The effects of the digital world don’t stop at the screen – if you spend too much time with technology, they could become physical threats to your health. Here are the eight most common screen time symptoms, including information on what causes them and how to get rid of them.
#1: Eye Strain
Electronics are constantly outputting beams of pure information that we send directly to our brains – and those back-lit computer screens don’t help any. While it’s possible to develop eye strain from doing any activity for a significant period, it’s especially prevalent among people who spend more time than they should with electronics.
Common symptoms of eye strain include fatigue, irritated eyes, headaches, dry eyes, and some soreness. These tend to lead to reduced productivity – even at work – which can have a long-term impact on your performance ratings and compensation. Frankly, computer vision syndrome (another name for this problem) is not what you need in your personal or professional life.
The good news is that eye strain is also one of the easiest screen time symptoms to handle. Looking away from the screen for a minute or so every half an hour can significantly reduce the strain on your eyes, especially if you focus them on something much further away for that time.
#2: Text Claw
Text claw is a sensation of general cramping and soreness in the forearm, wrist, and fingers. It’s most common after heavy smartphone use, such as spending time playing an intensive game or sending out frequent text messages. Much like eye strain, this isn’t a wholly unique condition – any long-term, repetitive activity can make you uncomfortable.
There’s no particular cure for Text Claw, but there are a few ways to alleviate the symptoms. The easiest method is to spend less time doing whatever causes it, which may mean playing fewer games or not sending texts quite as quickly.
You can also massage the affected areas, use heat treatment, or stretch your hands now and then. Most people don’t need long breaks to get away from Text Claw – a few other movements now and then are all it takes.
#3: Text Neck
The close cousin of Text Claw, Text Neck is considerably more common and arises from spending so much of your time looking down. In a discussion with the Washington Post, surgeon Kenneth Hansraj explained that all the additional weight in an odd posture was leading to degeneration and, in many cases, surgery.
Teens are especially vulnerable to this, spending thousands of extra hours each year with their head in an awkward position. Fortunately, the solutions to this ongoing epidemic are relatively straightforward – spend less time looking down at devices and more time with the devices themselves raised up.
Of course, this can put a bit of tension on the arms – but if you’re getting tired of holding a device, that’s a good sign that it’s time to put it away and find something else to do.
#4: Digital Motion Sickness
Sometimes referred to as “cybersickness”, this condition is caused by issues with sensory input when you’re focused too much on a screen. The cause is our sense of balance – which, unlike many of our other senses, is intimately tied to our vision. Put simply: our body thinks it’s bizarre when we see movement but don’t feel it.
The mismatch between what we’re seeing and what our other senses are saying can generate feelings of dizziness and nausea. There’s no way of knowing when this condition will occur, and it’s possible to experience Digital Motion Sickness even if you’ve never had it before. That said, evidence suggests women are more susceptible than men.
The potential for digital motion sickness is, incidentally, another reason why you shouldn’t use your smartphone while driving (except for matters like navigation). The last thing you need when you’re on the road is to be hit by debilitating nausea. You can see some of the effects of this on people using virtual reality headsets. When your body thinks something is happening, it reacts accordingly.
The best thing to do if you’re feeling nauseous is put down the screen and focus on something that isn’t moving. It shouldn’t take long for your body to return to normal.
#5: Weight Gain
Believe it or not, this isn’t from being sedentary. Many people use their phones while they’re on the move, and staying on your feet is a good thing. Instead, this part of our screen time symptoms arises from the desire to eat more. When you see delicious-looking foods on your smartphone – whether it appears in movies or on your favorite social media – you might start to get hungry.
This leads directly to overeating and weight gain. Fortunately, out of everything on this list, this is probably the easiest to get under control. Just avoid things that constantly bombard you with delicious-looking food (and maybe talk to that one friend who insists on sharing literally every meal on Facebook).
Of course, just saying mobile while you’re using your phone isn’t necessarily the right response, because…
Now here’s a word you probably haven’t heard before. Petextrians are pedestrians who are spending a little too much time focusing on their phone and not paying attention to the world around them, giving rise to the unusual problem of distracted walking. There are a few problems that researchers have noticed.
First, people staring at their phones tend to take longer to cross the street. They also tend to avoid looking both ways before crossing the street – preferring to keep their eye on whatever their phone is showing – though most of them are at least conscientious enough to use crosswalks instead of just ambling across a busy road.
In an especially disturbing report, 40% of teenagers reported that they’d been hit or nearly hit, with smartphone or cell phone use being the single biggest risk factor. That might not be a problem if self-driving vehicles take off and automatically avoid pedestrians, but for now, that’s a terrifyingly high threat.
The natural solution to this problem is spending less time looking at your phone when you’re on the move. It’s fine to glance at it while you’re waiting, but as things currently stand, “defensive walking” courses may soon be needed.
#7: Damaged Sperm Cells
If you’re a man trying to have a kid, it may be time to take that laptop off your lap: The heat could be damaging your sperm. The main reason the testes hang below the body (rather than remaining within it like female ovaries) is that they need to be a little cooler than the rest of the body to promote optimal sperm production.
This is the same reason why men trying to have children are encouraged to wear boxers instead of briefs. That said, the heat emitted by laptops is exactly what the testes are trying to avoid, and raising the temperature there by just a few degrees can have a significant negative effect on your ability to have a kid.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to avoid children, this might help more than it hurts. It’s nowhere near as effective as birth control, but when every little bit might help, it’s worth considering.
#8: Phantom Vibration
This is one of the most interesting screen time symptoms – and also the one most associated with technology addiction. At its core, Phantom Vibration is the feeling that your phone is trying to contact you even when it isn’t. About 89% of college students reported feeling Phantom Vibrations, with most experiencing the sensation every two weeks.
Notably, people’s reaction to Phantom Vibration can say a lot about how they view technology. For example, people who have a strong emotional connection to texts are more likely to be bothered if they don’t have one, while people who were more relaxed tend to shrug it off.
Most people don’t view Phantom Vibration as a major problem, and definitely not something that requires serious intervention. That said, while Phantom Vibration itself may not need intervention, you may need a digital detox if you find yourself experiencing this on a regular basis. A compulsive desire to receive communication from other people is not healthy and may require a visit to a therapist.
We live in a world where we’re constantly overstimulated by the things we see on computer screens. Many people – especially children and teens – start to get anxious and stressed when they’re away from computers and phones for just a few minutes. This is not healthy, especially because screen time symptoms are more likely to occur among people who spend a lot of time with their devices.
Technology has done a lot of good in the world, but just like medicine, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it’s time to start adjusting your use of technology.