Is Your Smartphone Threatening Your Physical and Mental Health?

By , Category : General Health

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Smartphone Threatening healthAbout two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and although it can be a great tool for keeping you connected with the things you value most in life, it might also be damaging your health.

Next time you’re out for a coffee, take a look around you. You’ll likely see you’re surrounded by people looking down at their phones: heads hanging low with their shoulders folded in full-slouch mode. Slouching for hours a day can cause neck pain and posture problems, but research shows it’s also closely connected to—and a possible cause of—bad moods, low self-esteem and depressive symptoms.

With it being the height of holiday shopping season, there might be a smartphone or tablet on your shopping or wish list. And although they can be convenient and useful pieces of technology, they may be more dangerous than you think. Before buying the latest handset, see how they could be impacting your health and the people you love.

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The iHunch: How Your Smartphone Could Harm Your Posture

Over the past couple of years terms like iHunch, text neck and iPosture have become increasingly popular. The iHunch looks like your typical slouch—low head, bent neck and collapsed shoulders. It might not be painful at the time or seem serious, but it’s creating posture problems around the world. Teens are beginning to carry themselves like people in the twilight of their lives; people who have lost the strength to hold their heads up, have low bone density and become hunchbacked.

An average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, but every little bit it comes forwards adds extra pressure on your neck. Lowering your head by just 10 degrees places 10 additional pounds of pressure on your neck. Studies seem to indicate that most people hold their head at a 60-degree angle while looking down at their phones or tablets, resulting in an astonishing 60 pounds of additional pressure on the neck! This can result in a permanent curve in your spine and the potential development of a hunchback.

There are links between the size of your device and the degree that you’ll be affected. Smaller devices like phones cause further body contractions to view, so your shoulders are forced to draw in a little further and your body shrinks more. Most people, after all, carry their phones in their pockets or send texts and browse the web while holding their phone around the belly area.

But as bad as the hunch is for your posture, it also impacts mood and self-esteem.

How Your Smartphone Could Be Making You Sad

People slouch when they’re feeling sad, afraid, weak or in a bad mood. It can be a way of protecting yourself, making yourself small and unnoticeable; it’s the opposite of a power position; a tall, confident open stance.

According to a recent New York Times article, people who’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression “adopt a posture that closely resembles iHunch.” Now sure, posture reflects an emotional state, but assuming that position is a necessity of looking at your phone—it therefore couldn’t have an impact on mood, right? Well, that’s where things get a little more interesting.

Various studies have shown that posture can impact how a person thinks and feels, and if they are hunched over and in a “depressed position,” it’s likely to alter their mental states.

A recent study indicated that people who regularly slouch tend to have lower self-esteem and more fear than those who carry themselves upright. And it’s not like it takes a long time for these feelings to set in; these conclusions were drawn over the course of a job interview. For the study, researchers had participants take part in a job interview. Some individuals were told to slouch during the interview, while others were instructed to stand upright. They all filled out a questionnaire afterwards about how they felt and the discrepancies were significant.

Other studies have shown slouching can impact memory and productivity in negative ways.

This actually makes a lot of sense. I think it’s similar to smiling. When you smile, it’s a reaction to something that makes you happy, but research has also shown that the simple act of smiling can make a person feel happier. It’s the familiar feeling of how the muscles in your face interact and send a signal to your brain. The same thing can be true for slouching or standing up tall.

Recognizing Depression In Loved Ones

Depression impacts millions of Americans every year in some way, but it is often difficult for a sufferer to be aware of it. Therefore, it’s important for the people around them to pay attention to clues. Now I’m not going to suggest that all smartphone users are at risk of developing depression, but research does indicate some links.

Someone is considered clinically depressed if they experience at least five of the following nine symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Noticeable diminished pleasure in almost all activities, especially those that were previously enjoyed
  • Significant unexplained weight loss or weight gain or severe fluctuations in appetite
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Fighting the Hunch

If you want to protect your mind and body from the impacts of a smartphone, there are a couple of ways to do it. The first is to work on your posture by standing up as straight as possible while you’re not on your phone. Spend less time sitting down, and when you’re standing keep your stomach muscles tight, shoulders drawn back, chest open and head up. This will strengthen the muscles that are responsible for good posture, while also perhaps contributing to increased confidence.

When you do need to look at your phone, bring it up to your eyes instead of looking down at it. This encourages you to maintain a straight neck and open shoulders.

Lastly, remember that you don’t always have to look at your phone. There are plenty of things and people around you, so engage yourself! Engagement can do wonders for self-esteem and improving your mood.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Cuddy, A., “Your iPhone is ruining your posture—and your mood,” New York Times web site, December 12, 2015; http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/opinion/sunday/your-iphone-is-ruining-your-posture-and-your-mood.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0.
Smith, A., “U.S. Smartphone use in 2015,” Pew Research Center web site, April 1, 2015; http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/01/us-smartphone-use-in-2015/.
Canales, J.Z., et al., “Posture and body image in individuals with major depressive disorder: a controlled study,” Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 2010; Dec; 32(4):375-80.
Nair, S., et al., “Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial,” Health Psychology, 2015 Jun; 34(6):632-41. doi: 10.1037/hea0000146.
Michalak, J., et al., “Sitting posture makes a difference-embodiment effects on depressive memory bias,” Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 2014 Nov-Dec; 21(6):519-24. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1890.
Wenner, M., “Smile! It could make you happier!” Scientific American web site, September 1, 2009; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/.
Berry, W., “Living with a depressed loved one,” Psychology Today web site, December 2, 2014; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-second-noble-truth/201412/living-depressed-loved-one.


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Dr. Alwyn Wong, DC

About the Author, Browse Alwyn's Articles

Dr. Alwyn Wong has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over fifteen years and brings with him a wealth of experience. He uses an integrated treatment approach, combining active release techniques (ART®), acupuncture, chiropractic, nutritional consulting, and program design to treat his patients, many of whom have included professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and PGA, as well as Olympic, and IFBB athletes. Although his focus has shifted to more clinical work, he remains as... Read Full Bio »