In the third and final installment in the series about how social media use affects our mental, social, and physical health, we’ll look at the physical effects of using social media in our hyper-connected (yet strangely dis-connected) world.
Social media use has skyrocketed thanks in great part to the growth of smartphone technology. It seems that everywhere we look, people are glued to their smartphones. Awkward moments of silence and small talk in the elevator with strangers are now gone due to the ability to stare at a screen and look busy.
Looking at the mental and social impacts of widespread social media use was more straightforward. But how are we being affected physically?
Most physical effects of social media use have to do with the increased amount of time we spend staring at our phones or our computer screens. What damage is being done in our effort to always be connected?
Numerous medical and scientific studies have shown alarming results when testing people who use smartphones for more than four hours a day and those who don’t. Smartphone users tend to develop rounded shoulders, spinal curvatures, vertebrate disorders, and associated neck pain and headaches caused by these ailments. It makes sense. Using our smartphones often involves being hunched over. Our posture suffers, and we alter the muscles and bones in our torsos over time.
Smartphones emit blue light, which is very bright for our eyes. Looking at our smartphones in bed is especially harmful, as this direct exposure to light can be damaging to our retinas, which can lead to macular degeneration (i.e., worsening eyesight).
Also, a growing number of ophthalmologists are beginning to believe there’s a link between smartphone use and cataracts, with younger and younger patients experiencing cataracts instead of the typical 75-and-older crowd.
Sleep is one of the most important factors in our overall health. In order to achieve and maintain healthy sleep, our bodies need to be able to naturally produce melatonin. Staring at smartphone screens in bed is like tricking the body into staring into a brightly-lit landscape, which delays melatonin production and prevents us from having quality sleep patterns, resulting in a host of health issues.
What Can We Do?
Not using our smartphones at all is extreme and not pragmatic in our modern world. However, there are many things we can do to prevent the negative health effects associate with too much use. Simply being aware of the potential dangers of excessive smartphone use is the first step, but changing our habits is the hard part.
Here are some great habits to apply to your life to limit the amount of negative health effects from using your smartphone every day:
- Be aware of your posture. While using your smartphone, focus on keeping your shoulder blades back, chest out, and core engaged. Don’t hunch over your screen.
- When using a smartphone for a prolonged period of time, take frequent breaks to focus your eyes on the horizon. This reduces eye strain.
Don’t take your phone to bed. Use an old-fashioned alarm clock and set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” so that only calls from emergency contacts will come through. Don’t stare at your screen in bed. Instead, read a book or lay quietly in the dark and allow your body’s natural melatonin production to take place.