As smartphone technology has improved, my use has steadily increased. What I once used to check in with my parents while I was out with friends is now a personal computer, in a way. I work from my phone, I take pictures of my kids, and I keep up with my friends. To be perfectly honest, I wish I used my phone less. I know it distracts me from more important parts of my life. It’s more than a distraction, though. I have always suspected my phone was negatively affecting me in some ways. I notice I feel a bit jittery before bed if I have been using my phone too much late in the evening. At times it makes it difficult for me to fall asleep. There was a time when I assumed I was simply hypersensitive to technology, but lately I have learned that most people experience negative side effects from overuse of their smartphones. In some cases, they don’t realize that their symptoms are connected to the device in their hands. Don’t believe me when I say it would do you good to cut back on your smartphone use? Keep reading to find out how our society’s state of hyperconnectedness can negatively influence both our bodies and our minds.
1. Smartphones are killing thousands each year.
In 2015 alone, 3,477 deaths were attributed to texting and driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That means every day, nearly 10 people die because someone was too distracted by their phone to give driving their full attention. We’ve all been guilty of letting our devices keep us from making safe driving our top priority, but distracted driving is deadly driving. We can’t neglect our duty to put down the phone and drive safely. If you are struggling to stay off of your phone while driving, it is best to remove the temptation altogether. Throw your phone in your purse or bag and put your bag in your back seat. Put on some music or a podcast if you’re bored with driving. It’s worth the lives you could save by staying away from your phone’s screen.
2. Your smartphone is giving you CVS.
When you spend several hours a day looking at a screen—and most of us do—it can negatively influence the health of your eyes. The American Optometric Association warns against extended use of tech, especially without breaks, because it could cause a wide range of symptoms from eyestrain and headaches to dry eyes and blurred vision. Environmental factors such as bad lighting and glare on screens can worsen the eyestrain caused by routine screen use. Additionally, if you already have poor vision, you may be more susceptible to experiencing computer vision syndrome or CVS. To lessen the effect screens have on your eyes, don’t use screens as much. When you can’t cut back, make sure you are taking at least a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something far away.
3. Your smartphone can’t fix this common symptom.
If you suspect that your smartphone use is negatively affecting your mood, it definitely isn’t all in your head. Excessive smartphone use is directly tied with poor moods, according to the journal Personality and Individual Differences. People who check their phone constantly are likely trying to “fix” their depressive symptoms, but the habit they’re relying on doesn’t work. In fact, frequent use of social media has been found to play a role in depression, since users are apt to compare their own lives to the highlights being posted by others online, according to the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology. For many, their smartphone is their connection to social media. If you are experiencing feelings like jealousy, decreased self-esteem, or good old-fashioned FOMO, it might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate your smartphone use.
4. Your smartphone is sabotaging your diet.
If you’ve been trying to lose some weight but haven’t had a lot of luck reaching your goals, consider how your phone might be sabotaging your diet. In the simplest terms, the key to losing weight is consuming fewer calories than you are burning each day. This requires mindfulness of what goes into our bodies. When you bring your phone to the table, it distracts you from the task at hand—eating. For many, focusing on the wrong thing at mealtime might mean they don’t realize when they have had enough. They end up overeating. Overeating regularly will cause weight gain in most people, so put your phone away and pay attention to what you’re putting in your body.
5. Your smartphone can’t be your friend.
Smartphones are tricky little devils; they can lead heavy users to believe they are connected with their friends, when in reality they actually make people lonelier. Some people are prone to shyness or struggle with certain social interactions, and the key to feeling more socially competent is practice. Unfortunately, smartphones have provided an escape for those who feel discomfort in social settings, according to the journal Social Science Computer Review. Before you write this off as something only the socially awkward experience, you should know that using smartphones to avoid social situations has becoming increasingly common. In fact, 89 percent of adults reported using their phone while at a social function, and 82 percent said they knew their habit of looking at their phone was keeping them from having meaningful conversations with others.
6. Your smartphone is turning you into an insomniac.
Sleep is essential to good health, and not getting enough of it has been linked to all kinds of long-term health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity. With as much as 35 percent of the adult population reporting experiences of short-term insomnia, it is easy to believe the research that suggests screens have something do with our sleep troubles. The body’s circadian rhythms are influenced in part by the hormone melatonin. How much melatonin the body makes and when it makes it is strongly influenced by the light we expose ourselves to late into the evening. Blue light—the artificial light emitted by screened devices—has been found to be disruptive to sleep, according to the Harvard Health Letter. If you want to manage the effect that blue light has on your health, start cutting back on your phone use before bed. Experts recommend powering down as early as three hours before you plan to switch off the lights, which means it is probably time to head to the library and pick up a few good books.
7. Your smartphone is a pain in the neck.
It is no coincidence that more doctors are reporting treating young patients complaining of neck and upper back pain than they have in the past. These symptoms have been coined “text neck,” and it is exactly what it sounds like. When we lean over devices to send a text or check social media, the specific angle of our neck makes our head feel way heavier than it actually is. In fact, at texting angle, our 10- to 12-pound head actually puts 60 pounds of pressure on the neck, according to Health Essentials, a publication of the Cleveland Clinic. This is causing a lot of pain for regular smartphone users. The primary symptom of text neck is strain and pain in the neck. Additionally, hunching over your phone can compress your lungs, limiting your breathing capacity and forcing your body to work harder to pump blood to your organs.
8. Your smartphone is giving you cell phone elbow.
The invention of the smartphone brought with it the advent of some brand-new health conditions that have been given pretty catchy names. Of course, the symptoms of cell phone elbow, texting claw, or Tinder thumb are anything but cute for those experiencing them. Repetitive motions can be hard on the body, especially if improper form and awkward movements are involved. More people are experiencing pain unique to how and how often they use their smartphones. Heavy users who spend a lot of time texting or swiping are more likely to experience the symptoms of tendinitis, a condition characterized by joint pain and inflammation in the wrists and fingers. Want to avoid these uncomfortable symptoms? Text less, turn off Tinder, or just put down your phone for a while.
9. Your cell phone is playing tricks on your brain.
Have you ever felt your cell phone vibrate only to pick it up and see that no one has called or texted you? There is a name for this sensation, and you’re not the only one imagining things. Ringxiety is the name the internet has assigned to this incredibly strange phenomenon. The belief is that our extreme attachment to smartphones has created a sense of hypervigilance in regular users. According to The New York Times, the brain is making connections when you hear a sound that resembles your phone even a little bit. Whether it is something similar in terms of vibration or a note in a song that sounds like a chime on your phone, you’ve got your phone on your mind, so your brain fills in the rest. One suggestion for dealing with ringxiety is challenging yourself to check your phone less often. Try setting a timer on your phone, and force yourself to stay off it completely until the alarms sounds. Then slowly increase your phone-free time over several days. Adopting this habit is one way to fight back against the hypervigilant connection to smartphones that so many of us experience. Of course there is nothing wrong with using and liking technology. Smartphones allow us to remain connected to the people we care about, no matter where they are located—a few blocks over or halfway around the globe. The internet is an exceptional source of information, and for many (me included) it is a source of livelihood for our families that is easily accessible from our phones. Like anything else in life, finding balance is the key to responsible use of technology. You don’t need to throw out your phone to decrease your risk of health complications. You simply need to cut back, take extended breaks during the day, and find other ways to fill your time. You’ll be glad you did. We promise.