Excessive Phone Use and Associated Health Risks
March 28, 2022
Ever stop scrolling on social media and realize you’ve been on the app for way too long? That’s the reality for many people as every video view, swipe and double-tap add up. According to data.ai, the average Canadian spent 4.4 hours each day on mobile devices in 2021—that’s one-third of daily waking hours.
This article explores responsible and excessive phone usage, the impact of too much screen time and tips for improving your relationship with your smartphone.
How Much Is Too Much?
The pandemic has accelerated existing mobile habits, but it’s essential to understand the difference between necessary and excessive usage. Smartphones have become a necessity for communication, entertainment and convenience for many people. The latest smartphones are essentially pocket-sized computers, making them an efficient way to get work done on the go. However, it can be a slippery slope if you use your smartphone for most daily tasks or fun.
Consider the following warning signs that smartphone use is becoming unhealthy:
- Anger or irritation if phone use is interrupted
- Dangerous behaviours (i.e., using a smartphone while driving)
- Impaired sleep
- Isolation from loved ones
- Poor work performance
As a general rule, experts say adults should limit daily screen time to less than two hours per day outside of work.
The Impact of Excessive Screen Time
Smartphones have made our lives so much easier, but they can also impact our physical and mental well-being. Excessive smartphone use has been reported to change brain activity, reaction times and sleep patterns. As a result, you may be less concentrated and productive during the workday and often forget tasks and goals. Research has also shown that excessive phone use can increase stress, anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
The pandemic has only made matters worse as work, social connectivity and entertainment are tied to hand-held devices. Lines are blurred between necessary and excessive use when work and social connectivity depend on hand-held devices. Fortunately, there are ways to take control and ensure phone use is balanced.
Tips for Cutting Back
The first step to cutting back on your smartphone use is determining how much time you’re spending on your phone. Many smartphones have digital well-being features that break down how much time you’re using your phone for calls, texts, emails, social media and more. You may be surprised to find out how often you’re scrolling or reading on your smartphone.
To build a healthier relationship with your phone, consider the following tips:
- Set clear boundaries. If you are always waiting for work or personal messages, you may feel chained to the device. It’s helpful to set boundaries that outline when you’ll be available.
- Turn off notifications. Disable notifications for social media apps or mute group chats to avoid being tempted by constant notifications. In general, text messages and calendar reminders are helpful, but other frequent notifications may interrupt your productivity.
- Change your screen to grayscale. Removing colours can make your phone less visually appealing. This feature should be available in your phone’s display settings.
- Rearrange your apps. Another way to make your phone less alluring is to limit what’s on your home screen and hide tempting apps in a folder.
- Check at specific times. Create achievable boundaries by checking your phone for notifications at a designated time, such as your lunch break or every two hours. Leaving your phone in a separate room to charge is another idea.
- Avoid use before bedtime. Try to cut down on phone use in bed or right before sleeping. The bright screen can signal to your body that it’s time to be awake, so you may have trouble falling asleep or experience lower sleep quality. Save the news feed scrolling and video watching for during the day.
- Use an old-fashioned alarm clock. When you use your phone as your alarm clock, you likely will spend time scrolling on your phone when setting, snoozing or turning off the alarm.
With minor adjustments, you could be a more mindful smartphone user. If you think your phone use may be unhealthy, create an action plan that works for your life and schedule. To achieve a healthy balance, focus on apps and content that enrich your life or are necessary for work.