Smartphones play an important role in people’s lives, but spending too much time on our phones can interfere with our physical and mental health, says Dana Corriel, M.D., Director of Quality for Highland Medical, P.C., and board-certified internist at Pearl River Internal Medicine. Dr. Corriel answers questions about how we can be smart about using smartphones.
Q: How can smartphones affect people’s health?
A: I think there’s a role for screens in people’s lives both in a professional setting and out. But too much screen time can lead to illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and visual disturbances, among others. There are social implications, as well, to overusing our smartphones. More people are now texting while they drive and we end up with higher rates of automobile accidents because of it. We even see people crossing the street, their heads buried in their device. Socially speaking, we are engaged less with our friends and family, especially when it comes to face-to-face interactions. This leads to an increasingly isolated society that sees more failed relationships (either because too much time is spent on screens or because miscommunications happen more frequently). It’s important to adopt a healthy balance.
Q: How can smartphones decrease quality of life?
A: Smartphone use can potentially lead to screen-time addiction, in which the pull of the screen is more powerful than engaging in other activities in which you would otherwise engage. Examples of this are all around us, in places like restaurants, where a family sits around the dinner table but the children have their heads in a device, rather than up and connecting with the parents. Car rides can be the same, as can vacations. Often, the experience of getting away is lost when kids (or adults) engage with their device rather than their surroundings.
Q: How do you recommend that people break their smartphone addiction?
A: It’s important to take a step back and really be honest about the time you spend on a smartphone. Use a chart to plot out times. You may be surprised at what you find. If there is room for change, implement a realistic plan in which you spend time away from the phone. That means planning in advance. It means preparing (by alerting those who may depend on that smartphone to contact you). You may need abstinence that’s of the ‘cold turkey’ nature, where you don’t engage with the smartphone for a specific amount of time chosen, or constant, in which you limit time spent daily. We see the biggest improvements in people’s moods and sleep patterns when they stay away from smartphones. But abstinence can also lead to more time spent with loved ones, less procrastinations on projects in real life, and more time spent being physical.
Q: Have you cut back on smartphone use yourself?
A: I am an advocate of doctors having a presence on social media. However, that being said, I also recognize the need to take healthy breaks, both regularly, and for set periods of time. I speak about my own ‘cleanse’ in my post, Virtual Break: A Cleanse for the Soul, found at https://drcorriel.com/virtual-break-cleanse-for-soul/, where I suggest a healthy break from the virtual world (specifically use of social media).
Q: How would you sum up your thoughts about smartphones and their effect on our lives?
A: I believe we can find a healthy balance in our relationship with the smartphone. But we need to be smart about finding it, and especially when guiding our children through this relationship. Children are especially vulnerable to images that float around in the virtual world and if we are not there to explain things to them, they may become scared, or learn incorrectly about what is deemed ‘normal’ versus ‘unrealistic’ or ‘unacceptable.’ Our job is to teach them right from wrong, even when they watch on their screens. The bottom line is that smartphones are here to stay, so we need to learn the best way in which to incorporate them into our lives.