can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps control your natural sleep cycle. 

Whether you're a teen or an adult, your body and brain need a good night's sleep. Aside from the mental health benefits of a good night's sleep, getting solid shuteye may also help your heart. 

To help avoid technology disrupting your sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends you stop using phones, computers or televisions at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If possible, the Foundation also recommends eliminating electronics from your bedroom.  

How to take a break and feel better

Anyone who has spent time on social media knows that it can come with a mixed bag of emotions. For every funny meme, there's a hurtful comment, and for every uplifting post, there's a photo of someone portraying a perfect life. 

Combine that social media stress with non-stop video conferences and the constant feed of today's headlines and, before you know it, you're spiraling into a bad place.

“It’s pretty impossible to completely abandon phones, social media and screens,” Dr. Henderson says. “But setting aside technology-free time is something more people of all ages are having to actively pursue to improve their mental health and decrease stress.” 

If you're starting to feel this «always-on» connectivity is putting a strain on your mental health, here are some ways you can take control and feel better. 

Filter who you follow (with a trend toward the positive ones)

With today's unsettling and stressful headlines, the last thing your brain needs is more negativity. Try to be more aware of the people and organizations you follow on social media. Find accounts that focus on posting positive content. 

Also, consider whether the people you follow are sharing snippets from their real life, or just filtering the good content. It's hard to remember that for every pristine post-workout shot, there are hundreds of bad angles and bad hair days. If it makes you feel better, avoid following people who filter too much of their «normal» life and only share the glamour shots. 

Limit your phone time

Aim to reduce the amount of total time you spend on your phone. Set a goal of only 30 minutes or an hour a day and see if you can work your way down from there. If this isn’t realistic because you use it for work, try shifting as much as you can to your laptop or desktop.

If you're having trouble regulating yourself, there are plenty of tools available today that can set time limits on apps or block certain apps altogether. Some of these tools may already exist on your phone. Check out these timers available for Android and iPhone devices. 

Acknowledge when it's time to take a break

Try to recognize when your mental health may be suffering after spending too much time on your phone. Do you notice your self-esteem drops after using a particular social media channel? Are you finding that you feel sad or angry after spending time on your phone? If the answer is yes, it's time to take a break. 

Set boundaries

Identify times during the day when it is okay and not okay to use your phone. Setting these boundaries can help you make sure you're taking time to disconnect. For example:

  • If you have a separate phone or email for work, set a time at the end of your day to shut them off. Not only will this help limit your screen time, it will also help you avoid burnout while working from home. 
  • Don't look at your phone during any meal. Take time to enjoy your food mindfully or have a conversation with someone. 
  • Stop using your phone at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If possible, leave it in another room while you sleep. 
  • Don't look at your phone first thing in the morning. Instead, find a few minutes for yourself and start your day fresh — drink a cup of tea, brew some coffee, do some stretches, exercise or meditate. 

Use your phone for good

For all the negative talk about phones and technology, these devices come with plenty of positives, too. That same survey from Hopelab and Well Being Trust showed that teens and young adults often turn to the internet for help when they’re feeling depressed. The survey sampled more than 1300 U.S. teens and young adults.

According to the survey results:

  • 90% of respondents turned to the internet for help with depression, including researching mental health issues.
  • 75% of respondents looked for other individual’s mental health stories through podcasts, blogs or videos.
  • 38% of respondents used wellbeing mobile apps.
  • 32% of respondents connected with health providers through text and video chat.

Consider some of these ways your phone can help with your mental health: 

Connect with supportive groups

In a recent Talk2BeWell podcast, Dr. Henderson sat down with a group of teens who shared their tips and advice for staying mentally healthy in this digital age.

During the podcast, the teens emphasized that they've found a lot of positive aspects to social media and digital tools.

In particular, these channels have helped the teens find online groups (such as LGBTQ communities) that provide support when they're struggling with mental health challenges. 

«What we have seen is that the digital world is a space where young people can go for support,» Dr. Henderson says. Adults can benefit from this too.

The next time you pop on your favorite social media channel, search for some groups that match your interests and passions. Look for pages or communities that fit in with your hobbies (such as music, sports or cooking) or find a group of professional peers. 

Use apps that help with relaxation

If you're starting to feel stressed or anxious, pulling up or Instagram may not be the best solution. Instead, the teens on the Talk2BeWell podcast recommend using:

  • Meditation apps  Headspace. 
  • Relaxing games, such as a virtual paint-by-number. 
  • videos about your favorite hobbies. 

Providence in Oregon is looking to leverage technology for delivering mental healthcare through SilverCloud. 

Remember that your phone doesn't have to be the enemy. If you're smart about how and when you spend time on your phone, you may find it can help you stay more connected and grounded.  

Find a doctor

If you're still struggling with your mental health even after making these changes to your digital life, consider talking to a professional. They will be able to help you find healthy ways to cope with stress, anxiety and depression. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.






Could your phone be causing anxiety or depression? Learn about the possible side effects of too much screen time and how to find digital balance in your life. #mentalhealth 

Related Resources

Working from home: Step away from your desk

Is it stress, anxiety or panic?

Helping children cope with stress 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


Teenage Cell Phone Addiction: Are You Worried About Your Child?

The Stress of Constantly Checking Your Phone

It’s no big secret that teens have a complex relationship with technology. They are expected to use technology both in and the classroom to make the grade, they manage their social lives through various apps and social media platforms, and they use technology to stay organized and on top of their many, many activities. Today’s teens face intense levels of pressure.

Sometimes their phone use is tied to recreational activity and can help them relieve stress, but other times they use their phones to keep up with their busy lives. Ensuring that kids’ technology use doesn’t result in more stress for them isn’t an easy task; there’s no clean-cut way to delete stressful technology activity.

