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Study: Excessive and Compulsive Smartphone Use Linked to Mental and Physical Health Issues

Study: Excessive and Compulsive Smartphone Use Linked to Mental and Physical Health Issues

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Smartphones have become an indispensable part of modern life. We use them for everything from checking emails and scrolling social media feeds to getting directions and paying for groceries. But are we spending too much time glued to those little screens? A comprehensive systematic review reveals some concerning links between smartphone addiction and both mental and physical health issues.

The research, carried out at the University of Wollongong in Australia and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, analysed data from 27 different studies including 27,211 adults across 14 countries. And the findings show that excessive and compulsive smartphone use – dubbed “smartphone addiction” – may be taking a significant toll.

Mental health impacts of smartphone addiction

One of the clearest associations was between smartphone addiction and conditions like depression and anxiety. Multiple studies found that adults exhibiting addiction-like symptoms towards their smartphones, such as being unable to control use and experiencing withdrawal, had higher rates of depression and anxiety.

This aligns with other behavioural addiction research. Just like gambling or video game addictions, being hooked on your smartphone seemingly provides short-term bursts of pleasure or relief, but ultimately fuels negative thought patterns and emotions in the long run.

Physical problems

But the review didn’t just highlight mental health risks. Smartphone junkies also seem more prone to musculoskeletal issues like neck and hand pain from constantly being hunched over and using their thumbs excessively.

Lack of sleep was another major issue linked to smartphone addiction. It makes sense – if you’re compulsively checking your phone until the early hours of the morning, it inevitably cuts into crucial sleep time. And poor sleep cycles can trigger a number of other downstream health problems.

Some more preliminary studies even found changes in brain structure and integrity associated with smartphone overuse, similar to what’s been seen in substance addictions. However, more research is still needed in this area.

Moderation is key

Now, the researchers aren’t saying smartphones are evil and we should all go back to landlines (yeah, right). These pocket computers can be incredibly useful tools. But like most things in life, moderation is key.

If you find yourself glued to social media and unable to put down your smartphone for hours at a time, feeling anxious when you can’t check it, or using it so much that it interferes with other aspects of life, it may be time to rethink your relationship with that device.

Simple tips like turning off non-essential notifications, imposing time limits, and charging your phone outside the bedroom can help regain control. Because at the end of the day, you don’t want a smartphone addiction hampering your mental health, sleep, and overall well-being.

Reference: Ratan ZA, Parrish AM, Zaman SB, Alotaibi MS, Hosseinzadeh H. Smartphone Addiction and Associated Health Outcomes in Adult Populations: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 22;18(22):12257. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182212257. PMID: 34832011; PMCID: PMC8622754.

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