Is Too Much Tech Making You Sick?

Is Too Much Tech Making You Sick?

It seems smart phones and social media have become not only ubiquitous, but also indispensable. Being constantly plugged in to your personal tech may be taking a toll on your health, however.

We spoke with psychiatrist Roger Butler, MD, of Medical City Green Oaks Hospital and Medical City McKinney in Texas, to learn how tech excess can be affecting you, along with ways to take control of it (instead of vice versa). 

#1. Too much time on social apps may wreak havoc on our mood.
Researchers from two German universities found that perusing Facebook might leave you feeling frustrated, lonely and envious. And for people who may already be prone to depression, Dr. Butler adds, seeing really positive posts can intensify or even cause a depressed mood.

Of course, social media doesn't bring everyone down, says Butler. "People who are confident and happy with themselves usually are not affected this way," he says. In fact, Butler says that research has found that positive posts on Facebook and other social media can make people happier. “You can't make a blanket statement,” he says. “But there is that risk involved."

Expert tip: Remember reality. "What I tell people is that everything on [Facebook] is not to be believed,” he says. “Things are never as wonderful as they seem.”

#2. Tech can make us socially awkward.
According to a 2012 UK poll, almost half of men and women became worried if—for whatever reason—they couldn’t log in to their social media accounts. That tech dependence takes away from time to communicate with others in person, and the heaviest toll may be on children.

Butler says technology use is affecting kids' language and communication development, as well as their ability to form normal, close relationships. Daily interactions that are a part of growing up—learning how to read body language and facial expressions, for instance—aren't practiced enough by kids who are glued to their phones.

Expert tip: Limit the whole family's tech time to up real-life interaction time. "Be very aware of the time you're on social media at home, during your workday, and while you're socializing,” Butler says. As for your kids: Establish time limits and practice monitoring as soon as kids get their first cell phones, Butler advises.

#3. Constant tech use can cause physical problems.
A recent study found that when you tilt your head 60 degrees to stare at your phone, you're putting 60 pounds of pressure on your neck, causing neck strain and back pain. Research also shows that excessive tech use right before bedtime can screw with sleep cycles, thanks to the glowing light emitted from screens. Finally, too much screen time can strain your eyes and even lead to tension headaches.

Expert tip: Know when to stow it. A whopping 80% of millennials—and 65% of adults overall—sleep with their phones, research says. An hour before bed, ditch the device. Limit your phone use during the workday, and try to keep screens of any kind at eye level.

Like so many things, living well with technology is about balance. “I would never say, ‘Let's go back to the way it was before tech and social media,’” Butler says. “It's how we learn from it and deal with it as a society that makes the difference.”

See More from Dr. Butler:
How can I limit my child's exposure to social media?
How can I reduce the time I spend on technology and social media?
What are some negative effects of technology on kids?

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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