It’s no secret that digital devices are a massive part of our lives. We use them to help us travel places, track our steps, work efficiently and so much more – making it hard and sometimes impossible to truly “unplug.”
Because even though digital devices can help make our lives easier, they can be distracting and interfere with our well being. Think about the number of times you check your phone every day and the hours you unintentionally spend binge-watching a new TV series. It’s likely even in the time it takes you to read this, you’ll receive notifications on your phone that grab your attention away.
Erica Cook, a wellness program coordinator and clinical exercise physiologist at OhioHealth, shares how using electronic devices can impact our physical and mental health, and gives suggestions to use them in a healthy way.
Physical Health Impact
If your neck and shoulder muscles feel tight lately, it could be a result of looking down at your devices. Looking down while using a phone, tablet or laptop adds an extra load on the neck muscles and nerves, which can lead to damage over time.
How much heavier is the load? It depends on how far your head is bent, but consider this: your head weighs 10 to 12 pounds when your spine is in a neutral position and can weigh up to 60 pounds when your head is tilted forward at a 60-degree angle.
How to give your neck a break:
- Bring your phone up higher
- Check in with your posture throughout the day, especially if you sit at a desk and use a computer at work
- Put a pillow under your arms when looking down at your phone or tablet at home
There’s a reason you might have trouble falling asleep right after catching up on your Instagram feed. Blue light from phones, tablets and TVs makes us more alert and suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles.
How to block blue light and get the sleep you need:
- At least one hour before bedtime, stop using a tablet or phone and watching TV
- Read a book instead of reading a tablet
- Wear blue light filtering glasses
- Set your devices to Night Shift mode, so colors on your screen are warmer with less blue light after a specific time
Mental Health Impact
If you check your phone for messages, calls or other notifications even when you haven’t noticed it ring or vibrate, you aren’t alone. In fact, about 67 percent of people who own cell phones do it.
We do this because dopamine, a neurotransmitter used to send messages between nerve cells, signals to our brain that we’ll experience pleasure by using our phones.
Our brains crave newness, stimulation and instant satisfaction, which creates a “compulsion loop.” That’s why we check Facebook, email or other things on our phones even when a notification isn’t there.
How to eliminate the urge:
- Change your notification settings to turn off alerts for apps most distracting to you
- Turn your phone on Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb when possible
- Adopt the mantra “it can wait” when you feel like you need to check your phone
Depression and Anxiety Symptoms
Having access to so much information through technology can be overwhelming. It may increase anxiety because we:
- Feel pressure to immediately respond
- Compare ourselves to others
Studies have found that people who are on social media a lot show more depressive symptoms because of social comparison. Scrolling through social media may make you wish you lived on a beach like the lifestyle blogger you follow or think you need to have plans every Friday night because your friend from college always posts what she’s doing.
How to stress less:
- Clean up your social media feed. Be selective about who you follow and the content you see
- Set boundaries for how long you’re on social media. You can even use Downtime or App Limits, so you’re notified when you reach your time limits
- Take “no technology” time and use it for alternative activities you enjoy like cooking, hiking or meeting a friend for coffee
Limiting digital distraction and using our devices in the healthiest way possible starts with awareness. When we’re mindful of the ways we use digital technology and how it can impact our health, we can adjust our habits realistically to fit our lifestyle and improve our well being.