All manner of technology surrounds us. From our personal laptops, tablets, and phones to behind-the-scenes technology that furthers medicine, science, and education.

Technology is here to stay, but it’s always morphing and expanding. As each new technology enters the scene, it has the potential to improve lives. But, in some cases, it also has the potential to negatively affect physical and emotional health.

Read on as we take a look at a few possible negative effects of technology and provide tips on healthier ways to use it.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), prolonged use of computers, tablets, and cellphones can lead to digital eye strain.

Symptoms of digital eye strain may include:

  • blurred vision
  • dry eyes
  • headaches
  • neck and shoulder pain

Contributing factors are screen glare, bad lighting, and improper viewing distance.

The AOA recommends the 20-20-20 rule to ease eye strain. To follow this rule, try to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something that’s 20 feet away.

When you use a smartphone, the chances are that you’re holding your head in an unnatural forward-leaning position. This position puts a lot of stress on your neck, shoulders, and spine.

A small 2017 study found a clear association between self-reported addiction to smartphone use and neck problems.

An earlier study found that among teens, neck-shoulder pain and low back pain rose during the 1990s at the same time that the use of information and communication technology was increasing.

Overuse of technology can also lead to repetitive strain injuries of the fingers, thumbs, and wrists.

If you’re feeling the pain of technology, you can take the following steps to reduce these issues:

  • take frequent breaks to stretch
  • create an ergonomic workspace
  • maintain proper posture while using your devices

If pain persists, see a doctor.

Technology in the bedroom can interfere with sleep in a number of ways.

A 2015 study demonstrated that exposure to the blue light that devices emit can suppress melatonin and interrupt your circadian clock. Both of these effects can make it harder to fall asleep and result in you being less alert in the morning.

Having electronic devices in the bedroom places temptation at your fingertips, and it can make switching off more difficult. That, in turn, can make it harder to drift off when you try to sleep.

Using social media can make you feel more connected to the world. But, comparing yourself to others can leave you feeling inadequate or left out.

A recent study looked at the social media use of more than 1,700 people between the ages of 19 and 32. The researchers found that those with high social media use felt more socially isolated than those who spent less time on social media.

A 2011 cross-sectional survey of high school students in Connecticut found that internet use was problematic for about 4 percent of the participants.

The researchers said that there might be an association between problematic internet use and depression, substance use, and aggressive behavior. They also noted that high school boys, who, according to the researchers, tend to be heavier users of the internet, may be less aware of these problems.

A 2016 systematic review produced mixed findings on the relationship that social networks have with depression and anxiety. The evidence suggests that social network use correlates with mental illness and well-being.

However, the researchers noted that whether it has a beneficial or detrimental effect depends on the quality of social factors in the social network environment.

More research is necessary to make conclusions on cause and effect.

If social media use makes you feel anxious or depressed, try cutting back to see if doing so makes a difference.

The findings of a 2014 study suggest that even after factoring out junk food and exercise, technology appears to affect the health of children and teens.

The researchers used a broad definition of screen time that included:

  • television
  • video games
  • phones
  • tech toys

They conducted the simple correlational study using an anonymous online survey. The study authors concluded that parents and caregivers should help children learn to reduce overall screen time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, unstructured playtime is better for a child’s developing brain than electronic media. At 2 years old, children can benefit from some screen time, but it shouldn’t replace other important learning opportunities, including playtime.

Research has linked too much screen time or low-quality screen time to:

  • behavioral problems
  • less time for play and loss of social skills
  • obesity
  • sleep problems
  • violence

Like adults, children who spend a lot of time on digital devices can experience symptoms of eye strain. The AOA advises parents and caregivers to watch for signs of digital eye strain in children and to encourage frequent visual breaks.

A 2018 study of adolescents ages 15 and 16 found an association between frequent use of digital media and the development of symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study involved a longitudinal cohort of students who self-reported their use of 14 digital media activities, and it included a 24-month follow-up period. More research is necessary to confirm whether it’s a causal association.

What are the recommendations for screen time by age?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) makes the following recommendations for screen time:

Younger than 18 months Avoid screen time other than video chatting.
18 to 24 months Parents and caregivers can offer high-quality programs and watch them with their children.
2 to 5 years Limit to one hour per day of supervised high-quality programming.
6 years and above Place consistent limits on time and types of media. Media shouldn’t interfere with adequate sleep, exercise, or other behaviors that affect health.

The APA also recommends that parents and caregivers designate media-free times, such as dinner time, as well as media-free zones within the home.

Technology plays a role in virtually every part of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. These are just a few of the ways in which technology may positively affect our physical and mental health:

  • health apps to track chronic illnesses and communicate vital information to doctors
  • health apps that help you track diet, exercise, and mental health information
  • online medical records that give you access to test results and allow you to fill prescriptions
  • virtual doctor visits
  • online education and ease of research
  • enhanced communication with others, which can improve the feeling of connection

With each new advance in technology, it gets a bit easier to go overboard. When we get too caught up in it, we can feel it in our minds and bodies. So, how much is too much?

The answer is as individual as you are. Here are some signs that you might be leaning too heavily on technology:

  • Your family or friends complain about your tech use.
  • You’ve neglected relationships in favor of technology, which people sometimes refer to as phubbing.
  • It has interfered with your work.
  • You’re losing sleep or skipping physical activities due to technology use.
  • It’s causing you stress or anxiety, or you’re noticing physical side effects, such as tension headaches, eye strain, muscle pain, or overuse injuries.
  • You can’t seem to stop.

If that sounds familiar, here are some ways to cut back on screen time:

  • Clear your phone of unessential apps to keep you from constantly checking it for updates. Carve out a specific, limited amount of time to use your devices.
  • Turn some television time into physical activity time.
  • Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom. Charge them in another room. Turn clocks and other glowing devices toward the wall at bedtime.
  • Make mealtime gadget-free time.
  • Prioritize real-world relationships over online relationships.

If you’re responsible for children:

  • Limit their screen time, allowing it only at certain times of the day and restricting it during activities like meals and just before bedtime.
  • Know what they’re doing. Review their programs, games, and apps, and encourage the engaging ones over those that are passive.
  • Play games and explore technology together.
  • Take advantage of parental controls.
  • Make sure that children have regular, unstructured, tech-free playtime.
  • Encourage face time over online friendships.

Technology is a part of our lives. It can have some negative effects, but it can also offer many positive benefits and play an important role in education, health, and general welfare.

Knowing the possible negative effects can help you take steps to identify and minimize them so that you can still enjoy the positive aspects of technology.