A recent study found that college students who constantly reach for their cell phones might be using them as a way to avoid dealing with unpleasant experiences or feelings.
“Handheld devices, with their countless apps and entertainment options and their constant presence at our fingertips make it easier than ever before to disconnect with the problems and stresses of reality, and avoid actively engaging with them,” said study coauthor Tayana Panova, in a news release.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that students’ phone use, especially during uncomfortable situations, can support an escapist pattern of behavior.
The relationship effect is still unknown, noted Panova, suggesting that kids with higher anxiety might be using their phones more intensively, or it might be that frequently using mobile devices eventually leads to anxiety and depression. She indicated that relying on cell phones to relieve anxiety may end up undercutting college students’ ability to develop effective coping skills.
Experts agree that trying to avoid stress entirely and not learning coping skills can have long-term health consequences.
“The effects of stress tend to build up,” says Dr. Matthew Smiley, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “There are many excellent ways to cope, and learning them early is important. Examples include seeing the big picture, staying in touch with others, knowing your body and its reaction to stress, having ‘me time,’ taking care of medical problems and getting the right mix of food, exercise, sleep and relationships.”
If a student is overwhelmed or is having suicidal thoughts, seek qualified medical advice, Dr. Smiley insists.
With more than five billion mobile phones worldwide, the question of how cell phone usage relates to negative stress isn’t going away.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, learning to cope with stressors is important to overall health, while avoiding them outright can be dangerous.