Not smart (or healthy) to use smartphone too much

Research indicates that using a smartphone too much is increasing stress, is a threat to health, and could result in earlier death.

This could mean that too much raging online increases rage levels, causing more social strife.

I wonder if how you use your smartphone may matter more than how much you use it.

NY Times: Putting Down Your Phone May Help You Live Longer

By raising levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, our phone time may also be threatening our long-term health.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention spans, creativity, productivity and problem-solving and decision-making skills.

But there is another reason for us to rethink our relationships with our devices. By chronically raising levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, our phones may be threatening our health and shortening our lives.

Until now, most discussions of phones’ biochemical effects have focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits — and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are explicitly designed to trigger dopamine’s release, with the goal of making our devices difficult to put down.

This is mostly about marketing – selling products and selling online services. Too much inane advertising watching passive media could also raise stress levels.

This manipulation of our dopamine systems is why many experts believe that we are developing behavioral addictions to our phones. But our phones’ effects on cortisol are potentially even more alarming.

Cortisol is our primary fight-or-flight hormone. Its release triggers physiological changes, such as spikes in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, that help us react to and survive acute physical threats.

These effects can be lifesaving if you are actually in physical danger — like, say, you’re being charged by a bull. But our bodies also release cortisol in response to emotional stressors where an increased heart rate isn’t going to do much good, such as checking your phone to find an angry email from your boss.

Not taking your work home with you is important in reducing work related stress. I’m not set up to get work emails on my phone, so I’m not effectively on call.

If they happened only occasionally, phone-induced cortisol spikes might not matter. But the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time, according to a tracking app called Moment. The result, as Google has noted in a report, is that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”

“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” says David Greenfield, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”

So an addiction to being connected is a large part of the problem.

Any time you check your phone, you’re likely to find something else stressful waiting for you, leading to another spike in cortisol and another craving to check your phone to make your anxiety go away. This cycle, when continuously reinforced, leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels.

And chronically elevated cortisol levels have been tied to an increased risk of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.

Making it likely people are getting crankier, more easily offended and upset, more intolerant.

Elevated cortisol levels impair the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain critical for decision-making and rational thought. “The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s Jiminy Cricket,” says Dr. Lustig. “It keeps us from doing stupid things.”

Impairment of the prefrontal cortex decreases self-control. When coupled with a powerful desire to allay our anxiety, this can lead us to do things that may be stress-relieving in the moment but are potentially fatal, such as texting while driving.

The effects of stress can be amplified even further if we are constantly worrying that something bad is about to happen, whether it’s a physical attack or an infuriating comment on social media.

Some people seem to be constantly worried about potential wars, perceived injustices and threats (justified or not) of reduced rights – and more susceptible to believing conspiracies?

To make your phone less stressful, start by turning off all notifications except for the ones you actually want to receive.

Next, pay attention to how individual apps make you feel when you use them. Which do you check out of anxiety? Which leave you feeling stressed? Hide these apps in a folder off your home screen. Or, better yet, delete them for a few days and see how it feels.

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to create healthy boundaries with devices that are deliberately designed to discourage them. But by reducing our stress levels, doing so won’t just make us feel better day-to-day. It might actually lengthen our lives.

If you have a smartphone addiction try to use it less, stress less, and what you do may end up being better quality engagement.

 

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12 Comments

  1. David

     /  30th April 2019

    New Yorkers are horribly addicted, you sit down in a restaurant and there are groups literally all on their phones and barely talking to each other. The addiction levels are frightening, you look at young people and they have the beginnings of a hunch back but the NYers look in great condition compared to their young counterparts in Hong Kong who look absolutely terrible…podgy, unfit, hunched and unlikely to live a life free of decades of health issues.
    Makes Kiwis look incredible.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  30th April 2019

      There were two women using devices in a Met Opera Live at the cinema; giggling and scrolling down photos. Their devices were very bright and distracting. The elderly man next to them said something that made them turn the things off. They turned them on again after the interval and he was not so polite that time.

      They had paid $66 to sit doing that; $33 each. Why not do it outside for nothing and not madden the others who’d also paid $33 to be there ? The Lido has a foyer with lovely furniture to sit on.

      Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  30th April 2019

    It’s a big ask to expect people, especially young people, but not only the young, not to be constantly using their smartphones.

    Teenagers & 20-somethings walking down the street are seen everywhere, looking at & even tapping away on their mobiles.

    Hospital & doctors’ waiting rooms, cafes, the library, the park – everywhere you go – people of all ages except the very elderly (some of who do use the internet, but mostly at home, on their computers) are on their mobiles, even if just to kill time while waiting.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  30th April 2019

      There are signs in my GP’s waiting room asking people not to use them, and the last time I was in a hospital there were signs in various places telling people not to use any kind of phone.

      I have seen older people sitting goggling at their phones as well as young ones; for some reason this seems strange. It is damned rude to do that when you’re out with someone, I think.

      A man nearly walked into me today; I’d say he was about 40, because he was gazing at his phone.I had to jump out of his way as he walked along, not looking where he was going. My little phone supposedly does things like wifi, but it’s useless at them.

      Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  30th April 2019

    I think stress is addictive. People actively seek it out. You can see it happening even here.

    If folk aren’t worrying about politics then it’s global warming or terrorism or religion or animal cruelty or poverty or 1080 or anything at all.

    Time to make love not war?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  30th April 2019

      Are you including yourself in those folk not worrying about global warming? So not worth worrying about that you can’t even be bothered commenting on it, Al?

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  30th April 2019

        You may have noticed my restraint then, G.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  30th April 2019

          I’m not completely surprised if Mrs Al has chained you to a chair or perhaps the bed, Al. But I’m not sure I want to know any more about this.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  30th April 2019

            Make love not war, G.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              Are you typing wearing handcuffs, Al?

            • Kimbo

               /  30th April 2019

              No, in practice I think you really mean, “pick your battles”! 😀

              Not that that’s a crime, btw. Much less very good advice.

            • Gezza

               /  30th April 2019

              It’s not me you to sell on that idea, Al. It’s terrorists & dictators trying to do the opposite.

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