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5 Shocking Ways Your Cell Phone Is Hurting Your Health
Sure, your iPhone is a lifesaver when it comes to multitasking, but did you know that it could also be causing significant physical and emotional health problems for you? Check out this list and see if you identify with any of these problems — and then find out how to remedy the situation.
The problem: Becoming addicted to your phone has become such a real condition that experts have given it a name: "Nomophobia" (no-mobile-phone-phobia). It's not limited to the hardcore Wall Street types with their "crackberries" though; it's more widespread than we realized. A recent survey found that 84 percent of the world's population said they could not go one day without their phones, and current research shows that nearly two-thirds of teens and young adults check their phones every 15 minutes or less. The anxiety and stress over missing out on a text or Facebook update can take such a toll on peoples' health that Morningside Recovery Center in California recently founded the first rehab group for nomophobia.
The solution: "My best advice is to practice not checking in for periods of time," says Dr. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of iDisorder. If you're having trouble keeping your hands off your phone, Rosen recommends checking the phone for a minute, then turning it on silent and placing it in plain sight, upside down. (Yes, keeping it in your line of sight is part of the challenge.) After 15 minutes, take a "tech break" and check for one minute before putting the phone down again — and then repeat the process, slowly increasing the focus time from 15 minutes to 20, then 25, then 30. "Over time, the person learns that the anxiety is not real and is not harmful, and nothing awful happens if you don't check your phone so often," he explains.
Layers of Filth
The problem: The disturbing number of germs found on your phone is no joke — one University of Arizona study found that the average phone has up to 10 times the amount of bacteria found in a bathroom! We often place our phones on filthy surfaces, or touch them without washing our hands. And to make matters worse, then you place your phone right near your face. Yuck!
The solution: Clean off your phone with antibacterial wipes frequently. And of course, washing your hands before handling your cell helps too. Lastly, be mindful of where you're setting your phone down.
The problem: Using your phone increases your chances of being seriously injured. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University studied the brains of drivers using cell phones, and found that just listening to someone talk reduced brain activity by 37 percent. Another study by the University of Washington found that texting pedestrians took 1.87 extra seconds to cross an average intersection and were four times more likely to ignore lights or forget to look both ways before crossing. "There is only a limited amount of information that anyone can process at the same time," Dr. Rosen says.
The solution: "We are continuously attending [to multiple tasks] but it is only 'partial' attention," Rosen says. "That is fine for some easy tasks, but not fine for anything that takes more than cursory thought." So when you're in a potentially risky situation, put down the phone. Your call or text can wait.
Poor Sleep Health
The problem: You should know by now that using gadgets with bright screens before bed makes it harder to fall asleep. Exposure to artificial light before going to bed can suppress your brain's ability to release melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. Losing sleep can lead to all sorts of health problems, including depression, weight gain, and even some serious diseases. But a study done by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that 95 percent of people still use some type of electronic device in the hour before bed.
The solution: Follow through and take sleep more seriously than your gadgets. Scientists involved with the NSF study recommend doing "wind down activities" before bed, like reading a book or relaxing without electronics. Sure, it's tempting to check your phone, but don't use it for more than a couple minutes. Browsing Instagram photos, checking Facebook, and reading e-mails can wait until morning.
The problem: Constantly checking your phone while spending time with people takes away from your relationships, and it might even be making people see you differently. In a recent University of Essex study, participants reported a lack of empathy and relationship connection if there was a cell phone in view — even if no one actually touched the phone. And in a different study from the University of Maryland, researchers found that after a short period of cell phone use, people were less likely to participate in "prosocial" behavior, like volunteering or helping others. Scientists believe this is because humans have a fundamental need to connect with others, but once that need is met via cell phone, it makes us less inclined to feel empathy or a desire to help others.
The solution: "The key is to stop it from being that stimulus for anxiety," Dr. Rosen says. Remind yourself that you can check your phone later, and tuck it into your bag while spending time with friends and family. Hopefully, you will end up enjoying yourself so much that you won't feel the need to do a digital or phone check-in.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, January 2013.