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5 Health Hazards of an "Always On" Lifestyle

Sep 16, 2014
By Ellen Vora
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Technology has multifaceted benefits. Your smartphone can keep you connected with friends and family, find you healthy dining options nearby, and entertain you with games, music, and videos.

Unfortunately tech has a darker side, too. Being plugged-in or “on” all the time can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Here are some common health issues that could be related to your use of technology and how to combat them.

1. It’s making you a distracted driver.

You know you shouldn’t check your phone or text while driving, but you feel an irresistible urge to do it anyway. That’s because your brain rewards you with a shot of the feel-good chemical dopamine every time you respond to your phone’s ping.

Going hands-free in the car can help, but a better solution is to turn your phone off altogether. Be honest: Is there any work or personal issue that truly can’t wait the few minutes required to pull your car into a safe location to deal with it? Probably not.

2. It’s ruining the quality of your sleep.

Many of my patients experience intermittent insomnia or just plain lousy sleep. They don’t realize the culprit may be their computer screen or smartphone. These displays emit blue spectrum light, which suppresses the brain’s natural release of melatonin—the sleep hormone.

Ideally you should turn off your electronics (including the television) at least an hour before bedtime. But if you absolutely have to be on the computer or your phone in the evening, wear a pair of orange-tinted glasses. These affordable glasses block blue spectrum light and allow the melatonin to flow.

Don’t miss Don’t Let Your iPad Ruin Your Sleep.

3. It’s turning you into a desk potato.

Thanks to videoconferencing, people can conduct meetings and even make “field trips” without ever leaving their desk. But that’s a problem. There’s a significant amount of evidence that a sedentary lifestyle correlates strongly with decreased wellness and reduced longevity. Staying connected digitally means less need to be on the go physically, and can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle.

Create both digital and non-digital to-do lists, then alternate tasks. Being “always on” frequently means completing work tasks on the weekend—time that used to be spent on more physical activities. Reclaim your active weekends by alternating between tech tasks and physical ones. For example, after you spend some time dealing with work emails on Saturday, get up and do your laundry. If you devote an hour to surfing the web, follow up by walking to the market for groceries.

4. It’s increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Multiple studies have shown that multitasking is a myth. Using multiple computer monitors to work on different documents simultaneously doesn’t increase productivity, but it does increase your body’s cortisol levels in response to the stress multitasking induces. Elevated cortisol levels over time can lead to health problems like coronary artery disease.

Use the Pomodoro technique to separate tasks. This time management method involves setting a simple kitchen timer for 25 minutes, then working on a single task. Shut down all your technology (including email) during this time. At the end of 25 minutes (an interval called a “Pomodori,”), get up from your desk to walk and stretch for five minutes. Then perform another Pomodori. After four of these sessions, allow yourself a longer break to check email or, preferably, take a brisk walk. Not only will you accomplish more, but you may avoid the health hazards associated with multitasking.

5. It’s making you blue.

As much as we love the convenience of video chatting and Skype to interact with friends and family members, it’s still just video on a screen. A Gallup study found that human beings need up to six hours of social interaction a day to achieve a sense of thriving emotional well-being—and quality matters. Unfortunately, substituting technological communication won’t cut it, and then we frequently disengage once we’re in social situations by fiddling with our phones.

Wear a watch. You may not intend to be “one of those people” who pays more attention to the phone than the people surrounding you, but you get sucked into the smartphone vortex by peeking at it to check the time. As soon as you light up your phone’s face, you’re bombarded with alerts for new emails, text messages, funny social media updates—things that distract you from socializing with the warm bodies around you. Simply wearing a wristwatch helps you avoid looking at your cell phone in the first place, so you can reap the mood-enhancing effects of face-to-face interactions.

Ellen Vora

As a psychiatrist with an integrative focus, Ellen believes mental well-being is powerfully influenced by sleep, exercise, thought patterns, relationships, nutrition, spirituality and creative outlets. She incorporates a variety of modalities into her psychiatry practice, including acupuncture, yoga philosophy, breathing, and relaxation techniques in conjunction with conventional treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and psycho-pharmacology. Ellen believes mental health is fundamental to primary care and treats a range of health issues, from panic disorders to bipolar illness and ADHD to fibromyalgia. After graduating from Yale University, Ellen earned her MD at Columbia University and stayed on to complete an internship at Columbia University Medical Center. She began her postgraduate training at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center and completed her residency in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, and is a board-certified psychiatrist, licensed medical acupuncturist, and certified yoga instructor.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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