Do you have smartphone addiction or electronic addiction? Read on to find out how to deal.
The average adult spends close to 11 hours looking at a screen per day (computer, TV, phone included), with at least 6 hours of these being on video. As for our smartphones, the average adult checks their phone every 10 minutes, and touches their phone an astounding 2,617 times a day (1).
We Spend More Time Screens Than Any Other Activity
To put this in context, we adults spend more hours on screens than doing any other activity in our daily lives including:
- Work: 8 hours (2)
- Sleep: 6.5 hours (3)
- Eating: 78 minutes (4)
- Hygiene: 50 minutes (4)
- Household Activities (such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management): 2.3 hours (2)
And while much of our workday may include much of our screen time nowadays, this does not mean our workday is productive. Smartphone addiction and electronic addiction is a growing problem in many places around the world.
According to a study (5), adults are “productive” at work for ONLY 2 hours and 23 minutes, leaving about a good five-and-a-half hours to social media, text messages, news headlines, and funny cat videos.
Children Screen Habits
These habits are starting earlier and earlier. Today, the average child spends a lot of time on screens as well. Kids, ages 0 to 8 years old spend 2 to 3 hours a day looking at screens, and by the time kids reach age 13, they are on screens upwards of 6-7 hours per day (6, 7).
Kid Screen Time Recommendations
This is a far cry from the American Academy Pediatrics’ guidelines that suggest screen time for kids include:
- 0-18 months: ZERO screen time
- 18-24 months: Limit screen time to video chat only with family
- 2-5 years: 1 hour or less daily
- 6-8 years: Less than 2 hours
According to research, kids with parents who spend longer amounts of times on screens each day are more likely to spend more time on screens as well (8). Technology addiction might start early. Ironically, knowing what they know about the power of technology and cell phones—especially in kids— the “Big Three” tech leaders (Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, tech billionaire Mark Cuban and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian) ALL limited their children’s phone and screen use regularly (9). Jobs was known for making his kids put away devices in the evenings, and spending time with them in “real conversations” (no iPads or iPhones included). Similarly, Gates’ did not give his kids any devices until they were 14, and they still had to turn them in by 10 p.m. every night. And Alexis, of Reddit, who says “My wife and I both want [our daughter] to be bored.”
The Bottom Line: Houston, we have a problem.
Although 6 to 11 hours of screen time each day may be the “norm” for teens and adults, this stark reality has only been the case for the past 5 to 10 years, as smartphone addiction has evolved.
Circa de 2007 (prior to the launch of the first iPhone), smart phones and instant access to every single form of media (social media, email, videos, etc.) did not exist in the hands of the nearly 2.5 billion people who are now connected 24/7—with more than 60% of people on their smartphones within the first 5-minutes of waking (10).
Humans were more connected—to each other (not just on Facebook, but in real life); we lived in touch with nature and the natural rhythms of the sun; we were arguably less multi-taskers and more focused on the present moment; and we knew how to be bored.
While modern day technology and smartphones are a wonderful asset, it is also addicting. Electronic addiction can damage the brain systems connected to attention, decision-making and emotional processing.
Smartphone Addiction 101
“Addiction” is technically defined as anything we are physically or mentally dependent on that disrupts our lifestyle, daily function, or causes adverse effects.
Hence, smartphone addiction and electronic addiction is the frequent or obsessive use of technological devices—such as computers, smartphones, and gaming systems—to the point that it causes negative consequences or runs our daily lives (such as: social disconnection, anxiety, health, cortisol imbalances and more).