So how can parents, let alone kids themselves, navigate the often stressful world of tech?

Although there isn’t a recognized “smartphone addiction” diagnosis, it’s natural for parents to wonder if a teen’s apparent obsession with a smartphone qualifies as addictive behavior. After all, it can be incredibly frustrating to attempt to hold a conversation with someone when they can’t peel their eyes away from their phone. 

Teen Cell Phone Addiction: The Stats

As it turns out, parents have reason to worry. Results of a 2016 Common Sense Media Report found that 50 percent of teens “feel addicted” to mobile devices, while 59 percent of parents surveyed believe that kids are addicted to their devices.

This survey also showed that 72 percent of teens and 48 percent of parents feel the need to immediately respond to texts, social-networking messages, and other notifications; 69 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens check their devices at least hourly.

A 2018 Pew Research Report showed that 45 percent of teens said they use the Internet “almost constantly,” and another 44 percent said they go online several times a day. According to this report, 50 percent of teenage girls are “near-constant” online users, compared to 39 percent of teenage boys. 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone.

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Given that teens use their smartphones for a variety of reasons, both personal and academic (often simultaneously), it helps to focus less on counting the minutes of use and more on how they use their smartphones.

Parents hear a lot about the importance of teaching balance, but part of evaluating for a healthy balance lies in understanding how teens actually use their phones and what purpose that use serves them.

, for example, can be both recreational and academic. 

Recognizing the Symptoms of Cell Phone and Internet Addiction

A 2016 report published in Frontiers in Psychiatry suggests using the DSM-5 criteria for compulsive gambling and substance abuse to measure problematic smartphone use. While problematic smartphone use is not defined as an addiction, it can be evaluated as a behavioral disorder.

Using this model, potential symptoms might include the following:

  • Conscious use in prohibited contexts or potentially dangerous situations (e.g. texting while driving)
  • Excessive use that causes conflicts with family; withdrawing from family or shared events in favor of smartphone use
  • Negative effects on school, family, social, or emotional functioning
  • Continued excessive use despite negative effects
  • Impulsive, frequent, constant checking of phone, even in short bursts (feels strong need to check every few minutes)
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances related to frequent checking
  • Excessive urgency or need to be connected
  • Increase in use to achieve satisfaction or counteract dysphoric (sad) mood
  • Need to respond immediately to messages and alerts
  • Increased anxiety and/or irritability if phone is not accessible
  • Feelings of unease when unable to use the phone

It can be difficult to distinguish between normal (or slightly elevated) daily use and problematic use. It helps to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my teen become angry, irritable, anxious, or even violent when the phone is taken away or unable to be used?
  • Does my teen skip or avoid social events or extracurricular activities to use the smartphone instead?
  • Is my teen’s personal care (hygiene), friendships, family relationships, or school work negatively affected by smartphone use?
  • Does smartphone use interfere with my teen’s normal sleep routine?
  • Are there any major changes in my teen’s eating habits that can’t otherwise be explained?
  • Are there any major changes in mood that can’t otherwise be explained? 

How to Help Teens Overcome a Smartphone Addiction

Believe it or not, smartphone use can be beneficial for teens. Teens use smartphones to connect with peers, seek help on school assignments, and they can even use apps to help them get organized. Although it might seem teens are constantly connected, many use their devices within healthy limits.

It’s important to empower teens to take control of their own use of smartphones and create and maintain a healthy balance. This isn’t a one-time conversation. A few things you can do help provide guidance and support include the following:

  • Educate: Talk openly about the benefits and potential pitfalls of screen time. Lecturing rarely yields positive results, but asking your teens for input about the pros and cons can spark lively conversations. How does too much screen time affect us physically, emotionally, academically, and socially? What can we gain from using our smartphones responsibly?
  • Make a plan: Talk about setting healthy limits and boundaries for the family and what checks and balances you can use to stick to them, not allowing phone use during dinner. Remember, teens aren’t the only ones prone to overuse. What happens if parents are pushing the family screen time limits?
  • Monitor use as a family: Teens look for workarounds when they feel they’re being watched. Make monitoring a family goal so that teens own up to their usage and behavior online. There are several apps available to monitor how and when your teens use their phones. The iPhone now has a “screentime” setting. You can use this to track usage and set healthy limits for specific apps (e.g. xx hours per day for social media) and to shut down apps at a certain time. Talk with your teens about healthy and realistic limits.
  • Create a check-in policy: Phones, tablets, and laptops should be removed from the bedroom at night to curb sleep disturbance and insomnia. Create a plan to check devices in at a certain time in the evening and out in the morning.
  • Establish screen-free zones: Meals, family outings, and social gatherings are examples of times when frequent checking negatively affects relationships. Set boundaries for screen use in these settings and stick to them.
  • Model healthy boundaries: When parents are glued to their phones, teens learn that this is appropriate behavior. Stick to the limits and boundaries you set. 

What do I do if my teen can’t stop using the phone?

If you suspect that your teen is “addicted” or smartphone use is negatively affecting your teen’s daily functioning, get help.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help your teen change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors into healthy and positive ones.
  • Individual process therapy can help teens recognize and work through feelings and experiences that contribute to problematic use.
  • Download apps designed to help curb use (e.g. Breakfree and Menthal)
  • Practice mindfulness to curb urges.
  • Practice adaptive coping strategies exercise, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.

It’s smart for parents to keep tabs on levels of smartphone use among teens, as mindless scrolling and viewing can waste hours of time and affect daily functioning. With healthy limits in place and frequent conversations, families can establish digital diets that work for the whole family.


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