Healthy Living

Students' Cell Phone Use May Increase Anxiety, Decrease GPA And Happiness: How Less Texting Can Improve Your Overall Health

College students using digital devices
Frequent use of cell phones may increase anxiety, and decrease GPA and happiness. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

The prevalence of digital devices on campus makes it inevitable for college students to rely on this medium to engage with their peers in the digital age. Easy accessibility to information 24/7 for students leads to frequent mobile use for non-classroom purposes, such as texting, tweeting, or sending emails. Excessive cell phone usage can lead to an increase in anxiety, and a decrease in academic performance and happiness, according to a recent study.

College students are viewed as the most rapid adapters of cell phone technology. In a survey conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder, researchers found students used their smartphones mostly in transportation, idle time at work or school, while waiting in line, and as the first and last thing they did when they woke up in the morning and went to sleep. The frequent use of cell phones in these situations are unrelated to voice calls or the urgency to contact someone. Instead, the phones were used as a means of entertainment. This type of cell phone usage could be detrimental to an individual’s health, researchers find, because the constant availability via phones can generate stress and produce the feeling of never being free, difficulty separating work and private life, and feelings of guilt from unreturned calls or messages.

Publishing in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, a team of researchers from Kent State University sought to investigate the relationship between daily cell phone use and anxiety, level of life satisfaction, and a student's GPA in a large cohort of college students. More than 500 undergraduate students who were equally distributed by class (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior) were surveyed. In addition, 82 different, self-reported majors were represented.

The participants allowed the researchers to access their official university records in order to retrieve their actual, cumulative college GPA. Researchers measured the cell phone’s complete range of functions, along with their anxiety levels, using Beck’s Anxiety Inventory.

The findings revealed showed cell phone use/texting was negatively related to GPA and positively related to anxiety. GPA was found to be positively related to happiness while anxiety was negatively related to happiness, according to the news release. Overall, those with high cell phone use tended to have a lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life or happiness compared to their peers who reportedly used their cell phones less. These results add to the argument that students’ cell phone use may negatively impact academic performance, mental health, and subjective well-being or happiness.

A similar study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found high cell phone use was linked to poor fitness in college students. Those who spent as much as 14 hours per day on their mobile devices were ranked as less fit than those who averaged a little more than 90 minutes of cell phone use daily.

Cell phone users may be able to balance their mood and avoid the need to have constant connectivity by stepping away from their device. A digital diet can slowly be implemented in one’s everyday life to prevent the physical and mental health effects of constant cell phone use. For example, when going out to dinner with friends, everyone should put their phones on the table, face down, stacked one on top of the other, suggests Daniel Sieberg, a former science and technology reporter, who wrote the book The Digital Diet: The 4-Step Plan To Break Your Tech Addiction and Regain Balance in Your Life. The first person to grab his or her phone has to pick up the whole tab for the table. Clever tactics and strategies will ensure the existence of a healthy balance between cell phone use and face-to-face engagement with others.

For more tips on how to reduce cell phone use, click here.

Sources: Barkley JE, Gates P, Lepp A et al. The relationship between cell phone use, physical and sedentary activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness in a sample of U.S. college students. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013. 

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