Seven Ways to Beat This Harmful Habit

It’s one of the first things you do in the morning and one of the last things you do at night.

And it’s damaging your health and well-being more than you realize…

According to a 2018 study, Americans spent more than 12 hours a day in front of some type of screen – computers, e-readers, televisions, or cellphones. Thanks to the pandemic, and people spending more time at home than ever, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this year’s number closer to 15 hours a day… or more.

Take a moment and think about your normal daily routine. All these actions add up. How many of the following do you do?

  • Wake up and check your e-mails, social media, and the news
  • Turn on the TV and stream your morning workout
  • Sit in front of the computer for your workday
  • Watch a video on your phone during lunch
  • Play games on your phone to kill time
  • FaceTime your kids or grandkids
  • Watch TV after dinner
  • Read on your tablet before bed

But the evidence about the dangers of screen time keeps piling up…

Too much screen time limits our ability to connect meaningfully with people around us. And this leads to increased levels of general dissatisfaction with life.

A study published in 2018 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology compared diners who kept their phones on the table during a meal to diners who had their phones away during the meal. Researchers found people with their phones out reported experiencing significantly less enjoyment during the meal than those who kept their phones away throughout the dining experience.

Excessive cellphone use can also lead to clinical addiction, with behaviors such as compulsion, deficient self-regulation, maladaptive and problematic behavior, and high levels of stress.

In addition to these psychological factors, excessive screen time harms your physical health. In the past 13 years – since the first iPhone ushered in the age of the smartphone – we have seen significant postural and respiratory changes in people as a direct result of smartphone use. These changes include forward head positioning, slouching, rounded shoulders, neck pain, and a changed breathing pattern.

The blue light that is emitted from cellphones may also contribute to some serious health concerns such as neurodegeneration, retinal degeneration, and decreased lifespan. Cellphone use has also been widely linked with patterns of insomnia, sleep disturbance, and depression.

There is another strange phenomenon that many people have experienced called phantom phone rings. It is an audio illusion that makes a person think that their phone is ringing or vibrating when it is not.

Experts say that experiencing phantom phone rings indicates a constant hypervigilance to the phone, which activates the brain unnecessarily. This hypervigilance creates a false scenario in which the phone acts as a fifth limb. We are so connected that our brains do not always separate us from our phones. That is scary.

In order to mitigate some of these disturbing consequences, I strongly urge you to develop some of the following habits…

1. Set screen-time limits. And this advice doesn’t just mean phone screens… but all device screens. This is especially important for children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aged 18 months to 24 months should only interact with the screen when doing so with parents and for the purpose of education. Children aged two to five years should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. Older children should be limited to two hours of screen time per day.

For adults, following strict limits like this is nearly impossible, especially if you need your computer and phone for work. While you’re working, take breaks about every 45 minutes. Give your eyes a rest, get moving, and go outside for fresh air.

2. Keep electronics out of the bedroom. Disconnect from your phone at least 30 minutes before beginning your nighttime routine. Do not fall asleep watching TV. Go back to using a traditional alarm clock instead of your phone. Charge your phone overnight in another room with the sound turned off.

3. Spend time away from your phone. Do not let screens creep into your dinner time. When you are spending time with other people, do not take your phone out. Print out your photos, rather than sharing them on your phone. They’re much more fun to look at and talk about in a physical album.

4. Take time away from social media. If you can’t do it, you have a problem… and that’s all the more reason to do it. Don’t make excuses – give it a try for a week.

5. Use a pocket calendar instead of your phone. We tend to remember things better when we write them down because we engage more brain and body systems through the act of writing. Also, I know my phone has saved some of my appointments incorrectly more than once. That is less likely to happen with a pocket calendar.

6. Use the buddy system to keep yourself accountable. Keep it friendly or make it competitive. Accountability is a great tool for developing healthier habits.

7. Get outside. Get curious about the world around you and move your body. Find a new place to explore and bring a friend.

You dictate your phone use… Do not let it dictate you. Your health and well-being depend on it. Let this knowledge guide you toward making better choices for a healthier future.

What We’re Reading

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
November 5, 2020