How many hours do you spend on your phone? Last week I averaged five hours a day - that probably sounds a lot, and truth be told it is - it’s two and half months of the year spent on my phone.
I must caveat, my profession is in digital marketing - so this figure is slightly biased, as much of that time is spent on work - but I’d be wrong to say it’s entirely all work.
What would be right to say at this point is: device addiction is real, and so are its physical health risks. How do I know? I know because I’m a recovering addict and I seriously put my own life at risk from too much mobile phone use (but more on that later).
Recovery from addiction (be it alcohol, drugs or gambling) is a lifelong process - only unlike alcohol, drugs or gambling it’s very difficult (almost impossible) in the modern world to cut this addictive substance (the smartphone) - out of your life completely.
These days, it’s becoming more common to hear people say ‘I’m addicted to my smartphone’, and it’s no wonder when these little handheld boxes of wonder provide so much distraction.
Distraction is of course a perfectly natural part of our fight or flight response - without the ability to get distracted we wouldn’t react when we are in danger.
But sadly, tech and social media companies understand this all too well, which is why these devices and the apps and platforms that inhabit them are designed to be such a distraction - so that we spend more of our time on them and more importantly more of our money.
But what effect does this addiction have on us physically? Just how bad is it to spend hours and hours on our devices? And what impact is that having on us and our children?
As a registered kids, teen and adult yoga teacher (yes I do that as well) - I’ve seen and even felt myself first hand some of the following effects…
Smartphone addiction can literally reshape your body… Text Neck: Probably the most commonly used term to describe the pain felt at the back of the neck when leaning forward over your phone. Did you know that the average human head weighs 12lbs? That’s when it’s stable and upright, but due to the laws of physics, when we lean our heads forward we apply more weight onto a smaller area - meaning the pressure applied to our spines in this position jumps to up to around 40lb. Too much time leaning forward will eventually have a serious impact on your spine, because the weight is being distributed unevenly, and this could eventually lead to kyphosis (a curvature of the spine that causes the top of the back to appear more rounded than normal.) Smartphone Slouching: Similarly to text neck, slouching can add up to 50lbs pressure onto your spine, also eventually causing the spine to curve. Cell Phone Elbow: Otherwise known as cubital tunnel syndrome - when we apply pressure to the ulnar nerve (also known as the funny bone) we cause numbness and tingling or even pain in the forearm. When we hold our elbow in a fixed position for prolonged periods of time (as we do when scrolling through an Instagram feed) we compress the ulnar nerve. Smartphone Tendinitis: Literally a pain in the wrists, this is similar to the condition often found in mothers of newborn babies who have to be very hands on in the first stages of their infant’s life, and it can lead to… Trigger thumb or finger: A condition that causes pain, stiffness, and a sensation of locking or catching when you bend and straighten your finger or thumb caused by forceful activities, activities like excessive scrolling. Smartphone Pinky: Ever noticed a dent in your little finger from where you hold your phone? Some people claim this has happened to them, a literal bend in the joint from where the iPhone rests when you hold your phone with one hand. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Essentially, the compression of the subclavian vein (the one that runs between your first rib and collar bone) from too much slouching and pressure from the head on the neck and shoulder area. The bones pinch the vein causing the blood flow to stop creating what is known as Effort Thrombisis - or Subclavian Vein Thrombosis (trust me - it happened to me). Additional things to watch: It’s worth noting that wherever we apply too much pressure on one area of the body, we can affect another - our shoulder muscles can be overworked at the front and under worked at the back, too much time spent sitting on our phone means tight hamstrings and less time working our core, which works to support our spine and helps us stand upright.
Smartphone addiction can damage your eyesight Blue light emitted from the sun can damage your eyes, this is why we are told never to look directly at it, and wear sunglasses when it’s too bright. But did you know that the same blue light is also emitted from our phones - and how many of us wear sunglasses when we look at our devices? Too much blue light can cause blurry vision, eyestrain, dry eye, macular degeneration (a form of blurry eye disease), and cataracts (cloudy patches in the eyes). It’s also linked to headaches and migraines, and of course, a lack of sleep.
