Think again before immersing yourself in your phone!
The first smartphone was built in the mid-1990s and in a mere time of 20 years, there are an estimated 2 billion+ smartphone users worldwide! Smartphones, by combining the abilities of computers and mobile phones, have given us access to a wide range of features- voice and video calls, media player, games, GPS navigation, digital camera, easy internet access and of course, apps. It has led to a technological revolution as we continue to push the boundaries of what can be done on the pocket-sized device. What this has also inadvertently led to is an excessive dependence on smartphones among an alarmingly high number of people in the world that has given rise to multiple health and psychological problems, alienation from the physical world and a drug-like addiction. In this article, we look at the bad and damaging side effects of excessive smartphone usage and why it’s not good for your physical, mental and psychological health.
Health risks & hazards of using mobile phones
Familiar with the pain in the neck from looking down at your cellphones and tablets for too long or too frequently? Text neck is the name of this painful condition and it’s a rapidly increasing phenomenon around the world. Science suggests that bending the neck while using smartphones increases the weight and pressure on the spine and this leads to pain in the neck & arms and numbness. In a normal standing position facing forward, the neck and spine painlessly support the weight of the head, which is about 4.5-5 kg. Bending the neck increases the weight on your neck and spine to as much as 20 kg depending on the angle of the bend, which can cause severe pain. To avoid text neck, these 3 tips are helpful: 1) take regular breaks, 2) alter your position in which you use your smartphones so that you are more upright and 3) Perform upper back strengthening exercises, chest stretches and neck posture drills.
Nomophobia, short for “no-mobile-phone phobia” is as the word suggests- the fear of being without your phone or out of mobile phone contact. It was coined during a 2010 study in Britain, in which it was found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users tend to be anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage”. Further, a survey conducted by SecurEnvoy in 2012 found the percentage to have increased to 66% and also that youngsters and adolescents are more likely to suffer from nomophobia. Some common symptoms of nomophobia are obsessively checking your phone, constantly charging your battery and taking your phone to the bathroom with you.
Phantom Vibration Syndrome
How many times have you felt that your mobile phone is ringing or vibrating when it is not? The name given to this rather common perception is phantom vibration syndrome, also called ringxiety and fauxcellarm. The underlying cause is believed to be over-involvement with cellphones and is a result of anticipatory anxiety. They generally tend to develop when you set your cellphone settings to use vibrating alerts. The alarming part is that it is a widespread phenomenon among people. In fact, study conducted by Dr. Michelle Drouin, an American researcher, found that 9 out of 10 undergraduate students at her college had experienced phantom vibrations!
Another common side effect of smartphones is text claw. Text claw is the name given to the pain, soreness or numbness in your wrist, hands and forearms as a result of repetitive fine motor activities such as texting and playing games on your cellphones, tablets, laptops etc. Text claw can lead to tendonitis, which causes severe wrist pain, local joint stiffness and loss of strength. To avoid text claw or if you sense pain in your wrists as a result of excessive messaging or playing, firstly take regular breaks and give your hands rest. Additionally, rub ice on the pain-causing area, use a wrist brace and perform wrist exercises such as these.
Our circadian rhythm is a natural body system that’s designed to regulate our states of sleepiness and wakefulness over the course of a day. The area in the brain responsible for the circadian rhythm is responsive to light and is the reason that enables us to be alert in the morning and sleepy when it’s dark outside. Now, the blue light emitted from electronic gadgets such as cell phones, tablets and laptops suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls the circadian rhythm. This stimulates your brain and keeps it alert/engaged as it is tricked into thinking that it needs to stay awake, thus pushing back sleep time twice as long as coffee does. It is, therefore, a good idea to keep away from gadgets for at least 30 minutes before you hit the bed to sleep. The more, the better!
A very disturbing research by the University of Arizona has found that on an average, a cellphone harbors 10 times the bacteria on a toilet seat! Cellphones are generally cleaned less often than toilets and thus, continue to pick up germs. While one may be tempted to think that germs on a cellphone should not be that big a deal, it becomes a more serious problem when cellphones are shared between people. The safest thing to do, of course, is to be careful about where you leave your cellphone and wipe it regularly.
Mobile technology has revolutionized communication in that it has enabled us to stay connected online over great distances. Yet, the irony is that it has had a negative effect on face-to-face interactions with studies showing that people have become more disconnected and less ‘present’ in reality. A couple of experiments have shown that cellphone obsession in social settings affects closeness, connection and conversation quality with people around us. Further, researchers have found that people who engaged in personal discussions with cellphones nearby reported lower relationship quality and lesser trust in their partners. The lesson? Forget about your smartphones when you’re talking face-to-face with people around you!
Along with text neck, excessive smartphone usage can cause serious damage to nerves as well. It can result in occipital neuralgia– a neurological condition characterized by chronic pain in the upper neck, base of the skull, back of the head or behind the eyes. It is caused by the compression or inflammation of occipital nerves (that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp) that can result from drooping or hunching while using smartphones and other electronic devices. Some ways of dealing with the pain when it starts is by applying heat to the neck, resting your neck and back, massaging the muscles and most importantly, keeping away from your phones for a while!
Eye Strain (Computer Vision Syndrome)
Prolonged staring at smartphone or laptop screens and scrolling through texts and other media can lead to what is known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). Symptoms of CVS include eye fatigue or strain, dry eyes, blurred vision, double vision, irritation in eyes, headaches, neck pain and dizziness. According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, it affects 90% of people who spend 3+ hours a day at a computer or other electronic devices. To avoid CVS, it is recommended to increase your phone’s font size, hold them about half a meter from your face, reduce glare and overhead lighting and give your eyes a break by following the 20-20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Also, don’t forget to blink often.
Smartphone addiction has now been recognized as a real and increasing phenomenon among people. The overuse of mobile phones among people is evident from the fact that a poll by National Safety Council (NSC) in the U.S. found that a whopping 82% of Americans believe that cellphones are addictive. Research in the U.S. has also found that 60% of smartphone users can’t go more than an hour without checking their phones while another paper suggests that 39-44% of Indian adolescents are addicted to smartphones. Thus, constantly having your cellphone around is indeed an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are rehabs now for cell phone addicts. Like other addictions such as
smoking, the process of recovery from this addiction also has similar withdrawal symptoms- anger, depression, panic, restlessness, irritability and significant mental and physical distress. The moral- Use your smartphones moderately and avoid getting into the trap of addiction!