Impact on the brain

The way our brain and thumbs interact is changing due to the extensive use of smartphones, according to a study published in January in the Current Biology journal.

In the study, Swiss researchers mapped the brain’s response when the thumbs, forefinger and middle fingers were used to operate a touch-screen phone and a manual phone. The results showed enhanced electrical activity in the brain among smartphone users when all the three fingers were used. The activity in the cortex of the brain associated with the thumb and index fingertips was directly proportional to the intensity of phone use, says the study.

Solution: Gradually wean yourself away from the habit of using smartphones constantly—and it’ll not happen in a day, so have patience.

Withdrawal symptoms

A 2013 study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggests that people who are constantly online can suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by drug users. The fact that almost everyone has a smartphone makes Internet connectivity a lot simpler. This leads to habitual reliance on the medium, which many users don’t realize until they have no Internet connection.

Solution: Start by going offline one day a month—no Internet, no apps. Gradually, increase this frequency to one day every alternate weekend.

Behavioural changes

“Individuals who engage in heavier media-multitasking are found to perform worse on cognitive control tasks and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties," says a September study published in PLoS ONE. Basically, anyone regularly flipping between different websites, apps and games, tends to have less active grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) part of their brain. The ACC controls thoughts and emotions. What’s more, negative changes in the ACC are directly related to troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety disorders, according to the study.

Solution: Try to indulge in “real-life" activities: meet friends face to face, play outdoor games and take a stroll in the park.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

With YouTube and other video sources easily available on phones and tablets, users are consuming much more multimedia content (photographs and videos, for example) than ever. And not all of this content is good for health. According to Pam Ramsden from the faculty of social sciences, University of Bradford, who presented a study in May in the UK, viewing of violent news events can cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. “Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact our daily lives," said Ramsden, who presented the study at the annual conference of the British Psychology Society in Liverpool. The symptoms of media-viewing disorder include flashbacks, sleep disturbances and mood changes.

Solution: Avoid videos if you think they are too much to handle.

Disrupts sleep cycle

Using a smartphone, tablet or laptop before sleeping is a habit with many people. But this habit could cost you your health, according to a study published last year in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. “The use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep (10 minutes more compared to someone who reads a paper book before sleeping), delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin...and delays the timing of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning," according to the study.

Solution: Read a book or do a crossword puzzle before sleeping, and don’t use any gadgets 2-3 hours before bedtime.

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