“Look, there are two types of people in the world,” said Nir Eyal, an author and speaker who writes about habits, focus and human behavior. “People checking their phone in the bathroom and people lying about checking their phone in the bathroom.”
The practice is normally kept behind locked bathroom doors and left politely without discussion. But in October, there was a change of mood, brought about by the release of “Marvel Snap”, a new card game available on phones and tablets. “Marvel Snap is the best game to play on the toilet right now,” popular streamer and content creator Saqib “Lirik” Zahid tweeted to his nearly 650,000 followers. “I hate Marvel Snap and my toilet seat too,” said a headline on video game website VG247. And while full disclosure may not be desired by readers of an article like this, I feel compelled to say: I, too, play “Marvel Snap” on the toilet. I am Spartacus!
Marvel Snap is the best game to play on the toilet right now. About to load after this tweet.
— Lyrics (@LIRIK) November 15, 2022
Which prompted the question: Is it healthy to sit on the toilet with a phone? I turned to a gastroenterologist for answers.
“You generally don’t want to spend more than about 10 minutes on average,” said Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone and author of “Gut Renovation,” a book on digestive health. Although Raj acknowledged that – as with many things in medicine – there is no single answer, she pointed to three potential pain points for preoccupied poops.
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First, sitting for long periods of time can lead to hemorrhoids, sometimes painful swollen veins in the anal area. Part of that comes down to the toilet’s unique functional design.
“There’s a hole in the middle,” Raj said. “And so the actual anorectal area hangs a bit lower than the part that’s being supported – your thighs. Just by that position, gravity causes everything to hang down a bit, which causes pressure on the veins. So even if you don’t force yourself, if you’re just sitting there thinking about something else, doing something else, some pressure is being applied to those veins.
More subtly, there is also the risk that your body will begin to ignore its own signals. Peristalsis is the name for the gradual contractions that move stool from the bowel to the rectum. But sitting on the toilet for long periods of time without doing anything can hinder this process.
“If you sit too long and don’t go to the bathroom, that kind of process actually stops,” Raj said. “Your body may also start not recognizing these signals, which can lead to constipation if you sit for long periods of time on the toilet without a bowel movement.” That risk, Raj noted, is more likely to be one of many factors in issues like constipation, rather than the driving force.
Then there’s the most obvious factor: bathrooms can be gross. Research shows that a flush can aerosolize pathogens, spreading them to nearby surfaces. This can include your phone, if you put it on a sink near the toilet, for example. But even beyond aerosolized bacteria, there are risks posed by poor hygiene.
“I see a lot of people getting food poisoning or getting different things from not having good bathroom hygiene practices,” Raj said. If you play video games or use your phone in the bathroom, you’re probably touching a lot of things that you might not want on your device. “I just think generally speaking, if you’re in the bathroom defecating or trying to move, you shouldn’t be using your fingers on anything else.”
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If you stick to healthy deadlines and, most importantly, always maintain good personal hygiene, your behavior probably doesn’t need to change. But if you want to make a change, there are simple ways to do it.
For starters, don’t put a moral value on staying in the bathroom too long, warned Eyal, the author and speaker. Rumination about behavior can be “more mentally damaging to our mental health than the behavior itself,” he said. Just be intentional about your behavior, making plans for what you do in certain contexts.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking your phone to the bathroom for a few minutes and doing your things and then stepping outside,” Eyal said. “But if you said, ‘Oh, I was planning on being with my kids, but now I’ve been in the bathroom for 30 minutes scrolling on TikTok or Instagram,’ well, now you’re distracted, because you planned to do something and now you’re not doing it. So that’s the best advice: know what you wanted to do with your time so that you could prioritize spending your time doing that thing, rather than to lose it in the bathroom.
It’s also important to remember that phones and other mobile devices aren’t inherently bad, or overwhelmingly distracting. If you’re constantly losing track of time, ask yourself if you’re sensitive to bigger stressors in your life and how you feel in general.
“90% of the time we’re distracted by our phones in particular, it’s because of what’s going on inside of us,” Eyal said. “Boredom, loneliness, fatigue, uncertainty, stress, anxiety. These feelings lead us to seek an escape from our present reality. And so one of the important things to do with this problem, as all distractions is wondering: what am i missing when i go to the bathroom for 30 minutes what feeling am i trying not to get by hanging on my phone[?] …Are my children driving me crazy? Is the work too hard? Am I bored, apathetic, stressed and now I can distract myself from these problems?
“The thing is, if we don’t deal with this, if we don’t know how to deal with this in a healthy way, I think we will always find a distraction.”
So remember: think about how you spend your time and wash your hands. And if you’re playing “Marvel Snap”, don’t do more than two matches if you do number two.
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