Some users have been driven to the edge of depression, plagued by low self-esteem due to their ‘addiction’.
Experts have branded the damaging effects of too much screen time as ‘digital fragmentation syndrome’ (DFRAG).
It causes a catalogue of symptoms, which dozens of scientific papers have found strike those addicted to their phones and gadgets.
Dr Imran Rashid, a GP who works at the largest chain of private hospitals in Denmark, Aleris-Hamlet Private Hospitals, told MailOnline: ‘Hundreds of millions of people are experiencing this new form of digital pollution.
‘And its effects can be just as toxic to the body and mind as contaminants elsewhere in the environment.’
In a piece for MailOnline, Dr Rashid reveals the ten ways spending too much time on your smartphone is ruining your life.
‘Digital fragmentation syndrome’ (DFRAG) is an umbrella term named by Dr Imran Rashid and digital expert Soren Kenner, applying to the symptoms uncovered in an analysis of more than 200 scientific papers looking into the effects of tech on our lives
1. Lack of meaningful relationships
Dr Rashid believes that while living in a high tech time, we are also not physically touching each other enough.
This leads to a lack of emotional relationships as the level of the hormone oxytocin drops.
Often referred to as ‘the cuddling hormone’, oxytocin is strongly involved the process of bonding and building trust as it is raised during biological processes such as childbirth, breastfeeding and sex.
Dr Rashid said: ‘This hormone can be used as a scientific measures of how deep our relationships are.
‘When you aren’t touched by as many people as you were used to as a child, the hormonal stimulation you should feel will reduce.’
2. More stress
The constant need to check calls, notifications, texts, social media and emails keeps the adrenal glands in a constant state of agitation, and the fight or flight stress response triggered.
Dr Rashid said: ‘We know that being on social media causes reduced ability to recover from stress, which is measurable with the body’s levels of stress hormone, cortisol.
‘Studies have found that if you are reading a book rather than scrolling on social media, your cortisol levels decline faster.
‘These cortisol spikes lead to an avalanche of issues including high blood pressure, increased heart rate and anxiety.’
3. Bad parenting
Dr Rashid said being on your phone a lot around your children could affect the way they form their relationships
Dr Rashid said that parenting skills could be negatively impacted if the parent is constantly distracted by their phone.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE ADDICTED TO YOUR PHONE?
If you think your phone is interfering with your ability to stay cool and focused here are some things you can do about it.
1. Turn off all of your notifications and get back in charge of your phone and make your own decisions on when to check mail, social media, texts and more.
2. Put your use on a schedule. Decide when and how much you will surf and be on social media. For example, a maximum of two hours after dinner. Now stick to your schedule.
3. Leave your phone behind. Don’t bring your phone to the dinner table, to the bedroom or to meetings. And leave it switched off while you are driving.
4. Take a social media break. Try a couple of weeks offline, it’s really quite refreshing.
5. Introduce alternatives. Spend time with people, read books, play board games, learn the piano, listen to music – there are plenty of good alternatives out there.
With technology always in the way, a parent could be in less sync with their child’s cues and misinterpret their needs.
The child will also pick up their habits, he said.
‘Children don’t do what you tell them to, they do what they see you do.
‘If you show them that being in a relationship means being distant and constantly distracted by a tablet screen, that becomes their model for relationships.’
And it won’t just be their relationships that struggle – children who used screens more than two hours a day had lower cognitive skills in research last year funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Over seven hours a day, structures in the brain are physically changed.
4. Poor sleep
Scrolling on your phone too much may leave you struggling to get shut-eye, according to a 2017 study by the University of Pittsburgh.
Researchers found that logging on often was more likely to effect sleep quality than being logged on for long periods of time.
The team weren’t sure, however, whether it was social media causing sleep disturbances or vice versa.
‘But there’s also a physiological reason,’ Dr Rashid said. ‘The blue light emitted by electronic screens tricks our brains into thinking it’s still daytime.
‘And then we don’t produce enough of the sleep hormone melatonin to fall asleep quickly and get high-quality sleep.’
Studies have shown that social media use can cause sleep disturbances
5. No empathy for others
You may be more selfish if you are addicted to your phone.
In the US over the last 20 years, empathy score has gone down by 40 per cent in high school children, a University of Michigan study showed.
The sharpest drop occurred after the year 2000, which experts, including Dr Rashid, believe to be linked to the rise of the internet.
Dr Rashid said: ‘One of the big issues is that eye-contact is a necessity to show and develop empathy.
‘If too much of your social interaction becomes faceless, you could miss out on training the ability to detect social cues like body language, facial expressions and more.’
Another explanation could be due to a growing need of confirmation and strong friendships online, therefore diminishing your empathy for those around you.
‘Removing empathy from a democracy is turning it into a collective of selfish people,’ Dr Rashid said.
6. Unable to resist bad temptations
Over time, using your phone too much can lead you unable to resist tempations.
Dr Rashid explains: ‘If you can’t say no to your phone, your ability to say no – your impulse control – is being reduced.’
This could lead to indulging in bad habits, such as smoking or unhealthy eating.
Impulse control – that is, controlling your impulses – is important for building long term plans, maintaining relationships or saving money.
‘Better health, grades and relationships are linked to the ability to defer instant gratification,’ Dr Rashid said.
Too much use of your phone could lead you to be unable to resist temptations elsewhere in your life, leading to an indulge in bad habits such as unhealthy eating
A famous study in the 1960s called The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment demonstrates how crucial self-control is from a young age.
In the experiment, 600 children were offered the choice between having a marshmallow now, or waiting for 15 minutes in order to have two.
The researchers tracked the children into adulthood and found that the children who had enough impulse control to delay eating the marshmallow ended up with better exam scores and eventually better paid jobs.
