Why we must unplug from our mobiles urgently

It's time to confront the addiction and break the chains for our own physical and mental well-being

By Geraldine Naidoo

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Published: Tue 30 Apr 2024, 5:03 PM

In this era of unparalleled connectivity, our phones have become indispensable tools for navigating life’s uncertainties and accessing a wealth of information in real time. However, amidst this awe-inspiring digital landscape lies a tremendous hidden cost – a growing epidemic of mental health issues characterised by loneliness, disconnection, stress, and anxiety.

The convenience vs. The consequences

As evidenced by research findings in prestigious journals, the convenience offered by smartphones comes at a price: Studies have shed light on the adverse effects of excessive smartphone use on mental well-being. From heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression to feelings of loneliness and social isolation, the repercussions can no longer be overlooked.

Let's explore how our ever-present companion negatively impacts various demographics.

Effects on children:

Impaired cognitive development: Children are particularly vulnerable as excessive screen time, including mobile phone usage, has been linked to delays in intellectual development. Constant exposure to screens may hinder the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and attention span, which are essential for academic success and overall well-being.

Sleep disturbances: The blue light emitted by smartphones can disrupt children's sleep patterns, leading to difficulties falling asleep, as well as poor sleep quality. Sleep disturbances have been linked to a host of health issues in children, including obesity, behavioural problems, and reduced academic performance.

Social and emotional challenges: Excessive smartphone use reduces face-to-face interactions, affecting social and emotional growth, fostering loneliness, isolation, and raising the risk of anxiety and depression. Socialization is important as it seeks to foster children's self-growth and their incorporation into society.

Information without protection: Information intended for adults freely reaches children using mobile phones, exposing them to content without adequate safeguards. Excessive exposure to material intended for adults can detrimentally affect a child's psychological development, influencing their value judgements and potentially distorting their worldview and life values.

Effects on Adults:

Adults may have better coping mechanisms, but research has highlighted the following impacts:

Increased Stress and Anxiety: The pressure of constantly being “on call”, to respond to emails, messages, and notifications promptly leads to overload, heightened stress levels and a reduced ability to relax and unwind.

Impaired Cognitive Function: Excessive mobile phone usage has been correlated with mental decline in adults. Devin Sommer's compelling TED Talk illuminates the concept of "digital dementia," i.e. a reduced ability to focus for extended periods, a decline in memory retention, attention span, and critical thinking skills, thus highlighting the profound impact on our cognitive abilities(skills of the mind) and overall well-being.

Negative Impact on Relationships: Decreased communication and intimacy, as well as Feelings of neglect or jealousy when the other is constantly engaging on their phone. Additionally, distracted smartphone use during social interactions can undermine the quality of face-to-face connections. Humans desire witnessing in the form of deep listening as an acknowledgement of their innermost presence and existence, but we have become so accustomed to sharing our lives through screens, that we too often prioritize virtual interactions over genuine human connection, and find ourselves wanting and dissatisfied in the process.

The Dopamine Dilemma: Constant engagement with social media and online platforms triggers a cycle of dopamine hits in the brain. This rush of feel -good-hormones reinforces compulsive usage and addiction. Research indicates that the pursuit of these dopamine hits can disrupt sleep patterns, impair cognitive function, and exacerbate feelings of anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction over time.

Effects on Older Adults:

Older adults may be less digitally native, but they are increasingly adopting smartphones for both communication and entertainment. Their unique challenges include:

Increased Isolation: Smartphones can be a lifeline for staying connected with loved ones, but excessive screen time can also contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly if they struggle to navigate technology or have limited social networks.

Impact on Mental Health: Prolonged mobile screen time is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety to older adults, who can be more susceptible, thus highlighting the importance of moderation and balance.

Physical Health Concerns: Poor posture and repetitive strain injuries from prolonged mobile time can exacerbate existing musculoskeletal issues and contribute to overall discomfort and reduced mobility, which in turn creates mental stress.

We can no longer ignore the negative impact of our digital habits. If we wish to reclaim moments of presence and authenticity in our lives, it is crucial to foster healthier relationships with technology to promote mental wellness for ourselves and future generations

Lets make a conscious effort to navigate this digital age with intentionality, and cultivate genuine connections that nourish the soul.

Tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your mobile phone:

1. Set Boundaries

To find a balance that preserves mental well-being, establish designated times for smartphone usage and stick to them. Ideally 3 hours before bedtime, limit screen time to promote better sleep and relaxation. Consider blue light blocking glasses to limit the disruptive impact of blue light on your sleep hormones.

2. Practice Mindfulness:

Be mindful of the impact on your smartphone usage on your mental state. Notice when you feel overwhelmed. Take breaks from your device throughout the day to engage in activities that promote relaxation.

3. Prioritise Face-to-Face Interaction:

Prioritise face-to-face interactions over digital communication whenever possible. Foster meaningful connections with friends and family by spending quality time together without the distraction of smartphones. Hold each other accountable when you do come together socially. For e.g. first one to check their phone pays for the next round of drinks. Use your imagination to find ways that encourage responsible mobile phone usage among friends and family too.

4. Seek Support:

If you're struggling to manage your smartphone usage or experiencing negative mental health effects, don't hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional who can provide guidance and resources to help you navigate the challenges of excessive screen time.

For mental health support drgeraldine.com

(Geraldine Naidoo (PhD) is a Dubai-based stress and anxiety specialist.)


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