If you're like many people, you've probably decided to spend less time staring at your phone.
That's a good idea: there's growing evidence that the time we spend on our smartphones is interfering with our sleep, self-esteem, relationships, memory, attention span, creativity, productivity, and ability to solve problems and make decisions.
But there is another reason to rethink our relationship with these devices. By raising levels of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone, for a long time, our phones could threaten our health and shorten our lives.
So far, most of the discussion about the biochemical effects of cell phones has focused on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us form habits and addictions. Like slot machines, smartphones and apps are clearly designed to trigger the release of dopamine to make it hard to put down our devices.
This manipulation of our dopamine system is why many experts believe we are becoming behaviorally addicted to our phones. But the effect of our phones on cortisol may be even more worrying.
Cortisol is the main hormone that affects fight-flight decisions. Its release triggers physiological changes, such as spikes in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, that help us respond to urgent physical threats and survive.
If your body is in real danger, such as a bull charging at you, these reactions can save your life. But our bodies also release cortisol in response to emotional stress, in which case an increased heart rate doesn't do much good, like checking your phone to find an angry email from your boss.
4 hours a day
If this is only an occasional occurrence, the spike in cortisol caused by cell phones may not be important. But according to Moment, a tracking app, the average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone, and keeps it within reach almost all the time. As a result, as Google notes in a report, "mobile devices equipped with social media, email and news applications" create "an ongoing sense of responsibility that creates unexpected personal pressures."
When your phone is in or near your line of sight, or when you hear it, or even think you hear it, your cortisol levels go up. "Said David Greenfield, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Connecticut school of medicine and the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. "It's a stress response, it's uncomfortable, and the body's natural response is to look at the phone and let that stress go."
“当你的手机在你的视线范围内或附近，又或者当你听到它，甚至认为你听到它时，你的皮质醇水平就会升高。”康涅狄格大学(University of Connecticut)医学院的临床精神病学教授、互联网和科技成瘾研究中心(Center for Internet and Technology Addiction)的创始人大卫·格林菲尔德(David Greenfield)说。“这是一种压力反应，它让人感到不舒服，而身体的自然反应是想要看看手机，让这种压力消失。”
While this may calm you down for a while, it may make things worse in the long run. Every time you check your phone, you're likely to find that some other stress is waiting for you, leading to another surge in cortisol and another desire to check your phone to make your anxiety go away. If this cycle continues to intensify, it can lead to long-term increases in cortisol levels.
And long-term increases in cortisol levels have been linked to an increased risk of a variety of serious health problems, including depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, fertility problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia in the elderly and stroke.
Every chronic disease we know is exacerbated by stress, said Robert Lustig, emeritus professor of pediatric endocrinology at The University of California, San Francisco and author of "The Hacking of The American Mind." "And our phones are definitely exacerbating that."
“我们所知的各种慢性病都会因压力而恶化，”加州大学旧金山分校(University of California, San Francisco)儿科内分泌学荣休教授、《美国人心智的黑客》(The Hacking of the American Mind)一书作者罗伯特·拉斯蒂格(Robert Lustig)说。“而我们的手机无疑在加剧这一点。”
In addition to the potential long-term health effects, the stress caused by smartphones can affect us in ways that are directly life-threatening.
Elevated cortisol levels can damage the prefrontal cortex, a brain region essential for decision-making and rational thinking. "The prefrontal cortex is the brain's Jiminy Cricket [in Pinocchio], known for being intelligent, funny and optimistic. "Rusti said. "It keeps us from doing stupid things."
Damage to the prefrontal cortex can lead to decreased self-control. When coupled with a desire to reduce anxiety, it can lead us to do things that might currently reduce stress but are potentially fatal, like texting while driving.
If we're constantly worrying that something bad is about to happen, the effects of stress can be magnified, whether it's physical attacks or infuriating comments on social media. (in the case of cellphones, this hypervigilance is sometimes manifested as' phantom vibrations, 'in which people feel their phones vibrating in their pockets when they don't have them.)
Everything we do, everything we experience, affects our physiology and changes our brain circuits so that our response to stress increases or decreases, Bruce McEwen, director of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University. McEwan also points out that our base cortisol levels rise and fall on a regular 24-hour cycle, a rhythm that can be thrown into chaos if we sleep less than seven to eight hours a night, which can easily happen if we check our phones before bed. This ends up making the body less resilient to stress, increasing the risk of all of these stress-related health conditions. Taken together, we spend so much time involuntarily checking our phones that we may end up doing much more than just wasting time. Break the cycle The good news is that if we break this anxiety-driven cycle, we can lower cortisol levels, potentially improving short-term judgment and reducing the risk of long-term stress-related health problems. Over time, McEwan says, it may even be possible to retrain the brain so that our response to stress doesn't go into a hair-trigger state in the first place. To make your phone less stressful, start by turning off all notifications, leaving only the ones you really want to receive. Next, notice how you feel when using different apps. Which ones do you check out of anxiety? What do you find stressful? Hide these apps in folders off the home screen. It would be nice to delete them for a few days and see how they feel. Regular rest is also an effective way to regain your body's chemical balance and regain a sense of control. A 24-hour digital Sabbath" may have an unexpected soothing effect (once the initial agitation has subsided), but even putting your phone aside at lunch is a step in the right direction.
“我们所做的每件事，所经历的每件事，都会对我们的生理机能产生影响，并改变我们的脑回路，使我们对压力的反应程度增强或减弱，”洛克菲勒大学(Rockefeller University)哈罗德和玛格丽特·米利肯·哈奇神经内分泌学实验室(Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology)主任布鲁斯·麦克尤恩(Bruce McEwen)说。
Also, try to be aware of how anxiety-induced phone cravings are felt in the brain and body -- rather than immediately adapting to them. "If you practice paying attention to the internal processes of your body, you realize that you can choose how you respond," said Jack Kornfield, a buddhist instructor at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. "We don't need to get bogged down in algorithms that reinforce the fear of missing out."
Unfortunately, establishing healthy boundaries isn't easy, because these devices are designed to blur those boundaries. But by lowering our stress levels, building healthy boundaries will not only make us feel better day by day. It may actually extend our lives.
此外，尽力去留意焦虑引起的玩手机的欲望在大脑和身体里的感受是怎样的——而不是立即顺应它们。“如果你去练习留意身体的内部过程，你会意识到你可以选择如何作出回应，”加州灵石禅修中心(Spirit Rock Meditation Center)的佛教导师杰克·康菲尔德(Jack Kornfield)说。“我们没必要让自己被一些算法所牵制，它们会增强害怕错过的心理。”