Your cellphone can tell you a lot — the weather, your plans for the weekend, the latest news. Therapists say it can also clue you into how you’re feeling.
Specifically, certain phone habits could signify anxiety.
“When we’re anxious, our body goes into fight or flight, and a lot of the time, because we’re so attached to our phones … that’s one of the first places where that fight or flight response shows up,” said Tasha Bailey, a psychotherapist in London and author of “Real Talk: Lessons From Therapy on Healing & Self-Love.”
Here are some phone habits that may be a sign something deeper is going on.
Doomscrolling (and excessive scrolling in general).
Most people are pretty familiar with the term doomscrolling, which is the phrase for continuously scrolling and clicking to learn more and more about disturbing news or worrisome topics. And, unsurprisingly, this could be a sign you’re feeling anxious. (What’s more, it could even be the cause of your anxiety.)
“In [doomscrolling], we’re trying to find some certainty, we’re trying to find answers, but by doing all that doomscrolling, we only make our anxiety worse,” said Carrie Howard, a Texas-based licensed clinical social worker and anxiety coach who provides services to clients worldwide.
When you scroll and scroll and scroll, anxiety-inducing thoughts can flood your mind and make it hard to think of anything else.
Beyond doomscrolling, Howard said excessively scrolling seemingly “good” content like light-hearted posts or funny reels could be a sign of anxiety, too.
Many people use this as a distraction method — you’re shifting your attention to your phone, which allows you to avoid what’s going on in your life, whether it’s a stressful work situation or a fight with a friend.
Searching troubling questions.
Similar to doomscrolling, “doom-searching,” if you will, is another way your anxiety could be showing up in your cellphone use.
When we’re anxious, we often are hypervigilant and overthink things, Bailey said. “That can show up [in our] Google searches; we might have millions of tabs open of all the things that we’re anxious about,” Bailey added.
Your searches can tell you a lot about what you’re worrying about — are you searching for symptoms of a sickness or looking up when you’ll feel healed after a big breakup?
“Our Google searches can show us how anxious we are and the intrusive thoughts that we might be carrying,” Bailey said. “We’re looking for some kind of validation, or some answers or guidance.”
Using your phone as a way to avoid certain situations.
“I’ve had some clients that have told me especially if they’re socially anxious, they’ll actually pretend to be answering a text or a phone call as a way to avoid real-life social interactions,” Howard said.
So, say you’re in a coffee shop and a former colleague or high school acquaintance starts to approach you — have you ever acted like you’re on the phone to avoid a social interaction? This is an example of “using your phone as a distraction or avoidance strategy to cope with real-life stressors,” she said.
Additionally, if you’re stressed about a work project, using your phone as a procrastination tool could be a red flag, too.
Why? You’re “avoiding that stress and discomfort of the project that you’ve got to be facing,” Howard noted.
The inability to put your phone down.
The inability to detach yourself from your phone — like when you’re exercising, going to bed or in a work meeting — can be a sign of anxiety, according to Emma Mahony, a therapist at A Better Life Therapy in Philadelphia and a mental health content creator on TikTok.
What’s more, it can even signify codependence. “I think a lot of people are codependent when it comes to their phone, which is an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship,” Mahony said.
“If our phone was a person, we would be attached to them all day,” Bailey added. And, when people are anxious, they can become even more attached to their phones.
You may notice that your phone battery dies quickly when you’re in this headspace, added Bailey. Think about it: If you have your phone on you constantly, and you’re quickly replying to any and all emails, calls and texts, your phone battery won’t last much of the day.
If you’re dealing with anxiety, Howard added that you may constantly check your phone at inappropriate times, like when you’re at lunch with family or when you should be sleeping.
“You just feel that obsessive urge to check the notifications on your phone,” Howard said.
Replying to your notifications ASAP.
In the same realm of constantly checking your phone, Howard said some folks have a tendency to address notifications right away as a way to avoid anxiety.
“But, the problem with that is, then you always end being on call and really struggle to have good boundaries with yourself around your phone use,” she said.
Those weak phone boundaries can lead to more anxiety — the expectation that you’ll reply to texts right away or always answer a work call can loom over you.
The avoidance of phone calls.
But, according to Howard, phone call avoidance can be a sign of anxiety, too.
“We’re kind of losing the art of social skills in some ways, and so when we feel less secure about our ability to engage with others, we tend to kind of hide behind our phone, or we don’t want to make a call that feels intimidating to us or answer a call as well,” Howard said.
Panic when your phone isn’t working.
Mahony said it’s important to take note of how you feel when you don’t have WiFi or when your phone dies. Feeling nervous or panicked could be red flags, she noted.
(This excludes people who use their phone for safety, Mahony said, like if you’re relying on maps to get you home late at night.)
“I know that some people need to have their phone on them for safety, but when it’s just the withdrawal of not being able to text your friends or see what’s going on Instagram, I feel like that’s something really important to look into as well,” Mahony added.
You should be able to be alone for some time without messages or calls. A constant need to be in contact with others can be problematic.
If you do notice that you are anxiously attached to your phone, it’s not shameful.
Try not to shame yourself if you do feel that you have an anxious attachment to your phone.
“It’s not crazy … they are essentially designed to keep you attached to them,” Mahony said. “And I feel like … I can’t even really think of anything I spend more time with than my phone.”
Have grace for yourself if your phone use does feel unhealthy or as a way that your anxiety is manifesting, she said.
While having grace for yourself, “You need to have an honest conversation of how can I create a little bit of distance and connect back to myself?” Mahony said.
You can try a mindfulness trick to limit your phone use.
If you think your phone is fueling your anxiety, you can try to create a physical barrier between you and your phone. In fact, it’s a hack that Mahony uses herself: Simply put a hair tie around your phone.
“It’s very hard to text and to search things when there’s a rubber band around your phone,” Mahony said. “So, it kind of creates that mindfulness.”
“I feel like a lot of people don’t even realize that they just pick up their phone and open an app, or just open their phone automatically because we’re so used to it,” said Mahony, adding that this creates alertness in our brain and reminds us that we are going on our phone.
Or you can establish clear phone boundaries.
Boundaries aren’t just for other people, they can be for your phone use, too.
Bailey suggested setting time limits for certain apps or creating strict boundaries around your phone use after work hours. This could include not having work emails on your phone or silencing your notifications after a specific time.
Mahony added that you could even just turn your phone off for an hour each day to give yourself some space.
“I’ll tell people that I’m going to turn my phone off, so if you need me, I’ll be able to respond in an hour,” Mahony said, “and that’s setting expectations for yourself and for other people.”
This could also look like putting your phone upstairs after dinner or leaving it in your purse when you’re at the office. There is no right way to set phone boundaries, and it’ll vary by person.
And it’s important to take care of yourself and your anxiety overall.
Self-care can help combat feelings of anxiety, and it’s important not to neglect it. “Sometimes this just gets put on the back burner because we’re so busy and have so much going on, but it is so important to get proper rest, have a healthy diet, engage in adequate exercise,” Howard said.
“All that is so important when it comes to anxiety management and really feeling your best,” added Howard.
You can also engage in mindfulness strategies like meditation, journaling, listening to calming music and deep breathing to help regulate your mind and body, she said.
What’s more, you can seek additional support. You can find a mental health professional through databases like Psychology Today and Inclusive Therapists that is trained to support people with anxiety.
“Because you certainly don’t have to go through this alone,” Howard said.