Even though we're bigger and stronger than our smartphones, misuse can lead to physical strains and discomfort.
The dangers of excessive screen time that we hear about most often relate to happiness, relationships and self-worth; it's rare to consider the physical dangers associated with our digital devices. But it's all too easy to fall into bad habits when using technology, whether it's crouching over your phone on the subway or staring at the screen for longer periods than you should.
There's even evidence that your phone can make you nauseous: The New York Times recently brought "cyber sickness" to our attention. It's a condition in which your phone makes you feel like you're on a rollercoaster ride.
Here are eight real physical symptoms of too much tech use. Check them out and keep them top of mind every time you're plugged in:
1. Cyber Sickness
Also called "digital motion sickness," symptoms that range from headaches to woozy feelings can occur when you quickly scroll on your smart phone or watch action-packed video on your screen.
The sensation results from a mismatch between sensory inputs, Steven Rauch, medical director of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Balance and Vestibular Center and a professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times.
“Your sense of balance is different than other senses in that it has lots of inputs,” he said. “When those inputs don’t agree, that’s when you feel dizziness and nausea.” In other words, you experience a "sensory conflict" when you see an active motion but don't physically feel it (RollerCoaster Tycoon, anyone?).
Digital motion sickness can happen to anyone, though studies reveal the affliction effects more women than men. Those who have a history of migraines are also more susceptible.
2. Text Claw
Avid texters and Candy Crush enthusiasts may be subject to text claw, the unofficial term for soreness and cramping felt in the fingers, wrist and forearm after heavy smartphone use. Any specific motor activity can cause pain in the tendons and muscles when done repeatedly, so if you're always on your phone, it makes sense to feel discomfort in your hands and forearm.
There's not much to be done for preventing the pain (unless you'd like to stop using your devices!), but there are ways to alleviate it. Hand stretches, massage and hot/cold treatment can help.
3. Eye Strain
Do you stare at a screen for hours on end? If you're reading this, you very well might. Any activity that requires active use of your eyes -- driving, reading and writing included -- can cause eye fatigue. Staring at your digital devices for long periods of time can lead to sore, irritated and dry eyes, headaches and fatigue, which, in turn, can decrease your productivity. In most cases, eye strain is not a serious issue and can be rectified with "screen breaks," or just taking some time out from the Google machine.
Experts suggest taking screen breaks every 20 minutes. For 20 seconds, let your eyes scan the room or look out the window and, if they're feeling extra dry, lubricate them with some eye drops.
4. Text Neck
Similar to the claw, text neck -- discomfort in the neck and spine -- happens when you spend long periods of time looking down at your smartphone.“It is an epidemic or, at least, it’s very common,” Kenneth Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, told The Washington Post. “Just look around you, everyone has their heads down.”
We're certainly in an era of smartphone obsession. And according to expert calculations, the angle at which our big heads look down forces our spine to bear the weight of approximately 60 pounds. The habit may lead to people requiring medical spine care at a younger age. Being mindful of how far your neck bends when you're on your phone -- and bending it back to an upright position -- can help reduce the risk of text neck.
5. Phantom Vibe
If you've ever imagined your phone going off in your pocket, you've experienced phantom phone vibrations. The phenomenon is incredibly common: One 2012 study revealed that 90 percent of college students experienced the non-existent vibration. Experiencing fake vibes on a routine basis mirrors a kind of compulsive behavior, and can sometimes hint at feelings of anxiety.
Reduce these uncomfortable feelings by taking some breaks from your phone: While most of us have our phones nearby for all of our waking hours, doing so is not a necessity for survival. Consider scheduling time to go off the grid and live phone free and set some boundaries for moments and spaces where devices are not welcome. Doing so will keep the ghosts out of your pants.
6. Damaged sperm
Heat from laptops may damage sperm, according to some research. Notably, in one study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers found that storing sperm samples under a laptop decreased their motility, or ability to move, and led to more DNA damage -- both factors that could hurt the chances of reproduction -- than samples stored normally.
Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise because too many smartphone users engage in distracted walking. While focused on the cyber world, many of us can lose reality of the physical one: Researchers say distracted walkers take more time to cross the street and are more likely to neglect traffic lights while less likely to look both ways. Elemental pedestrian safety knowledge is compromised by technology, and the risks are scary. To avoid injury or worse, put your phone away until you've reached a safe spot.
It's not necessarily the phone itself that can lead to overeating, but a person's digital food porn habit. Research shows that looking at images of caloric food can incite cravings and a person's desire to eat. If you're fallen victim to this diet trap, you might consider unsubscribing to accounts that frequently post irresistible images.
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