While having a good relationship with the internet and our devices is a hard thing to quantify, it’s easier to see what the common effects of poor digital wellbeing are.
By now, we should all have a good idea of what digital wellbeing is and how it impacts us - but we’ve created a pretty exhaustive information portal if you’d like to learn about the subject in more detail.
It’s important for everyone given the centrality of the online world to modern life, with the average Joe - or Josephine - spending nearly seven hours glued to their screen(s) every day (DataReportal).
Studies have found that an increase in internet usage leads to a wide range of physical health problems that can become more serious in later life.
However, the implications of the internet for health are not limited to how long we spend online - it’s also what we are doing there - and how we’re doing it - that matters. And unfortunately, people can be well aware of their bad habits - and just keep doing them anyway!
To motivate you to be more mindful, this article will run through some of the key consequences for our physical health that will affect us all at some point, if we do not take responsibility for our digital wellbeing, and look after ourselves:
Physical Health Conditions from Poor Digital Wellness
Back pain can result from using your devices with poor posture, awkward positioning, or inadequate support - activities which can all wreak havoc on your back.
Elevated blood pressure is the expected consequence of sitting in one place for hours on end, with a recent study finding this in teenagers who spend over 14 hours online per week (Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital).
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve-related condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling. It can occur in the thumb, index finger and middle finger, inside of the wrist and forearm, and there can also be pain in the palm of the hand.
Eye strain can result from staring at a screen for too long. Symptoms include but are not restricted to: blurred or double vision, watery or dry eyes, increased sensitivity to light, difficulty concentrating, headache, and sore, itchy eyes.
Headaches are often a symptom of poor device posture or eye strain.
Hearing loss can arrive as early as your twenties, and can be precipitated by listening to your digital devices with the volume too high. Indeed, an estimated 1.1 billion young people around the world are at risk of losing their hearing due to unsafe listening habits - particularly with regard to listening to music on headphones (WTO).
Heart trouble is a likely problem that people will experience if they spend too much time sitting in front of a computer or TV, and don’t do enough exercise.
Sleep problems can be caused by using our devices before bedtime, since the blue light from devices increases alertness, stimulates our minds, and essentially wakes us up or stops us from becoming sleepy in the first place.
These conditions can cause insomnia or bad sleep quality, which in turn can lead to an unfulfilling and unproductive day to follow. Not good for work or play!
Text neck is the common name for a type of repetitive strain caused by constantly looking down at a smartphone or tablet - though typing at a computer is more damaging than sending texts. Symptoms can include pain in the neck, upper back and/or shoulders, damage to posture, reduced mobility, and headaches, among others.
Trigger thumb - also called smartphone thumb or texting tendonitis - causes cramping in the between the index finger and thumb; stiffness, numbness and clicking in the thumb and also sometimes a throbbing pain.
Poor Digital Wellbeing & Mental Health
As if these physical health problems are not already enough, we also have to consider the impact of the internet and our devices on our mental and emotional health, and how physical health problems can feed into these issues.
The digital world can be a harmful place, particularly for people with preexisting mental health issues, but anyone can be affected by graphic or violent content, or by bad experiences like fraud, identity theft, and cyberbullying.
Internet addiction is a real thing that affects an estimated 420 million people around the world (Motherboard), and this has obvious ramifications for mental health.
Excessive internet usage has been found to increase levels of psychological arousal, and this can result in less sleep, insufficient exercise, and not eating for long periods. And people affected by this can experience problems like depression, OCD, and anxiety.
It can also cause digital burnout, which refers to the feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and apathy caused by spending too much time on our devices. Some of the main signs of this are low energy levels, sleep problems, or even chest pains.
But the causes of deteriorating mental health can seem innocuous. For instance, poor self esteem can come from simply spending time on social media, since we can begin to feel that our lives do not match up with the distorted representations others post about their own lives.
High social media usage can also lead to feelings of depression and dependency in some people.
Taken together, the health issues caused by the internet are a pressing concern in the modern world, and something that we should take seriously if we’re to get the most out of life.
Start Building Better Habits Today
It can be quite shocking to realize how much a bad relationship with our devices can affect our health - and this before even considering how too much internet usage can impact our relationship with friends and family, or stop us from focusing on what’s important to us in life.
Thankfully, it doesn't take much for most of us to improve our digital wellbeing; ultimately, this comes down to developing - and sustaining - healthy day-to-day habits, and we’ve created a personal checklist to get you started on this journey.