Greetings, Friend! If you’ve been following along with our newsletter for a while, you have probably caught wind that as awesome as technology—particularly tools like computers, smartphones, and tablets—can be, it’s a double-edge sword. Often, it ends up making us the tool.
You see, studies have shown a wide range of harmful effects of excessive scree time—for both kids and adults—including:
- Disrupted and shortened sleep
- Decreased physical activity
- Higher rates of emotional, social, and behavior problems
- Higher rates of obesity
But why do smartphones and screens have these effects?
While there’s numerous potential explanations, here’s something you might have even noticed yourself when you’re engaged with technology… increased heart rate, more shallow breathing, and increased alertness to name a few.
While heightened alertness and clear thinking may be pleasant, a higher heart rate and shallow breathing are not. And all three of these responses share one thing in common: they’re signs of a stress response.
In simple terms, it seems that screen time activates our sympathetic nervous system—the “fight or flight” response that is engaged when we’re faced with a perceived threat (whether it’s real or not).
Not surprisingly, research has confirmed that this is true.
For example, a 2017 study found that kids who used smartphones in the evening experienced an increase in heart rate and a decrease in autonomic nervous system activity, both of which are evidence of an activated sympathetic nervous system.
Meanwhile, a 2014 study demonstrated that sending an email and waiting for a response caused a sympathetic nervous system response.
Why does this matter?
Research shows that, on average, Americans check their phones somewhere between 150 and 300 times a day on average. Each time we check our phones, we may be activating that “fight or flight” response.
This means that many of us may be spending the majority of our days in an active stress response.
In simple terms, we’re not designed for this. When our sympathetic nervous system is activated, we’re prioritizing all of the functions necessary for immediate survival, and our bodies neglect the processes required for long-term health—like digestion, hormone production, tissue regeneration and repair, etc.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the consequences of too much stress. Simply put, chronic, persistent, unhealthy levels of stress contribute to virtually every modern disease. Therefore, anything that consistently triggers a stress response—like too much screen use—can be seen as a player in thedevelopment of disease.
What can we do with this information?
Using screens, at least for some period of time, is unavoidable for most of us in today’s world. But here are a few tips for minimizing their impact on your sympathetic nervous system, and by extension, your health:
- Take steps to minimize unnecessary use (e.g., reduce time on social media, consuming news, etc.)
- Turn off all nonessential notifications (do you really need a notification when someone likes your Instagram post?)
- When you do get a notification, and/or before you pick up your phone, use that as a reminder to take a deep breath
- Use apps like Time Out (Mac) or Workrave (PC) to remind you to take a break while using the computer. During that break, walk away from thescreen, breathe deeply, stretch, etc.
Once again, our goal here is to bring awareness to your daily life and perhaps make you think about your choices and what truly is important.