Brain scans revealed that these children also had more prefrontal cortex – also known as ‘new brain’ – activity. The ability to master this part of the brain leads to the ability to defer reward for greater return in the future.
Constant use of technology can make your brain ‘give up’ on decision making and always choose the easy option, Dr Rashid said.
He explained that being online for long periods gives us little doses of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that contributes to pleasure.
With so many releases of the natural high, you tire out the parts of the brain which are used to make decisions.
ARE SMARTPHONES CAUSING MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS IN YOUNG PEOPLE?
Children as young as two are developing mental health problems because of smartphones and tablets, scientists warned in November.
Just an hour a day staring at a screen can be enough to make children more likely to be anxious or depressed.
This could be making them less curious, less able to finish tasks, less emotionally stable and lowering their self-control.
Although teenagers are most at risk from the damaging devices, children under the age of 10 and toddlers’ still-developing brains are also being affected.
Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia analysed data provided by the parents of more than 40,000 US children aged two to 17 for a nationwide health survey in 2016.
Adolescents spending more than seven hours a day on screens are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression as those who spent an hour.
The US National Institute of Health estimates children and adolescents commonly spend an average of five to seven hours on screens during leisure time.
‘You then tend to make the decisions that are “go with the flow” instead using rational examination,’ Dr Rashid said.
‘When you are constantly overwhelmed with choices it gives you a mental overload.
‘Your brain’s ability to keep on choosing declines slowly until “it gives up” and just goes for the basic, easy and habitual behaviour.’
This can be demonstrated by the fact people are more likely to pick up their phone than a book, he said.
Just 16 per cent of high school seniors in 2016 read a book, magazine or newspaper every day, compared to sixty per cent in the 1970s, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.
8. Spending more money
You may have noticed adverts on your Facebook for things you would consider buying.
This, along with many other ‘hacks’, are what large companies use to grab your attention as you mindlessly surf online.
The more a company can keep you glued to your screen – the more online shopping is fueled.
The hacks are based on algorithyms, user interfaces and science of the brain, but people are unlikely to notice them consciously, Dr Rashid said.
‘They are built to undermine your impulse controls. The more they can catch your attention, the longer they can hold it and make money.
‘The best customers are the ones who can’t control their impulsive behaviour or resist a deal,’ Dr Rashid said.
9. Low self esteem
Women have been found to have low self esteem after spending too much time online
‘Instagram will affect your self-esteem and Facebook makes you obsessed about other peoples opinion about you,’ Dr Rashid said.
Research has often found that people who are always viewing other’s lives on social media can end up with crippling low confidence.
Those who scroll through Facebook have higher levels of depression, one study found.
And those who admire the feeds of celebrities can feel dissatisfied with their own achievements.
Women especially can end up in a rut of negative thought about their body image, according to a study which found that college student spend an average of two and a half hours a day on social media.
Many participants felt closer to Facebook friends than friends in real life while having feelings of stress, cravings, and low self-esteem.
Algorithms on social media apps are made so that people form groups – such as Instagram’s explore page showing content you may like.
‘When you go to any platform, the chances of you meeting anyone that isn’t like-minded is very low,’ Dr Rashid said.
‘That creates a view of the world that is heavily biased towards the same opinions as you.
‘It can disturb your view. You talk to the same people and hear the same views of the time.’
Dr Rashid uses Brexit an example: ‘No one ever expected this. But that’s because they couldn’t see outside their bubble.
‘They tried to see how it would work through social media, not realising they were stuck in what is called an echo effect chamber.’
This story has been extracted from Dr Rashid’s new book, Offline: Free Your Mind from Smartphone and Social Media Stress, co-authored with Soren Kenner.
ARE YOU ADDICTED TO YOUR PHONE? TAKE THE QUIZ
Answer the questions and add the score (in brackets) as you go.
You left the house without your phone, what do you do?
- Nothing, it can wait (1)
- Turn back and get the phone (2)
- That would never happen (3)
You are at a meeting when your phone vibrates, what do you do?
- Pick up the phone and see what’s up (1)
- Nothing, it can wait (2)
- Turn off the phone (3)
You wake up in the middle of the night and see your phone blinking, what do you do?
- Turn over on the other side and try to go back to sleep (2)
- Reach out after your phone to see if there are messages (1)
- I never bring my phone into the bedroom (3)
You have a report that needs to be done by tomorrow, what do you do?
- Start doing it but keep checking mail and social media as well (2)
- Sit down and get it done (1)
- I get on Facebook to relax and wait till the last possible minute to do the report (3)
You are in your car stuck in a a queue, what do you do?
- Listen to music on the radio (2)
- Reach out for your phone to check messages (1)
- I simply keep calm and wait (3)
You are at dinner and glance at your phone and see notifications, what do you do?
- Pick up the phone to see what’s going on (1)
- Nothing, it can wait till you have time for it. (2)
- I would never bring my phone to the dinner table (3)
Your friends invite you over for game night, what do you do?
- Say no, you’d rather spend the time being online on my own (3)
- Say yes, grab your phone and go (2)
- Say yes, grab a board game to bring along and go (1)
You’ve been on Facebook for two hours and it is boring. What do you do?
- Decide to see what’s going on on Instagram and Twitter instead (3)
- Put down the phone and pick up a book to read (2)
- I’d never spend two whole hours on Facebook (1)
Someone promised to send you a message. What do you do?
- I keep checking my phone, wondering when I will get the message (3)
- I hope the message will show up soon but stay calm (2)
- I don’t think about it. It will show up when it does (1)
- 9 to 12 points. Nothing to worry about. You are not likely to have any problems with smartphone addiction.
- 13 to 18 points. You are middle of the road. Maybe using your phone a little too much but still nothing serious to worry about.
- 18-27 points. You are a candidate for smartphone addiction and should think about using your phone less.