ADVICE: Is it gross to use your phone in the bathroom?

Beyond the germs, there's a mental health cost to being glued to our phones all day.

Maja Begovic 4 minute read August 27, 2021
phone germs

Some people take their phone absolutely everywhere.

Dear Asking For a Friend,

My husband takes his phone into the bathroom with him and it drives me crazy. I’m worried about germs being transferred to our kitchen counter and our fridge. Being plugged in all the time can’t be good for his mind and body either. Is there a way to curb his obsession?

Signed, Phone Addict

Dear Phone Addict,

You’re right to be concerned about the transfer of all those germs, and about your husband’s wellbeing. The way we’re glued to our phone screens is part of everyday life, but all that connectivity comes at a cost. Research shows that obsessively scrolling through our phone can affect our mood, disrupt our sleep and work-life balance. When we’re sleep-deprived and overworked, we often feel scattered, anxious and disconnected from ourselves.

Your husband definitely isn’t alone in his bathroom habits – a recent survey found that 88 per cent of respondents scroll through their phone while on the toilet. This may be relaxing to some, but handling the phone with unwashed hands can cause E.coli and other bacteria to accumulate on its surface. British researchers have corroborated these findings in their own study and found that phone screens are three times dirtier than a toilet seat. For that reason, it’s good to clean your phone screen daily — or, at the very least, a few times a week.

Beyond the germs themselves, smartphones can rob us of our quiet time, which our brains need to improve creativity, productivity, attention and memories. According to Joseph Eliezer, a registered psychotherapist, clinical counsellor and author based in British Columbia, downtime is important to our health and wellbeing as it can help us rest, process and integrate our thoughts and emotions, which he says, are often more congruent with who we are at our core.

“Much like dreaming, downtime can be used as a tool for psychological housekeeping,” says Eliezer. “The more we make use of downtime, the more productive we can become when trying to live our best lives, and be our best selves.”

He warns that in the long run, not having downtime can be a significant contributor to increased feelings of anxiety, a deepening sense of depression, intensified feelings of isolation and decreased capacity to have meaningful connections with self and others.

“If we don’t prioritize downtime, our minds, lives, and relationships can become cluttered and confusing, leaving us to feel like we’re always running after, but seldom catch up to ourselves,” says Eliezer.

Chronic phone use can put stress on our hands, neck, spine, and our respiratory function. Researchers found that respiratory function lowers in a slumped sitting position, and most people hunch over their cell phones while using it. Luckily, the smartphone slump can be reversed with targeted exercises and by holding the phone at eye level or using it while lying down.

The good news is that a little digital detox can help your husband dial down on his phone obsession and give him his time back. Using an actual alarm clock, switching to grayscale mode, wiping email and social media from the home screen, and turning off notifications, may make the phone less enticing for your husband and may reduce his screen time.

But a digital detox may not work for everyone. Evidence suggests that people who have become overly dependent on their smartphone can experience stress, anxiety and withdrawal-like symptoms when they separate from their devices. If your husband can’t seem to part with his phone, a mental health professional can provide guidance and counselling.

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