Anxiety Files

Simple and powerful techniques for coping with anxiety and worry.

Are You a Crackberry? How to Break free from Addictive Checking

Tips to free yourself from your Blackberry addiction.

He walked into my office for his first visit while he was on the phone talking about what seemed a very important "deal" and he stood in my office for the first five minutes on the phone. When he got off the phone he apologized and said, "This is my problem. This is why I need help." You recognize him. He might be you, your husband, wife, colleague, kid. Whatever.

Addicted to the cell phone.

Or you are sitting in a restaurant talking and your messages are vibrating and you just have to respond. You stealthily take your blackberry out and look to see what the most important message is. You can't seem to tear yourself loose from it. Your wife, kids, friends, and everyone feel that you are not really "there" when you are here with them. They feel insulted, left out, ignored, feeling that you are rude, compulsive, self-absorbed. They're right.

Let's face it. Probably 90% of the emails, text-messages, and even calls that you get are not important. Almost none of them are urgent. You feel anxious when you don't check, anxious if you don't respond IMMEDIATELY. You are hooked, addicted, and tethered like a dog to your blackberry.

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What can you do?

Think of this as a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder. And then use some cognitive behavioral therapy to break loose and take your life back.

Here are the steps:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of immediately and always responding to your blackberry? You may think that the advantages are that you won't miss something or that if you give into the urge to check, the urge will go away. But you may recognize that the urge to check keeps coming back-stronger. And it may be that you are missing out on life while you are not missing out on trivial messages.
  2. How do others see it? Is it making them feel better or worse? If possible, ask them.
  3. How urgent are these messages? What do you predict would happen if you put off responding? Do you really think that there are missiles headed your way if you don't respond immediately?
  4. Set up an experiment. Establish Blackberry-free times and zones. For example, "I won't check my messages between 6 and 9 pm." Free yourself as much as you can so that you can notice that your kids are growing up in front of you. Look at them, not your blackberry.
  5. If you have the urge to check, delay responding for 20 minutes. See if the urge gets less or gets greater.
  6. Leave your blackberry home when you go out-a few times. See if this helps you enjoy your life more---or if you are constantly thinking you are missing something urgent.
  7. Reward yourself for every hour that you don't check. Let it go for a few hours and tell yourself that you are reclaiming your life.
  8. Tell yourself, "I own the Blackberry, it doesn't own me."
Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is the author of Anxiety Free,The Worry Cure and Beat the Blues. He is Clinical Professor of Psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School. more...

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