Wake up: check your phone. Pop out of the shower: check your phone. Pour coffee: you guessed it. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re in good company. For most of us, we don’t even have to hear a ring or feel a vibrate to check our screens. In fact, Americans check their phones an average of 262 times a day. (That’s once about every 5 minutes.) But does all that phone obsession affect your health? It sure does–in a lot of ways.
How your phone affects your health when it comes to stress levels
Stress is one of our favorite topics–and with good reason. When your body has a stress response, the hormone adrenaline is quickly released to help you cope. That’s a good thing. Except the constant stimuli of our modern lifestyles have made it tough for your body to know what’s a real trauma or threat to survival and your to-do list. When you stay in a chronic stress state, your body continually produces too much of another hormone: cortisol. With high cortisol, you really suffer. Thyroid hormone production and conversion declines. We begin to see issues with low progesterone in relation to estrogen. Insulin isn’t able to be used as effectively. Gut health and pelvic health become affected. You may feel physically and emotionally fatigued. Inflammation occurs and affects your heart health, immune health, and every single cell in the body.
So how does your phone affect your health and stress? While it’s been accepted for some time that phones trigger a release of dopamine, a reward and motivation hormone, a 2019 New York Times article quoted Dr. David Greenfield, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Dr. Greenfield explained that your phone raises your cortisol levels not just with each use but even when it’s just in your sight or you think you heard it go off. (Remember: chronically high cortisol equals hormone imbalances and health problems.) What’s more: though additional research is needed, long-term exposure to phone radiofrequency may even alter the structure and make up of your adrenal glands, which produce your stress hormones.
Physical health issues from always being on a device
Truth be told, our bodies weren’t meant to spend so much time sitting–or looking down. Staring at your phone a lot can create postural changes and pain in your back, shoulders, and neck. Whenever you spend a lot of time looking down at something in front of you, you ask more of your neck and risk cervical spine changes. Reducing the amount of time you spend on your phone can help. If that’s not possible, try to bring your phone up to eye level to avoid unnecessary strain on your neck. There’s also the potential that too much phone use can lead to nerve pain or tingling in your forearm and/or hand and fingers due to the ulnar nerve becoming compressed.
Physically, always texting, scrolling, or reading on your phone can affect your eye health too. Just as with looking at a computer screen for hours a day, your phone can lead to dry, irritated eyes. Your eyes need breaks–just like the rest of you.
Want tips on work-from-home posture? Catch chiropractor Dr. Tijana’s article on it here.
Your mental and emotional health with too much phone use
There are times when knowing your cell phone is nearby can actually be temporarily helpful and reassuring: when you’re feeling overwhelmed and can connect with a friend, if you’re feeling unsafe, or if you’re in a situation where you might need other assistance that you could reach with a call or text. But it’s well documented that cell phone use has a high potential to affect your mental health, too–especially in adolescents. Being in constant connection with anyone and everyone makes it difficult to create and stick to boundaries around when, how, and who has access to our time and mental and emotional energy. The same is true for being continually engaged with social media. Specifically, 2 or more hours on social media daily is linked to higher risk of depression.
Higher scores of depression and anxiety are associated with frequent cell phone use. However, a study published in “Computers of Human Behavior,” revealed that that does’t appear to be universally true. Many times, it’s the motivation behind your phone use that really matters as to if or how it affects your mental and emotional health. When turning to scrolling to avoid something else, phone use raises anxiety and depression. But using your phone when bored doesn’t always do the same.
Sleep issues and your phone
Most of us will do just about anything for a good night’s sleep. But that gets trickier when a phone is involved. Sometimes, it seems like your only time to scroll or read uninterrupted is after the kid’s go to bed or work is done for the day–and you want to take advantage of that. But using your phone late in the evening and at night has a pretty bad consequence: insomnia.
For starters, engaging your mind a lot before bed can make you feel wide awake despite the fact that it’s dark outside. Also, unless you’re using the blue-light filter on your phone, the light emitted from your phone can keep you from falling asleep nice and fast. That light limits the amount of melatonin your body makes. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you drowsy and ready for sleep.
To make matters worse, melatonin is also really important for a lot of things beyond sleep. Melatonin plays a part in fertility, teeth and bone health, and also in alleviating migraines. There’s also a compounded effect that can happen here too. If your phone is contributing to your stress levels and influencing your gut health, you may be producing less of the hormone serotonin. (About 90% of your serotonin is made in your gut). Too little serotonin makes you more prone to depression. Also, your body needs it to make whatever melatonin it can.
So, when it gets closer to bed time, resolve to put your phone down at least an hour beforehand (but the earlier the better!). Turn down the lights in your room or at home. By allowing your body to register darkness, it’ll help cue melatonin production.
Tracking time spent on your phone
Downloading an app like QualityTime or YourHour can tell you how much time you’re spending on your phone and where you need to cut back. But just moving your phone out of sight and resisting the urge to check it can help improve your health.