July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. We all know the etiquette—phones down during dinner, no texting at work, and always call, don’t text, your parents. But instead of focusing on reasons to be polite with your mobile phone this month, these alarming facts on how your cell phone is damaging your health will make you want to throw that bacteria-hoarding, stress-inducing device across the room.
Aside from one of the most obvious dangers of cell phone use—texting while driving, which is responsible for nearly 421,000 annual automobile injuries—constant cell phone use can be surprisingly detrimental to your psychological, social and physical wellbeing. Let us count the ways.
Does the thought of losing your phone stress you out? Thought so.
You’re listening to music, and you strain your ears…was that my phone ringing or just the beat of the song? This seems to happen often, but some people have even experienced “phantom” vibrations: feeling your phone vibrate when it’s actually silent. The constant buzzing, ringing and reminders become background music to our daily lives, and this is adding to your stress more than you realize. Think about it: When was the last time you were truly present in the moment, divorced from the insatiable urge to whip out your phone to snap a picture or shoot off a text? Although we aren’t always aware of it, we are constantly and disastrously distracted—by the ping of incoming work emails, by texts from our friends, by Twitter updates and Facebook notifications.
Going to bed has a whole new meaning in today’s technology-saturated world. We lay in bed for thirty minutes reloading our Twitter feeds, texting a significant other goodnight, or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. Seriously, what is the point? Staring at a bright screen when your room is pitch black is damaging to your vision. This can lead to night blindness, headaches, and sleep disturbance. Squinting at tiny fonts can also lead to computer vision syndrome, a condition that leads to dry eyes and difficulty focusing.
Do you opt for texting instead of calling someone to discuss an important issue? 15% of young adults reported breaking up with someone over text, and 25% said they had been dumped via text (Psychology Today). Not only do we use texting as an easy way to deal with conflicts, but we also expect immediate responses to our texts, and when we have to wait we tend to second-guess ourselves and overthink our message. What’s more, so-called “text speak”—which is short and cursory, lacking in the nuanced range of emotion and inflection found in human speech—can be more cryptic and difficult to decode. This often hinders effective communication and adds unnecessary tension to our relationships. The next time you want to converse with a friend or loved one, try picking up the phone and calling them—or, better yet, talking to them face-to-face.
“FOMO,” or “fear of missing out,” is a form of social anxiety marked by the compulsive worry that everyone is having fun without you. With immediate access to all of your social media accounts, you are constantly bombarded with pictures of your friends out at bars or doing something fun, creating the illusion that their social lives are significantly more exciting than yours. The reality is that most people have a balance of down time and social time, but social media pressures us to think we are not enough unless we are living it up 24/7. It is important to limit your time on your phone and social media to avoid these false feelings.
If toilet seats gross you out, then you may want to put your phone away for this factoid. The greasy, oily residue on your phone can contain more disease-prone germs than on a toilet-seat, including E. Coli. Studies have even found fecal matter on one in six cell phones in Britain, and these germs are often spread from one person to another. Gross! If your cheek is constantly buried in your germy cell phone, that could also be the cause of unexplained breakouts on your face.
Cell phones emit non-ionizing radio waves as they constantly connect to a base station. The Federal Communications Commission advises staying at least 20 centimeters away from your phone to reduce exposure. Studies have shown cell phone radiation to decrease fertility in men. It is especially important to keep your phone away from you while driving. In a moving car your phone has to jump between wireless towers making it work harder, and therefore emitting more radio waves. In the confines of your car, your core is even more exposed to radiation than usual. Your phone is also working harder and emitting more radiation when there is bad reception, so don’t keep trying to resend a text when you don’t have service and just put your phone away!
Between typing messages, e-mails, status updates and writing to-do lists in your notes, cell phones cause you to use your hands constantly. Typing with rapid speed causes pain to your neck, back and hands, as well as causing inflammation in your joints. I’m assuming you have no clue what your posture looks like while you are texting either, but it is most likely not straight.
Tips to Stay Cell-Phone-Healthy
- Use a headset or speakerphone, but always remove the headset between conversations.
- Keep your phone out of your pockets.
- Limit cell phone use for children.
- Stop talking on the phone while driving.
- Don’t chat with poor signal.
- Don’t use your phone as an alarm by your pillow.
- Clean your phone regularly.
- Turn down the brightness and only view the screen with a light on.
- Limit cell phone use to 30-60 minutes before you go to bed.
- Treat yourself with breaks from your phone and social media.