One more reason to limit your time on social media

I am certainly not one to judge here. Every now and then I find myself practicing the worst social media habits, constantly reaching for my phone to check through my various feeds, even till just before I turn off my bed lamp at night. It’s addictive and it comes with all sorts of negative effects on your health. Now new research has come to light showing that excessive online use can put your immunity at risk and increase your chances of contracting the flu.

The recently released research study, which was conducted by Swansea and Milan Universities, found that those who spend more than four hours a day online for personal use, (so over and above work) reported more cold and flu symptoms than those who spend less time online. The study involved 500 men and women between the ages of 18 and 100.

Those who spend in excess of four hours a day online for personal use reported more cold and flu symptoms than those who spend less time online

“According to We are Social – an international social media and marketing agency – South Africans already spend an average of five hours a day online whether they’re on a PC, laptop or tablet and on top of that an additional three hours could be spent surfing the net on their cellphones, which puts their immunity at even greater risk,” Pharma Dynamics spokesperson Mariska van Aswegen explained in a statement.

The study found that those who are addicted to the internet may experience even more stress when being unplugged from the net, and that this cycle of stress and relief may lead to an increase in cortisol levels.

“Cortisol is the stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, which plays an important role in regulating the immune system,” van Aswegen explains. “If you’re experiencing a lot of stress – in this case as a result of being disconnected from the web – your cortisol levels remain elevated, which can lead to more regular infections, such as colds and flu, chronic inflammation, allergies and even autoimmune diseases.”

Excessive internet use by young people could also lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to substance abusers. A study conducted by the Department of Adult Psychiatry in Poland Medical University, showed that internet addiction was seen to be quite common among young people. Based on the study, every fourth child was addicted to the internet, which is concerning as children are still in their formative years.

“These days, access to the internet is mandatory in most schools and teachers expect learners to use the internet to do their research. This makes it important for parents to review their approach when it comes to educating children about technology and to limit their internet use, at least while they’re at home.

“Screen time in general should be restricted to an hour a day for children between the ages of 2 and 5, and no more than two hours a day for those aged between 5 and 18.

Screen time in general should be restricted to an hour a day for children between the ages of 2 and 5, and no more than two hours a day for those aged between 5 and 18

“It’s easy for all of us to escape to the internet when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or lonely. It’s the one thing that provides us with a constant, ever-changing source of entertainment, information and tools that are accessible through TVs, PCs, smart phones and tablets, but aside from increasing our risk of infection, too much time online can also lead to a host of other ills. These could include decreased productivity at work or at school, overspending when e-shopping or gambling for example, while excessive use of social networking sites takes bonding time away from family or friends.

“It doesn’t really matter if you use the internet to shop online, for social media, gaming, trading shares or work, it’s the amount of time you spend online that makes you more susceptible to illness, and which we should guard against. How much time however differs from one individual to the next.

“One way to determine healthy vs unhealthy internet use is by a person’s decision to interact online instead of in person or spending time online instead of dealing with important tasks in life. If you start isolating yourself from friends or family to spend more time online or become defensive about how much time you spend on the net, you might have a problem and need to re-evaluate your screen time,” says van Aswegen.

I found that turning off push notifications for social media apps makes a huge difference, as well as any flashing lights that indicate messages. Another trick is to turn your Do Not Disturb on between 9pm and 7pm, so that you only receive phone calls but no other disturbances come through.

I know this is easier said than done but I think we should all strive to look away from our screens a little more often.

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