Are You A Smombie?

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Are You A Smombie?

By Dr Malik

We are all addicted to our phones: in a short time they have become the center of our lives, the spot usually reserved for children! And it is no surprise, these devices are incredible, borderline magical. But as incredible as these devices are, they are addicting and causing numerous health problems. 

The average American, and for argument sake we can assume Canadian, checks their phone 80 times a day according to a study by Asurion.  For Millennials that number reaches as high as 150 times a day!  To put that in perspective, that is like checking your phone every 5 minutes all day long! 

Checking your phone this often is not healthy for the body. From FOMO to KUWTK, these devices and their applications have turned us into phone zombies, In fact there is a term for smartphone zombies: Smombies! 

To better understand how phones keep us coming back, I would recommend watching this short 5 minute video by Vox :

It is important to to identify and understand the negative health effects of being a Smombie, here a few you should know:

  1. Difficulty concentrating and shorter attention spans: Your mind is overloaded with so much information it is nearly impossible to concentrate and focus on any one task or idea for too long.  
  2. Stress and anxiety: Being constantly bombarded with news, notifications and alerts can cause anxiety, the feeling of your heart racing, and your mind spinning. It feels like you are in some kind of mental race, trying your best to keep ahead. 
  3. Depression: Twenge’s research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. 
  4. Headaches, neck and back pain: The posture of ‘text-neck’ is indeed a thing and can cause people to have neck and back pain and eventually lead to headaches.
  5. Carpal tunnel syndrome: Holding these small devices for many hours a day can cause impingement of the median nerve in your wrist leading to numbness and tingling symptoms in your hand and fingers.
  6. Disruption in sleep: This is a major problem I hear often from my patients. The use of cell phones before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep which can lead to even more health problems. The blue light emitted from the screen displays can lead to reduce melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. 
  7. Eye-strain and blurred vision: Staring at a small screen can cause eye-strain. Research has shown that when we stare at our screens, we blink less which can cause dryness and blurred vision. 

The Smombie lifestyle has some downsides, but luckily here is a list of some simple steps to help manage how you use your smartphone. Some of these changes are drastic, I would recommend a gradual change over time for better results:

  1. Turn off all notifications, except for phone and text message notifications. Remove the red alert badges as well. This is important as it will help improve concentration, and your device will be less intrusive during your day. 
  2. Only keep apps that you use as everyday tools, such as Google Maps or your calendar app on your home screen.
  3. Changing your display from colour to black and white will help make you use your phone less often.
  4. Delete or hide your email app. You don’t need to check your email multiple times an hour, twice a day is fine. Use the free time to go enjoy the weather outside. 
  5. Create phone free periods during the day, where you do not carry your phone with you. 
  6. Do not bring your your phone to your bedroom, you will be thankful in the morning. 

Lastly and most importantly:

7. Delete all social media apps from your phone, I know this is a tough one, but this is probably the main reason we check our phones so often. Instead, I would recommend using your tablet or laptop/computer to keep up with your social media accounts when possible. This way instead of checking instagram 50 times a day, you will only probably check it twice a day, and overtime the FOMO will disappear.

Personally this is an area I have been working on. I no longer have social media on my phone, I was a huge news junkie, but I deleted those apps as well. I added the Kobo, Kindle and iBooks app to try to read more in my spare time. It has been a struggle, Instagram and Facebook have crept back now and then, but right now I am happy to say they are no longer on my phone. 

To help get you started on managing your phone better, I would also recommend a few books that helped inspire this article:

  1. Deep Work by Cal Newport
  2. The Shallows – What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
  3. The Four Hour Work Week – by Tim Ferris

Here is a great podcast by the NPR show called Hidden Brain:

Life, Interrupted – Hidden Bran by NPR

I hope this article helps make all of us more aware of the effects these devices have on us, and how we can better safeguard our health. Wishing you the best of health!

Sources:

https://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2015/0108-iphone-separation-linked-to-physiological-anxiety-poor-cognitive-performance-mu-study-finds/

https://www.inc.com/john-brandon/science-says-this-is-the-reason-millennials-check-their-phones-150-times-per-day.html

The-call-in-teens-and-depression

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/health-fitness/a47126/ways-your-phone-is-ruining-your-health/

How-to-curb-you-smartphone-addiction-in-2018.html

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

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