No, it’s not brain cancer. Several studies have looked at whether cell phone use increases the risk of developing brain cancer and researchers all basically say it doesn’t.
Oh, but our smartphones are definitely affecting our health and taking years off our lives in a way we didn’t expect. Smartphones have been connected to raising stress levels and that affects almost the entire body.
How our smartphones stress us out
Beside brain cancer studies, other researchers have focused on the chemical dopamine that creates habits and addictions. Some of us simply cannot be away from our phones for very long.
Now, a New York Times article points out that our phone addiction pales in comparison to the impact it has on cortisol levels.
Cortisol is our primary fight-or-flight hormone. When cortisol levels go up, our blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar spikes. Higher cortisol levels are good when you’re being chased by a tiger.
So how do our phones trigger a release of cortisol? In many ways. It can be an angry email from someone, an app crashing, Wi-Fi not working. In fact, researchers say just having a phone nearby causes this cortisol release.
“Your cortisol levels are elevated when your phone is in sight or nearby, or when you hear it or even think you hear it,” David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, told the New York Times. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.”
Instead, people who are stressed by their smartphones just enter a cycle of picking up the phone, looking at it, putting it down, feeling better for a few minutes, then getting stressed again, picking up the phone and on and on. That cycle keeps your cortisol level high, especially if you come across something that distresses you.
Google has noted that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.”
What happens to your health when you’re chronically stressed is not good. Your run an increased risk of developing serious health problems such as depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke.
All so you can read emails and texts, see social media posts or play with an app.
Breaking the cycle
The good news is that doctors and researchers are looking at ways to break the stress-phone cycle. Dr. Bruce McEwen, head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University, is one of them.
Dr. McEwen told the New York Times that it’s possible to retrain our brains to the point where the stress response doesn’t activate during minor events.
We all know that the best thing to do is make cell phones a smaller part of our lives. For example, turn off all notifications except for the ones you want to receive.
Next, pay attention to how individual apps make you feel when you use them — do they soothe you or make you seethe? Delete apps that cause anxiety or stress for a few days. If you feel better, keep them deleted.
There’s also a movement to just turn off your phone and give yourself a 24-hour “digital Sabbath.” This is a health problem you can cure all by yourself.