You can't live without your cell phone and — thank god — you usually don't have to. But digital dependence isn't necessarily the healthiest habit. Look out for the scary side effects below — they'll make you feel much better the next time your phone battery dies.
1. It strains your eyes. Whenever you spend more than a couple consecutive hours staring at your phone (or alternating between your phone and computer screens), you risk dry eyes from blinking less, headaches, blurred vision, and general eyestrain — particularly if you have any untreated vision problems in the first place. Unlike reading from a printed page, it's harder for your eyes to focus on a digital screen because the letters aren't as sharp, there's less contrast between the backlit letters and background, and you're up against glare and reflections, according to the American Optometric Association. Looking into the distance every 20 minutes can help, as can an antiglare screen and frequent blinking.
2. It could make you feel depressed. Studies link frequent social media use and depression — and smartphones makes it easy to OD. "Being bombarded by images of everyone looking happy and successful leads to unhealthy and inaccurate comparisons and decreased feelings of self-worth," says Debra Kissen, Ph.D., clinical director of Light on Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago.
3. It can trigger nomophobia, or the fear of being without your phone. You know that feeling of safety and security you get from having a fully charged phone in your hand? Nomophobia is the opposite: It can lead you to think — often irrationally — that you're not safe without a phone in your hand, Kissen explains.
To get over this fear, face it head on by leaving it behind for increasing amounts of time at increasingly far distances. And remember that people managed to survive without their phones 15 years ago. You'll make it — trust.
4. It could give you "rinxiety" or "phantom pocket vibration syndrome." These conditions refer to anxiety surrounding missed messages and phone calls — and the more often you check your device, the worse it will get, Kissen says.
Your behavior is only a Real Problem if it starts to interfere with daily functioning (i.e., you check your phone so often you can't complete menial tasks at work) or causes excessive distress (i.e., any stress — so what if you miss a text?!). If you can't change your ways on your own by paring back on screen checks, cognitive behavioral therapy is always an option.
5. It could dull your memory. With a smartphone handy, there's no reason to memorize things you know you can easily look up — like phone numbers. And when you stop memorizing facts and figures, your memory can get a little rusty, Kissen says. (Luckily, you don't have to worry about permanent damage — memory games can help rebuild brainpower.)
6. It deflates your self-esteem. Phones give people the ability to filter every part of daily life and place the best parts in your palm. All this amounts to a constant stream of unattainable reality that makes you feel bad about living your unfiltered life.
7. It triggers FOMO. Your device connects you to all the cool things everyone else is doing (besides using their phones to share the fun). Because seeing all this awesomeness can make you feel jealous (and badly about spending Saturday night in your PJs), it's basically a trigger.
8. It can trick you into gaining weight. It's common sense: Phones are distracting — particularly at mealtime. Even mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed while you eat can make you less aware of when your body sends the signal to stop eating. Of course this contributes to overeating, which can cause weight gain over time. (It's why Kissen keeps her phone out of sight while she eats.)
9. It stunts the growth of your social skills. A phone is a ticket out of interacting in any social situation. It's a crutch that could interfere with your development of proper communication skills IRL. And of course social angst leads to anxiety and the physical symptoms that can accompany it.
10. It rots your brain by cheapening your conversation. While 89 percent of cellphone users involved in a recent Pew Research Center study whipped their devices out at a recent social function (and 11 percent were clearly lying), 82 percent of people said their phone use interferes with the quality of their conversation. And you don't need a stat to tell you that effective communication is vital to your mental health.
11. It interferes with your sleep. If you're part of the 95 percent of people who use some kind of electronic device during the hour before bed, the artificial blue light could suppress the hormones that promote sleep and make it harder to get to bed, according to the National Sleep Foundation and data derived from its 2011 Sleep in America poll. Of course your phone's random vibration, beeping, or light can also wake you up once you fall asleep — it's why sleep mode is insanely underrated, and late-night texts are like, Really?!
12. It could bring about breakouts. Constantly fingering your phone with germy hands makes your device incredibly unsanitary. When you hold your phone up to your ear, you can deposit bacteria to your face, which can trigger breakouts and related anxieties.
13. It can cause neck and upper back pain. A couple hours of hunching over your smart phone can trigger discomfort beginning with pain in the back of the neck and shoulders, says Kenneth Hansraj, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine in Manhattan.
Stretches like tilting the head from front to back and from side to side can help, and so can proper posture: Make sure your ears are aligned with your shoulders and your shoulder blades are retracted, Dr. Hansraj says — especially when you're looking at your phone. Instead of hunching forward, lower your eyes and raise your arms to bring your screen into view. (To further promote proper posture, try these four moves.)
14. It can deteriorate your spine. A 2014 Neuro and Spine Surgery study that assessed the force of tilting your head forward to see your device found that a 60-degree tilt forward (a pretty standard motion) makes your head, which weighs 10 to 12 pounds in neutral position, feel about 50 pounds heavier. Over time, this puts thousands of extra pounds worth of stress on your spine, which causes the spinal discs to break down. The damage doesn't just leave you with chronic pain — it could leave you with some big medical bills if corrective surgery is needed.
15. It could compress your lungs. It's easy to see how hunching over your device can compromise your posture — but this isn't just an eyesore. Studies suggest that poor posture can squish your lungs and make breathing more difficult — bad news considering your brain and body need oxygen to function.
16. It could cause "texting claw," "Tinder finger," or "cell phone elbow." No, these catchphrases aren't formal diagnoses. They're terms used by frequent phone users with symptoms like pain and inflammation in the fingers, hands, and arms, often referring to tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons that move the fingers, thumbs, or wrists, says Aaron Daluiski, MD., an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
Medically speaking, your discomfort can actually trace back to any number of things — from arthritis to a broken bone. But repetitive swiping and tapping can exacerbate the problem, Dr. Daluiski explains. In any case, taking breaks from heavy texting, typing, or Tinder-swiping every 20 to 30 minutes can provide some sweet relief. Otherwise, see a hand and wrist specialist for splinting, physical therapy, or cortisone injections.
17. It increases your risk of potentially fatal accidents. It's because your screen is a huge distraction for drivers and walkers alike. In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. And you're not much safer walking: Some experts estimate that distracted walking leads to more injuries per mile than distracted driving.
18. Who knows? Cellphones emit a form of electromagnetic radiation that the body can absorb. While there's been lots of research on the relationship between this kind of exposure and various cancers, the results are conflicting and inconclusive. That means no one really knows the long-term effects of cellphone radiation, according to the National Institute of Cancer. What they do know: Using a hands-free device is safer than holding the phone up to your head. (And landlines — if you can remember them, let alone locate one — are the safest.)
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Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more. Follow her at @ejnarins.
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