Smartphone addiction is unhealthy and full of germs Here’s a question: Would you take your evening meal into the toilet with you? The answer is likely to be no, so here’s another question: Would you take your toilet with you to the dinner table? Again, chances are you’ll say no. How about, would you take your dinner and the toilet with you to bed? Your dinner maybe, or at least breakfast in bed, but you wouldn’t twin it with your lavatory. Why all these questions? The answer’s in the next question… Would you take your phone into the toilet? Then have it with you at the dinner table? And finally then play with it when you’re in bed? I’m guessing the answer is yes? If it is yes - do you clean your phone as many times as you wash your hands a day? And how many surfaces does your phone touch in a day - especially when you’re out and about in public? See what I’m getting at here? There’s a lot of research on the internet that says your phone is dirtier than your toilet seat, that Staphylococcus (the bacteria that causes infectious diseases) is present and sometimes even E.coli has been discovered on smartphones. If you’re addicted to your phone, it will travel with you everywhere, from the bathroom to the bedroom, the kitchen and beyond - not only is this an unhealthy (and unsociable habit) it could also be one that makes you very unwell…
So what steps can we take to protect ours and our children’s physical health from a mobile phone addiction?
Spend less time on your phone It’s that simple, try creating phone free zones in the house (the dinner table is a great example), encourage your family to engage in activities (like board games, quizzes and jigsaw puzzles, art classes or crafting sessions) that require the use of their hands - and not their phones. Set phone free time aside, and always sleep with your phone in another room (buy yourself an alarm clock!)
Turn off notifications Turn them off completely or silence your phone. Try adding people you know you will need to contact or will need to contact you (husband, wife, children) to an emergency contact list - so only their calls and texts can get through when you’re busy working or doing homework. Create a system which provides less distraction overall - and definitely turn off all social media app and email notifications, because they really aren’t necessary.
Consider your posture Hold your phone with two hands to avoid any damage to your pinky finger, and distribute the weight of holding your phone across both shoulders instead of just one. Try to bring your phone up to your eyeline instead of bringing your eyeline down to it - and in the process applying extra pressure on your spine and neck.
Exercise Consider the weak points that excessive mobile phone usage creates (tight hamstrings, weak muscles around your shoulder blades, a weak core) and try to strengthen those neglected parts of your body to match the overworked front. For your child who may be too young to exercise in such a way, at least encourage them to stay active, spend time outdoors and at the very least alternate the hand that holds the phone so they aren’t piling all the stress onto the same side of the body for hours, days, weeks and months of the year.
Consider light-blocking glasses Protect your eyes with blue blocking glasses, turn your texts and emails onto night mode and turn the contrast of your screen on your phone down - especially in the mornings and evenings - your brain needs to wake up slowly, and rest gently.
Clean your phone After you’ve been out and about placing your phone on the desk at work, the train table, on the floor in the park, or even after handing it to someone else, remember every now and again to clean your phone with an antibacterial wipe - and try and create more boundaries around where you take your phone with you (yes, I am referring to the toilet).
It might feel hard to make these changes, and it may even seem a little extreme, but putting these boundaries in place while your children are young will bring so many benefits as they get older.
It’s worth noting that children are still growing, their bones aren’t as strong as adults and their muscles aren’t yet formed. If a mobile phone can cause serious physical damage to the body of an early millennial who only started using a smartphone 10 years ago, what impact will it have on a young body that’s still growing?
Emily Davies is a freelance journalist, marketing and PR professional with 15 years of experience working in the media. She’s also a trained Kids, Teen and Adult 200+ Hour Yoga Aliance accredited Yoga Teacher and a British School of Coaching Wellbeing Coach.