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Five ways your phone might be harming you and what to do about it

Lifestyle
 A girl using her phone. 

Are you always on your smartphone? Have you bumped into people while texting or looking at something on your phone? If so, you are a smartphone zombie. In Hong Kong, you would be part of what they call 'The Head-Down Tribe'. In China and in Belgium, they have created extra lanes specifically for people like you. You have probably once had a mini-heart attack for a fleeting moment when you thought you had lost your phone, which you quickly recovered from when you located it in the pocket you put it back in one minute ago. The chances are that you have a smartphone addiction. That mini-heart attack might have been a false alarm, but there are real health threats from phone usage, such as:

Texting Thumb

A study conducted by Virgin Mobile found that reports of sore wrists have risen significantly with the increase of the number of cell phones over the past few years, with millions of text-related injuries being reported every year. The condition is serious enough that Virgin Mobile once ran a campaign dubbed 'PractiseSafeText' aimed at combating the condition. Constant texting causes strain on the wrists and thumbs and leads to Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), which in turn cause inflammation of the tendons that support the movement of the thumb. This condition is known as Texting Thumb and is medically referred to as De Quervain's syndrome. The symptoms include pain in the thumb or wrist, soreness, swelling, and weakness in grip strength of the affected hand.

How you can combat it: Take regular texting breaks throughout the day and if need be, take a break from texting altogether for a while. You can also do stretches to ease any pain. One of the most effective ways is to pull your thumb downwards (away from the index finger) and hold for about ten seconds, then repeat as necessary.

Text Neck 

This comes under many other names such as Texter's Neck, Anterior Head Syndrome, or Carriage and Forward Head Syndrome. It occurs when poor posture, such as always slouched with the head bent down, causes stress and damage to the spine and back pain. Symptoms include neck pain, upper back pain, shoulder pain and spasms, and muscle fatigue.

How you can combat it: Reduce the time spent looking down at your phone and practice good sitting posture. Hold your phone at eye-level whenever you can. Exercise that targets the core muscles also helps, in addition to massage therapy. A doctor can also recommend specific exercises to help remedy the situation.

A multitude of vision problems

Our phones emit blue-violet light; which opticians say is potentially harmful to your eyes. The BBC reported that tests have found that over-exposure to blue-violet light has the potential to put you at greater risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. In addition, while using our smartphones, we blink about half the number of times we normally would, which causes the eyes to strain, become fatigued, and vision can be blurred. This also puts us at risk of dry-eye disease as the eyes dry up faster. Using your phone while in bed can also make it harder to fall asleep and sleep well, as the light levels reduce the level of melatonin required to do so.

How you can combat it: Use the 20-20-20 rule. This means that you should take breaks after every 20 minutes. When you do, stare at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Reduce phone usage as much as you can and take an ophthalmological exam at the hospital if eye problems persist.

Headaches

The straining required to read text on our small, light-emitting device is not only detrimental to our eyes themselves, but eye strain also leads to headaches. Flicker, bright light, and glare from the phones can trigger migraines. In addition, smartphones contribute to bad sleep hygiene, and not getting enough sleep or not being able to get into the deep states of sleep required in a night can also cause headaches.

How you can combat it: The 20-20-20 rules also work to rest your eyes and therefore help prevent a headache. You can also dim the light on your phone using the settings provided and use the text-enlargement options. You can also purchase an anti-glare cover for your phone, take breaks and remind yourself to blink more often. Printing documents instead of reading them from your phone is also an option and put the phone away at least an hour before bedtime.

Anxiety and depression

A study from the University of Illinois published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that many incidences of anxiety and depression can be linked to phones. People have a very real addiction to them, especially those who use their phones and the internet as a means to escape real-life problems and negative feelings. Many of these seek validation from social media, which can lead to addictive and self-destructive behaviour. The relief that phones provide from real-life stress factors is only temporary and can lead to mental health problems becoming more deeply rooted.

How you can combat it: Put the phone away in social situations, take long breaks from it and seek to build and strengthen relationships more in real life than on social media. In addition, focus on solutions to problems rather than brooding over them or sweeping them under the carpet by turning to your phone. See a counsellor or mental health practitioner for help with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

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