By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Scientists are discovering how having constant access to our cellphones is changing our brains and the way we think. Statistics show the nearly 81% of us have our smartphones within reach nearly all the time, and 63% of Americans report keeping their smartphone near them while sleeping.
According to a Gallup panel survey done via web and mail in 2015, “About half of U.S. smartphone owners check their devices several times an hour or more frequently, including 11% who say they check it every few minutes and 41% who check it a few times an hour. Another 20% of Americans claim to check their phones about once an hour, leaving 28% who check them less frequently.” One in five young Americans admit to checking their phones every five minutes.
How is this constant stimulation changing our brains and the way we think?
- Because of the “Google effect,” which makes it fast and easy to answer any question, find a location or gain knowledge, our brains have become foggy. We are remembering less by knowing how we can find the information rather than knowing the information.
- Feeling a sense of loss when we misplace or forget our phones. Do you feel a sense of anxiety when you do not have your phone near? Can you feel the vibrations of the phone even when it is not with you? Some studies have found that just 10 minutes away from your phone can trigger anxiety in your brain.
- Research from the University of Missouri has found that cellphone separation can have serious psychological and physiological effects on smartphone users, including poor performance on cognitive tests. The researchers say these findings suggest that smartphone users should avoid parting with their phones during daily situations that involve a great deal of attention, such as taking tests, sitting in conferences or meetings or completing important work assignments because it could result in poorer cognitive performance on those tasks.
- Our attention span has become limited by our phones. We receive so much input from texts, emails, notifications and pop-up information from our smartphones that there is no need for patience. This constant barrage of information causes our brains to become overloaded and leaves us feeling tired and often miserable.
Can something be done to help?
Fortunately, the answer is yes! Our brain can be rewired and redirected. There is an amazing phenomenon known as Neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change in structure or function in response to experience. If you change the use of your smartphone, the brain will rewire itself.
Here are few short examples of how to start:
- If you need to get something done, avoid checking social media and email. If it is possible, sit in a quiet space. If you feel anxious, take a break after an hour to check your phone or computer for messages, but during that hour try to avoid technologic distractions. Each time you do this, lengthen the time between checking.
- Get up and exercise. Physical activity can improve attention and focus. Even if you are taking a brisk walk around the block or the office building, exercise can provide a short-term boost to your attention and focus.
- Make a list of the things you need to do and focus on one at a time.
- Don’t use your phone in bed. Make your bed a phone-free zone. The blue light on smartphones can cause changes in your sleep hormones.
- Get a real alarm clock. Put your phone in another room.
- Turn off notifications.
- Challenge yourself to make non-smartphone conversations with friends or family members for an hour or more. Focus on the person you are with.
- Delete unnecessary apps.