Are you reading this article on your phone? How many text messages have you sent today? Cellphones make our lives easier in many ways, but they are also negatively impacting our health. Here’s what you can do to stay healthy and connected.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report. Researchers have discovered several health problems associated with cellphone overuse. While a digital detox may sound nice in theory (or send others into a panic), completely ditching your phone isn’t a realistic option for many people. However, being mindful of how it is impacting your health is an important part of healthy living.
1. Negative impact on human relationships
Research has found that having your phone visibly on display when you’re having a face-to-face conversation can send a negative message. Researchers at University of Essex in the U.K. showed that those who had a mobile device were perceived less positive by independent observers. “These results demonstrate that the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships, an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics,” noted the researchers. In a similar study led by a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, participants who were involved in conversations reported feeling less fulfilled and feeling less empathy for the other person if they pulled out their phone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and mood of the participants.
Quick Fix: Put your phones away when you’re chatting with friends and colleagues. You are bound to notice an improvement in the quality of your conversations and relationships.
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2. Increases stress
You can feel your stress levels increasing as you get more calls and incoming texts. Researchers in Sweden discovered that there is a direct link between the psychosocial aspects of cellphone use and mental health symptoms in young adults. High phone use was tied to stress and sleep disturbances for women, while high cell usage was associated with sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression in men. Generally, excessive phone use was seen as a clear risk factor for mental health issues in young adults.
Quick Fix: Make sure you take frequent breaks from your phone throughout the day. Take stress-reducing walks, listen to some relaxing music, meditate and learn to live without the constant interruptions of cellphones in your daily life.
3. Hot Spot for Germs
If you’re not touching your cellphone, chances are you probably have placed it somewhere germ-heavy. They are natural breeding grounds for germs. In fact, each square inch of your average cellphone contains about 25,000 germs, making it one of the dirtiest objects we come in contact with each day.
A study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine sampled 390 cellphones to measure them for bacteria. The results proved that 92 percent of the phones had bacteria on them — 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them and 16 percent of cellphones and hands had E. Coli. It’s an unpleasant thought, but fecal matter can easily be transferred from one person to another, and sweaty cellphones are the perfect spot for germs that cause E. Coli, MRSA and the flu.
Quick Fix: It’s smart to get in the habit of using special antibacterial wipes made to clean electronics frequently. Power your phone down, remove it from its case, and then wipe both the phone and the case thoroughly. The most germ-laden part of the phone is the “home” button so give it extra attention. Remember to wash your hands frequently and don’t hand your phone to others. Also, never use your phone in the bathroom.
4. Back and Neck Pain
A report by Seattle-based research group Informate Mobile Intelligence, revealed that Americans spend 4.7 hours a day on their cellphones per average. During these long periods of cellphone use, we tend to arch our necks and hold our bodies in strange positions. The constant use of hands when we send out texts and answer emails can create pain and bring about the inflammation of joints. If your hold your phone between your neck and shoulders to multitask, this can also aggravate the back. That’s why doctors suggest that you don’t use cellphones for extended computer work or Internet browsing.
Quick Fix: When you use your cellphone or are reading on it, bring the phone up or just a little below your face.
5. Damaging to Vision
Because screens on cellphones are smaller than computer screens, reading them can cause us to squint and strain our eyes while reading messages. Digital eyestrain leads to irritation in the eyes, fatigue, eyestrain, blurry vision, problems focusing, headaches, neck and shoulder pain and binocular vision issues. The high-energy light emitted by our phone screens can also lead to age-related macular generation, which may cause vision loss. In fact, a study done by researchers and clinicians from the USC Roski Eye Institute at Keck Medicine of USC in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that too much screen time and not enough sunlight contributes to myopia in children and adults.
Quick Fix: To relieve eyestrain, blink often to reduce dryness and keep your eyes less irritated. Use anti-reflective coating on your cellphone screen to reduce glare. Take frequent breaks from looking at your phone. Adjust your screen’s text size and contrast. Keep your screen clean, and hold your smartphone about 16 to 18 inches away from your eyes.
If you have neck or back pain or another spine problem, the experts of the USC Spine Center can provide a second opinion and help you stand tall again. Our physicians offer appropriate spine care, with the latest minimally invasive surgical options for quicker recoveries, and patients also have access to physical and occupational therapy. To request an appointment with a USC spine specialist, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).
By Ramin Zahed