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Nerd, interrupted: Inside a smartphone addiction treatment center

Leah Yamshon | Aug. 28, 2013
Those who suffer from nomophobia—the fear of being without a mobile phone—need a special type of rehab therapy and wellness programs to bring them back to reality.

"Just because you're not sharing doesn't mean you're not experiencing," Felix says.

With this new mindset, he returned to the United States, and was shocked by how bad our mobile-obsessed culture had become. "I almost couldn't believe it," Felix says. So, he decided to bring the tech-free serenity he found abroad to the San Francisco Bay Area. Felix began studying the effects of information overload and constant tech use, and used this knowledge to create an inviting program to educate others.

"The goal is tricking people into realizing how important it is for one's health to slow down and disconnect," Felix says. And thus, Digital Detox was born.

Digital Detox runs meet-up events all over the Bay Area, weekend-long retreats in a serene lodge in Ukiah, California, and a summer camp in Anderson Valley where people interact completely without personal technology. No cell phones, no Internet, no TV, no cameras. Participants meditate, do yoga, keep journals, have group discussions, work on arts-and-crafts projects, and spend plenty of time on self-reflection. Felix shares the latest science and research on the effects of tech use to tell how it is changing our programming, and then participants discuss. "We address this giant elephant in the room head-on," he says.

Digital Detox is not for diagnosing or treating addicts. Rather, it's designed to bring awareness about why we need time for ourselves without our devices. Think of it as a learning center for coping mechanisms, and solving a problem before it becomes a problem.

Maintaining control
Felix believes that we are all mildly addicted to our phones and technology, but that most of us aren't completely powerless over it. The first step is recognizing whether our habits surpass just being rude and instead indicate a larger issue.

"If you're checking your phone a lot, but everything else in your life is fine, then you don't have a problem," says Waterman. Using your phone at inappropriate times is one big indicator.

To keep yourself from becoming too phone reliant, there are a few things you can try. Waterman suggests starting by making some rules. Set limits and boundaries for your phone use, such as not using the device in the bathroom, while driving, or at the dinner table.

Felix recommends turning off social media and email notifications, so that you can check your accounts on your own terms instead of as soon as you get a new ping. Then, designate certain parts of your day for checking your phone for new messages.

According to Cash, one of the worst habits we have is using our phones late at night or in bed. Staring at a screen prevents the brain from releasing melatonin, our natural sleep chemical, so our bodies don't register that we are tired. If you sleep with your phone right next to your bed, any late-night texts or alerts will disrupt your sleep patterns, even if you don't fully wake up to respond. An easy fix? Go back to using a regular alarm clock, and keep your phone outside of your bedroom.


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