Your Body & Brain on Screens: 8 Side Effects
Questions about whether screen exposure, particularly cell phone use, harms our health have persisted for decades. Our smartphones emit electromagnetic radiation similar to microwave heating, but scientists have struggled to conclusively link cellphone use to cancers and other illnesses. As research continues to evolve, here are 9 things we now know that our high technology and screen use does to our body and brain. This is how technology addiction could affect you:
Side Effect #1: Disease Onset
A recent 2018 study suggested positive correlations between cell phones and the development of cancerous tumors and chronic diseases in rats (11). The study’s strongest finding was that male rats had an elevated risk of developing tumors, called malignant schwannomas, in the connective tissues surrounding nerves in the heart. Another study found that higher levels of screen time is associated with a higher risk of “all-cause mortality” as well as a higher risk of both heart disease and cancer (11), and other studies suggest a link between exposure to screens at light at night (such as working the night shift or looking at our phones in evening hours), to some types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. This link is primarily correlated with circadian rhythm and cortisol (stress hormone) disruption (11). While it may be a little too early to blatantly say that “screens and technology cause disease,” there is no doubt that our high usage of our devices does cause imbalances that affect our overall physical and mental health.
Side Effect #2: Circadian Rhythm & Cortisol Disruption
Your body has a natural biological clock—wired with the rhythms of natural light and the sun. Your body clock is what helps keep your body in “homeostasis” balance, allowing it to function and feel good like all bodies should. It helps your body digest your food well and at appropriate times; get good quality sleep; and feel energetic during the day. However, when your clock is “off,” so is your overall health. Until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent the evenings relatively in darkness. Now, in most of the world, evenings are bright. Because light from screens mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Even just a few minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and throw your body clock off. Once your body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other reactions occur including:
Common side effects of a “disrupted circadian rhythm” include:
- Digestive issues (constipation, bloating)
- Needing coffee to function
- Sugar or caffeine cravings
- Poor concentration
- Hormonal imbalances
- Feeling wired and tired at night
- Waking in the middle of the night
- General fatigue or low energy
- Slow metabolic function
- Poor workout recovery
Our bodies are highly sensitive to light exposure, and innately wired to function in rhythm with the sun (i.e. more energy during the day time, more sleepy and relaxed in the evening time). Continual screen exposure sends your body—and all of your bodily processes—into high alert for longer than ideal. Interestingly, in one study of adolescents found a significant “spike” of cortisol upon waking in those who used technology for longer periods as well as at night time (12). Another study confirmed that bright light exposure, specifically in 6+ hours each day, significantly impacted the adrenal glands and cortisol output in adults (13). With little to no relief (11 of your total 18 waking hours spent on screens), your cortisol levels get out of whack, in turn, contributing to many similar symptoms to circadian rhythm dysfunction. Electronic addiction keeps us from time spent outdoors, in nature and keeping active—which have been shown to restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression.
Side Effect #3: Declined Cognitive Function
Brain studies have discovered that high screen exposure leads to less efficient information processing, reduced ability to think through impulse decisions, and abnormal spontaneous brain activity associated with poor task performance (14, 15).
Side Effect #4: Moodiness, Anxiety & Irritability
Irritability and mood changes have been shown to affect at least 1 in 2 screen users (16). Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress (like screen use) produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. High screen use and technology addiction creates a vicious cycle for your own mood. In fact, as cortisol—is raised, leading to increases in your hyperarousal and addiction pathways that suppress your brain’s frontal lobe, where mood regulation takes place. Hello unexplained moodiness, anxiety and irritability.
Side Effect #5: FOMO
Fear of missing out, and constant-comparison are two side effects from our constantly connected world. In a report by Glamour magazine, nearly 70% of women reported feeling worse about themselves after looking at social media (17). Another U.K. study of 1,500 people found that 62 percent of people felt “inadequate or jealous” after looking on social media and comparing their lives with the projected lives of others (18).
Side Effect #6: Instant Gratification Syndrome
Studies suggest that we get our most original ideas and creativity when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored (19). Unfortunately, with everything we ever want or need at finger’s reach, we no longer know how to be bored. “Instant gratification” is the name of the game, and high levels of screen exposure release high levels dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. When our reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and, in turn, more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. The result of electronic addiction? Less patience and more “I-want-it-now” or “I-don’t-know-how-to-be-bored” conundrums.
Side Effect #7: Disconnected
We are connected more than ever, but disconnected more than ever at the same time. In a study (20) on the effectiveness of social media and connection, researchers found that face-to-face communication increased subjective well-being by both increasing connectedness and decreasing social isolation. Social media use, on the other hand, only increased subjective well-being through increasing connectedness, but not through decreasing social isolation. Another study (21) of 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 to 32 and asked them about their usage of 11 social media platforms outside of work, and gauged their social isolation by asking participants questions such as how often they felt left out. Findings revealed people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had two to three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites.
