Asking ourselves the question, whether smartphones are good or bad for stress, is an interesting one. I often find myself talking to clients about the potential harms caused by these gadgets. However, there are positive uses which can be beneficial in helping people reduce the impact of stress. I thought I would explore some of the pros and cons in this article.
HOW CAN SMARTPHONES CONTRIBUTE TO STRESS?
The smartphone itself
Let’s think about how these phones contribute to stress through the way they operate. Carrying a smartphone makes us potentially contactable 24 hours a day, unless we take action. They can interrupt conversations, distract us from what we are doing, impair our concentration and wake us up from sleep. They have enormous potential to dominate our day and intrude on our lives in a negative way, which can contribute to stress.
The impact of a smartphone on physical health
If you watch people on their smartphones, you’ll invariably see poor posture. The upper back and neck is curved forwards, which can lead to pain. In younger people this can lead to a permanent deformity (kyphosis). The phone is also often held up close, placing significant strain on the eyes. Frequent messaging and scrolling can result in thumb and finger pains. People can spend many hours a day on their phones. Often lounging on the sofa, in bed or on some other soft surface. The sedentary existence phones encourage means less movement for our bodies, which impacts on our physical health in a variety of ways. Eg muscle and joint aches and pains, increased weight gain, reduced cardiovascular fitness.
The content of smartphones and mental health
One of the biggest smartphone temptations is social media. People can spend hours reading about other people, looking at images and putting up their own posts and messages. There are many ways in which social media can impact on mental health. E.G. harmful posts, unrealistic comparisons, cyber bullying and fear of missing out. Smartphones also open up a world of articles and adverts which can impact on a person’s mental health. E.G. Distorted facts, untruths and comparisons. Emails can also be a source of stress. Being aware of piles of emails requiring action, or particular ones which are challenging, can be very stressful.
There was an interesting podcast on BBC sounds on 1/2/23. Michael Mosley’s ‘Just one thing’ was called ‘Put your phone down’. He mentioned a number of interesting studies relating to the harm that phones can cause. Of particular concern was the study that showed that simply having one’s phone visible was enough to reduce cognitive performance. Even if it was switched off. This small gadget represents a multitude of things which catch our attention, all in one place. E.G. Social connection, learning, emotional involvement. Even when it is switched off, it commands our attention and distracts us from what we are doing. We have limited brain power. If the phone is using a significant portion, there is less available for our lived experiences and our ability to function fully.
HOW CAN SMARTPHONES HELP WITH MANAGING STRESS?
Let’s now reflect on the ways in which smartphones can help with stress.
Smartphones are incredible gadgets with a large variety of different tools which people can use to help them. These include reminders, alarms, torches, notes and wallets. In different situations, these tools can help to reduce stress. However, the main way in which a smartphone can help with stress is through its apps and online information. These cover topics such as mindfulness and meditation, breathing, sleep exercises, fitness and nutrition which are fundamental to stress management. They provide information and tools which, if used appropriately, can be a massive help.
If used appropriately, smartphones can be a real help in reducing the impact of stress in our lives. However, they also have the potential to cause harm in a variety of different ways. It is important to reflect on how we use our phones. We need to identify the tools which can help us and use them. We also need to create boundaries to protect ourselves from the potential harm. Ultimately, we need to make the smartphone work for us as individuals.
Please get in touch if you are struggling with stress and would like some support.