The internet and new technologies do some awesome things for society, but there is a darker side too. This article explores the health ramifications of so much screen time, and the new conditions that have emerged in the last decade.

This article looks in depth at 9 common health complaints associated with technologies, suggesting ways to alleviate these issues, and giving options for more information and support. However, if you are concerned about any aspect of your health, visiting a medical professional is always the way to go.

Cybersickness (also known as Virtual Reality Sickness)

Cybersickness is comparable to motion sickness or travel sickness, during which it’s thought the brain is confused by conflicting information.

Our eyes might be fooled into telling the brain we are physically in motion when viewing huge IMAX screens, 3D movies, games and TV, or increasingly higher resolution moving images on smart-phones and tablets. At the same time our bodies are telling the brain we are sitting still. This can lead to symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, drowsiness and disorientation.

What does the research tell us?

There is little concrete scientific information in this area in terms of how many of us might be affected; partly because new technology advances so quickly and partly because there are a wide range of variables. All the technologies above might affect different people to different degrees, and the symptoms might also be affected by the field of vision (i.e. how much of your sight is taken up by the screen), the angle of viewing, time spent viewing, and an individual’s familiarity with these kinds of viewing experience.

A news report stated that health experts warned up to 10% of people watching 3D movies, TV or games could experience some cybersickness. However, others quoted in the report estimated the figure to be nearer to 5%, and that symptoms might be more likely in those who have reduced vision.

Anecdotally, there were complaints that the changes in Apple’s iOS 7 made some users feel nauseated; including the parallax effect (where icons appear to move independently of the background, creating a more 3D effect), the zooming effect when apps are opened and closed and the higher resolution of the screen.

What can you do?

It’s been suggested that simply looking away from the screen in order to allow the brain and body a chance to get its bearings can reduce symptoms (similar to the advice to concentrate on the horizon to combat sea sickness).

You may also be able to change the settings on your device to reduce on-screen motion.

Some scientists suggest the brain is adaptable and can build tolerance to these more realistic, immersive viewing experiences.

Phantom vibration syndrome

This is reportedly a common experience, when you think you feel your phone vibrate only to pull it out and find there was in fact no text, email or notification. A professor at Indiana University found that 89% of the undergraduates in her study had experienced these phantom vibrations about every two weeks on average.

What does the research tell us?

It might be more common amongst men, who more often carry their phone in a pocket; although those who carry their phone in a bag can also mistakenly believe their phone is vibrating or ringing.Even though it might only be a minor annoyance in itself, the deeper question is what is behind it psychologically. Psychologist Larry Rosen suggests we are so anxiously anticipating a message or alert at any given time, we mistake other physical sensations (clothes rubbing on skin or muscle contractions) as phone vibration. This might suggest an obsessive or addictive relationship with our mobile devices. There is concern that this ‘fear of missing out’ and being constantly connected to our technology might get in the way of other areas of our lives – not least spending real time with friends and family – if we are overwhelmingly anxious about dealing with messages and alerts and less able to focus.

What can you do?

Rosen suggests taking regular breaks from technology to, for instance, walk, just go outside or talk to someone in person. Another idea is to only check or communications on a schedule at specific times, turning them off in-between.


This is a relatively new term for the fear of being out of mobile phone contact (‘no mobile phone phobia’). Although it doesn’t appear in the current Manual of Mental Disorders, it has been proposed as a specific phobia. Anxiety could be caused by physically not having access to the phone, running out of battery or having no signal.

There are some understandable worries about being without working a phone; being unable to contact friends or family, unable to find information or directions and feeling disconnected from our online identity. But Nomophobia could become a problem when these worries cause more serious anxiety or panic.

What does the research tell us?

Psychology Today reports that the original UK study which coined the term found that 53 percent of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they are unable to use their phone, with stress levels on average at the level of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist. A more recent U.S. study states, if they lost their phone, 73% would feel “panicked,” while another 14% would feel “desperate.”

What can you do?

As with Phantom Vibration, it’s suggested that taking regular breaks from technology and/or checking it only on a schedule for a limited amount of time could help reduce any unhealthy anxiety of being without it. You might also want to consider taking a longer break of a day or more, and avoid sleeping with your device beside you.

Internet gaming disorder

With the advances in broadband technology and the rise of online gaming, often with many other players in ‘second life’ or ‘massive multiplayer online role playing games ‘, there have been reports that some gamers are playing compulsively for very long hours, to the exclusion of other areas of their lives. This could affect their academic or job performance and their real world social relationships, and can lead to symptoms of withdrawal when pulled away from gaming.

What does the research tell us?

Whilst not yet a “formal,” disorder, it has been included in the Manual of Mental Disorders as an area that requires further study. They state that Internet Gaming Disorder is most common in male adolescents 12 to 20 years of age and according to studies is thought to be more prevalent in Asian countries than in North America and Europe.

What can you do?

Again, taking regular breaks and setting sensible limits on the amount of time spent playing online games can help achieve a balance with time and energy in other areas of life, and hopefully minimise compulsive behaviour.

There is also an organisation, On-Line Gamers Anonymous, which acts as a self-help and support network for those struggling with excessive online gaming. Although it’s U.S. based, their website offers information (including their ’12 steps’ to recovery), forums and chat rooms.

Internet addiction disorder

This can involve a much wider range of compulsive online activities including gaming, social networking, blogging, email, pornography and internet shopping. Those affected might experience withdrawal when not able to access the internet and need to spend longer and longer online to achieve the same pleasure from it.

Again, this is not currently included in the Manual of Mental Disorders. Although there have been suggestions it should be, they note that a large percentage of those showing symptoms also display other diagnosable mental health disorders. Opinion is split as to whether internet addiction is a distinct disorder in its own right or a symptom of underlying anxiety, depression or other issues. For instance, someone who compulsively searches for gambling websites or information online might have a gambling problem rather than an internet addiction.

What does the research tell us?

The Victorian government Better Health website mentions a recent study in the USA which showed that 4% of college students aged between 18 and 20 showed problematic internet behaviour and that College and university students may be particularly vulnerable to addiction. However, the existing research is inconclusive.

What can you do?

Better Health suggests, if you think your internet use might be out of control, that you keep a record of your online activities, thoughts and feelings. From this, you might be able to explore why you use the internet so much and if there may be any underlying issues behind excessive use.

If you aren’t able to reduce your internet use to a level you’re comfortable with, they also suggest Cognitive Behavioural Therapy might be an option, which you can ask your doctor about.


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