Side Effect #8: Distracted
One-fourth of all car crashes are related to smartphone use and 70% of drivers admit to regularly using their phones while driving their two-ton land vehicles—contributing to more than 1,000 injuries daily and prompting 6000 deaths annually (22). Even off the road, our phones and devices are equally distracting and detrimental to our productivity and “normal” function. 8 in 10 people report being distracted by personal activities—like checking Facebook, Instagram, personal e-mail and texts at work (23). Unfortunately, our widespread addiction to these messages is so strong that, in one study, when researchers tried to recruit just 30 people for an experiment where all phone notifications (including text and email) would be disabled for 7 days, they initially couldn’t find volunteers (24). With great coercing they filled the study, and by the end of one week, participants voiced a tremendous shift in their notification use habits—many of them opting not to turn them back on, which lasted through their 2-year followup. According to psychology studies, we spend nearly 50% of our days with our minds wandering and day dreaming (25). Couple this with constant pings on our smartphones and e-mail, and Microsoft reports we have attention spans shorter than a goldfish—8 seconds or less (26).
8 Tactics to Combat Smartphone Addiction
Technology is not going anywhere, but our response and use of it can dramatically influence our health experiences with it. Here are 8 simple game changers you can do now to avoid or address electronic addiction:
1. Get Your Mind Right First Thing
Before tuning in straight to your smartphone, consider how to welcome “being present” first and foremost to your day. Use the first 1-2 hours for a “morning routine,” such as a positive devotional, prayer or meditation, workout or positive podcast and music only—in place of social media, email checking, texting and the other crazy influences in the day.
2. Set E-mail Times
Instead of constantly checking your email, pencil it in. For e-mails that take longer than 2-4 sentences to respond to, save these to a special folder, and intentionally establish a “longer email block” in your week to get to those. If you feel paranoid about being “off” email more often, create an automatic reply to inform people you only check your email at certain times and if they need to reach you, they can call you. Technology addiction won’t help.
3. Put Your Screens to Bed at Night
Begin to disconnect at least 2-3 hours before bed—subbing out a book, journal, yoga, meditation or sleep in place of screens. Put your phone in the other room—away from you. While you’re at it, keep screens out of the bedroom in general. Place your phone outside your door with the alarm on high ring if you use if or your alarm clock. Keep computers and TVs in the main living spaces to get rid of technology addiction. Set up a regular tech break as well, be it the weekends, or planned intentional vacations to address technology addiction. Get outside. Connect with others. Read. Do hobbies and activities you enjoy. Tune out.
4. Turn on Nightshift (at all times)
Switch the light brightness setting to the “yellow” or low light night setting at all times. If you do work on screens in the evening hours, slap on a pair of blue-blocking, orange tinted glasses for evening wear.
5. Get Some Fresh Air
Natural light does a body (and circadian rhythms) good. Intentionally seek to incorporate 30-60 minutes of fresh air and sunlight (at least) each day. You should keep doing this to avoid smartphone addiction and electronic addiction.
6. Turn Off Notifications & Delete Most Social Media Apps from Your Phone
Ideally, turn off all nonessential notifications and delete apps you’re constantly checking. All of them you REALLY don’t need—texts, social media, e-mails, slack messages, etc. Unfortunately, all of these serve as distractions and interruptions to your productivity.
7. Customize Your Screen Saver
Write out your current bigger goals, a reminder to “be present”. Also, you can take a picture of someone or something that is important to you (like your child, or a pic of you being present with others). Then, save this pic as your screen saver. Every time you look at it, you’ll be reminded that there is a bigger world out there than your tech. Technology addiction may hinder you to explore the big wide world.
8. Connect Offline
In real life, you can do a lot to avoid electronic addiction. Grab lunch or tea with a friend. Suggest a walk. In addition, rally the troops for a conscious connection, potluck or game of frisbee on a Saturday afternoon. We are alone behind our screens enough.
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