Mental health & wellbeing

Ten ways technology is hurting our bodies and minds

Eve Ash /

Source: ImagineMD

Obsession with devices leaves us tangled and in pain! Tech neck. Mouse shoulder. Gamer’s thumb. Computer vision. Smartphone zombies – Smombies. 

For millennia, human beings walked upright and were attuned to their environments. Today an increasing number have heads down, necks bent, marching across busy streets, wearing earbuds, checking media, sending messages and paying no heed as cars swerve to miss them.

In the 21st century, our bodies may have met their match — not from sabre-tooth tigers, but from the way tech is causing us to gradually crumble in pain and increase our visits to the doctor.

Yes, we are indeed in danger of not evolving, thanks to people’s growing addiction to technology, especially in public places. Thanks in large part to an ‘innovation’ industry that never stops, there are at least five big things bothering us according to a recent ImagineMD summary of Google search trends data and media chatter. But let’s not stop at the top five!

The summary’s tech ailments graphics (courtesy of Imagine MD) tell the story.

Thumbs

Source: ImagineMD

According to US stats, thumbs suffer more than other body parts — pain, swelling, “sticking” from over-use of game consoles and, of course, texting. Many of us in fact use the index finger for texting, thanks to Apple. Either way, endlessly jabbing messages to each other is doing our digits few favours. Many experience tingling and “stop, go” sensations even when not using smartphones. Our opposable thumbs are being put to an evolutionary use that is perhaps a repetitive strain injury.

Elbows

Holding devices and your computer mouse at weird angles or bad desk heights is exacerbating carpal tunnel syndrome and other ailments. Sure, workers have experienced similar issues for decades, depending on the nature of their job, so technology isn’t the only culprit.

Doing anything with our bodies locked in unsuitable positions for extended periods is going to result in strain somewhere. Those who suffer cubital or carpal tunnel syndrome know how unpleasant and never-ending this gets. 

Tech necks

So many of us unconsciously jut our necks forward when using screens. You might be doing it right now (I certainly do). Tech necks put stress on our spines and cause poor posture. If you don’t want huge rehab bills down the track, it’s worth pretending you’re at one of those deportment schools where people walk around with books on their heads.

Draw your chin back in, as if you’re holding a soft piece of fruit to your chest. That’s the posture we’re meant to have, whether sitting or standing. Or sign up for those yoga or pilates classes you’ve been considering.

Damaged eyes

Source: ImagineMD

Prolonged staring at screens (often without much blinking) causes dry eyes, headaches and blurriness. You’re turning into Rip van Winkle who fell asleep for twenty years and awoke in a scary, unfamiliar future.

Your addiction is nagging you, as much as Rip’s wife did. Make a point of stopping every (say) 20 minutes, do a big stretch, this way and that way, and go for a walk or brisk walking meeting outside. Take phone calls walking not staring. Stand at a window looking out. Look at the sky. Observe what’s going on around you. Close your eyes for a few minutes.

Shoulders

Source: ImagineMD

Shoulders bear the brunt of so many foolish, repetitive movements. The mythical Atlas made lifting the entire world part of his daily routine, but the rest of us need to be more careful.  Maintaining hunched shoulders while we work or browse on our devices is generating strain and pain, as time melts into hours and days.

Straighten up and break the flow. Investing in regular gym sessions pays better dividends.

Spines and backs

Our skeleton is interlaced. What you’re doing with your thumbs, necks, elbows and shoulders translates immediately to your back. With workplaces committing more to ergonomics, instigating standing desks and so forth, you can assume responsibility for your physical health right now instead of ignoring the future.

Loss of overall strength

Aside from increasingly prehensile thumbs, all of the above are contributing mightily to loss of physical strength. Our lapping up of tech ‘innovation’ is causing many of us to resemble the proverbial boiled frogs — we don’t notice the problem because the water is slowly heating up. By the time the problem is recognised, the frog is cooked.

Start taking your posture seriously. Be mindful of how you’re sitting and what you’re doing — today and every day.

Nomophobia

People are experiencing irrational fears when they are separated from their phones or end up in an area with poor signal. I was on the way to the airport recently, and part way there I realised I’d left my phone at home and thought there was not enough time with the traffic to get off the freeway and go back. My partner, who was driving me, noticed I was starting to freak out and asked “what’s worse, missing your plane or being without your phone for a day?”. That helped me make the decision – “please go back” – and lucky for me I still made it to the plane.

Phantom vibration syndrome

People are so on edge waiting for their phone to ring, they will at times falsely perceive the vibration or ring of their phone. Pathetic isn’t it?!

Impatient, ratty behaviour

Have you noticed how extensive, repetitious use of technology (especially gaming and poring over social media) leads to quite sub-optimal behaviour? Some retreat, feeling more and more inadequate as they go from friend to enemy on Facebook and Instagram, never opting for “out of sight, out of mind”.

Meanwhile many are excessively poring over what they’re viewing. They are “in the zone” of some game or immersed in a podcast, snapping and snarling at any interruption like lions quarreling over a juicy antelope. Device addiction is not improving human behaviour. Now I really have to stop and think about my own!

There’s really two main remedies to the above. Make regular time to exercise (cardio and strength-building) and go for walks, preferably in natural environments.

Come to your senses. Absorb silence, layers of sounds, smells and sights. Notice people and contexts once more. Feel your whole self become restored to life, survival, longevity.

NOW READ: Ten communication skills to improve work relationships

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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