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Health Risks of Tech Addiction

Our smartphone obsession may seem to be relatively benign, especially when compared with habits such as smoking. But its effect on our well-being is not insignificant.

Nervous Systems on Overdrive

“We all look like we have obsessive-compulsive disorder,” says Larry Rosen, PhD, author of The Distracted Mind. “The average person checks his or her phone every 15 minutes or less, even with no notification.”

This affects our health. “When we’re in this constant state of anxiety, our systems are flooded with fight-or-flight chemicals,” explains psychotherapist Nancy Colier, LCSW. This ceaseless cycle of cortisol and dopamine can make us “twired” — simultaneously hyperstimulated and exhausted.

Disrupted Sleep

Hyperstimulation is just one effect of smartphones that harms our sleep quality. Many of us go to bed with our phones beside us, making it easy to succumb to the blue glow of the screen until we close our eyes. This blue light disrupts our circadian rhythms, tricking our bodies into thinking it’s daytime, which leads to sleep disturbances. Add the temptation to check your phone during the night and you have the ingredients for a poor night’s rest.

As Colier points out, “we power down our devices so they can reboot, but we need to do the same for ourselves.” (For more on circadian health, go to “Get in Sync.”)

Scattered Attention 

In 2000 the average person’s attention span was 12 seconds. By 2015 it had dropped to eight seconds. (A goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.) As we continue to distract ourselves in the quest for novelty and stimulation, we may be hindering the next generation’s cognitive abilities as well. One recent study found infants’ attention spans suffer when their caregivers’ eyes wander to smartphones and other technological distractions during playtime, which may impair their capacity for language acquisition and problem-solving.

Faulty Connections With Others

An ad for the latest version of the Apple Watch proudly declares that you can now “stay connected, even when you’re away from your phone.” Even our mobile phones are no longer mobile enough. We fear being disconnected, even for a moment. But the very benefit this technology promises — connection — suffers most from our addiction.

One famous study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone diminished the quality of conversation and subjective experience of trust, empathy, and closeness between two people discussing a meaningful topic.

“We’re social animals,” says Nicholas Kardaras, PhD, “and we think technology is a panacea that’s going to keep us connected, but depression rates are skyrocketing. We’ve been sold this false narrative that it’s connecting us. We’ve been lulled by how amazing these devices are, but we didn’t fully vet the dark side.”

This originally appeared as part of “Tech Fix” in the April 2018 issue of Experience Life.

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