Feeling Depressed? Change This One Common Habit, Says New Study

A public health study highlights two healthy habits that researchers found might help lift your spirits.

Feeling down? One universal habit might be to blame. Consider that moment when you get the alert that monitors how much time you spend on your phone. In June 2022 the market research group, Statista, surveyed a sample of over 2,000 American adults to conclude that almost half of us are spending five to six hours per day on our smart phones. Meanwhile, a new psychiatry study has cited 2021 data that suggested the “global prevalence rate of mobile phone addiction is 28.3%.” That’s right: based on these figures, nearly a third of us are addicted to our phones.

What is mobile phone addiction? Public health researchers in China led the new August 2022 cell phone addiction study, defining this addiction as “the excessive dependence on mobile phones in daily life while engaged in other activities, such as studying, partying, and even driving.” In their report, published in the peer-reviewed BMC Psychiatry, the researchers assessed rates of cell phone use, depression scores, relationship quality, and sleep quality among 450 medical students of which 39% identified as male, and 61% identified as female.

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Cell phone addiction and depression

The researchers who led the study reported their finding “that mobile phone addiction was a significant predictor of depression in medical students.” This point, they say, backs up the findings of “many existing studies.”

Why are cell phones contributing to depression? The researchers point to a small handful of main factors. One is the scientifically demonstrated trend that mobile phone use, especially at night, can disrupt sleep quality. The researchers for the current study cited past cell phone and steep research when they noted:

“The intense stimulation brought by the mobile phone network makes it difficult for students to fall asleep immediately after putting down the mobile phone. The emission of blue light from the mobile phone screen also interferes with the circadian rhythm and affects sleep hygiene. … At the same time, due to poor sleep quality and the physical and psychological effects of this, some students are even more prone to depression, anxiety and other negative emotions.”

To help further explain how a lack of sleep can be a real bummer, a psychology study at the University of California, Berkeley was just published in August 2022 in PLOS Biology. The study sheds more possible light on how not getting enough sleep can contribute to psychological, emotional, and social problems, as it concluded that one night of sleep loss “triggers the withdrawal of help from one individual to another,” and that even just an hour of lost sleep interfered with areas of the brain that facilitate “prosociality,” or authentically relating to others in a way that is kind and helpful. Based on this conclusion, our cell phones are messing with our brains’ abilities to help us connect with others—and this is detrimental to our mental wellness.

Blue light also has another surprising impact—read One Major Effect of Blue Light on Your Skin, Says Research

This point leads to what the Chinese researchers in the current study found was another main cause of depression from cell phone overuse: indeed it seems that incessantly reaching for the phone is getting in the way of many individuals’ knack for forming healthy interpersonal relationships. The researchers reported:

“Students with better peer relationships are more likely to have better sleep quality, and thus, a lower risk of depression. Second, …. It can be inferred that students with good peer relationships release stress effectively through talking, thus reducing the probability of depression. Moreover, students with good peer relationships have higher psychological resiliency in the face of sleep disorders. They have a greater ability to self-regulate and minimize the negative effects of sleep disturbances. Thus, the quality of peer relationships can effectively regulate the association between sleep quality and depression.”

So the moral of these studies may be pretty simple: many of us need to unplug, and connect more.

A Guide to Healthy Relationships (and How to Spot Unhealthy Ones)

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Kristine Gasbarre
Krissy is the senior editor leading content for TheHealthy.com and “The Healthy” section of Reader’s Digest magazine. For two decades she has worked in digital media, books, and magazines and is a #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling ghostwriter. Her work has been featured in Reader’s Digest, People, the New York Times, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Sirius/XM Oprah Radio, and more. With degrees in psychology and cultural media studies, she assisted with a clinical research project at the Cleveland Clinic and is a certified group fitness instructor, the owner of two irresistible rescued dogs, and the partner of a physician leader in healthcare quality who is also a stage IV lymphoma survivor.