Are you guilty of neglecting your health while using your laptop or smartphone?
Digital technology is such a fundamental part of everyday life that no one thinks twice about checking Twitter every five minutes, scrolling through Facebook for hours or cuddling up to Netflix on a Sunday evening. In many ways, technology enhances our lives as it can help you achieve your fitness goals or monitor your sleeping patterns. However, there are plenty of ways that using digital technology can harm your physical and mental health. By being aware of these common complaints you can prevent them from impacting your life.
Sitting by the phone
Increased smartphone use has been linked to higher stress levels. Research by the British Psychological Society found that smartphone use causes people to become anxious and check compulsively for alerts and messages1. One study has even found that 68 percent of mobile phone users experience “phantom vibrations”2 and think they feel their phone go off when it hasn’t. Detach from your phone and turn your notifications off for a few hours each day to give yourself a break and reduce anxiety.
Serious case of cyberchondria
Another common cause of anxiety stems from people turning to the internet for a medical diagnosis, before or instead of seeing a doctor. The term cyberchondria has been coined to refer to the practice of leaping to dramatic conclusions after researching symptoms which are usually very common and have many potential causes3. Rather than relying on the internet to help you self-diagnose, make sure your GP is your first point of contact if you have any concerning symptoms.
Pain in the neck
Poor posture when using computers, phones and tablets is a sure-fire way to cause pain in your back, neck, wrists or elbows. Whether for work or personal use, increased time craning at these screens has given rise to a whole new crop of sporty sounding conditions: ‘text neck’ and ‘iPad elbow’ among them4. You can also develop carpel tunnel, which causes wrist pain, from excessive typing. The main way to avoid this is to pay attention to your body and be mindful of any positions which start to become uncomfortable. Try to maintain a neutral spine by placing your screen upright at your natural eye level, and take regular breaks to move around5.
Computer vision syndrome
Looking at screens all the time can strain your eyes, leading to computer vision syndrome. Many people also experience dry eyes and headaches after too much time looking at a screen. There are common eye conditions such as presbyopia - a reduced ability to focus on objects which are near - which often remain undiagnosed and contribute to computer vision syndrome. You should do everything you can to make your screen less visually demanding, including small changes such as increasing the font size. It is also recommended to take a break every 20 minutes to focus for 20 seconds on an object which is 20 feet away6. If you’re concerned about your sight or have noticed it getting worse, you can arrange to have an eye test.
Using your laptop, tablet or smartphone just before going to bed could be reducing your ability to fall asleep. The artificial light from the screen can suppress the body’s release of melatonin, which helps you drop off. Exposure to light and darkness controls the human circadian rhythm, or body clock, and unnatural exposure to bright light late at night can throw you out of sync7. Getting enough sleep is vital for almost every bodily function, so be disciplined about your smartphone, laptop and tablet use for around an hour before going to sleep every night. A book is an excellent replacement for your Twitter feed. If these steps do not improve your night’s sleep and you think you may be suffering with a sleep disorder, you could try our sleep clinic to get tested and find out about possible treatments.
Too many distractions
Even when you use hands-free on the phone while you drive, your conversation distracts you from the road. While you focus on your call the amount of brain activity you devote to driving declines by up to 37 percent8. This makes car accidents far more likely as you’re not paying attention to what is happening around you. Restrict your in-car mobile phone use to absolutely essential conversations or, even better, pull over and stop to answer your phone.
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