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How Does Screen Time Impact Your Mental Health?

looking at phone while eating

In today’s society lots of activities, both business and pleasure, involve a screen.  It’s important to understand the impact of too much screen time and to consider ways to manage it wisely.  

Did you know that looking at a screen all day can impact your mood?  

Studies have shown that adults who watch TV or look at a computer for more than 6 hours per day are more likely to experience moderate to severe depression (healthline.com).  

Depression can lead to loneliness and isolation and spending the majority of your day in front of a screen will likely prohibit you from connecting with real people and creating relationships, adding to the loneliness . 

Screen time late in the evening can have negative effects on sleep habits as one study concludes, ‘the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms..’(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).  

We know that getting adequate sleep each night is important to mental health and we talked about the importance of rest in a recent blog post.  Have you checked out Which 5 Basics are Essential to Your Mental Health?

Screen Time is Not About Laziness or Self Indulgence

There’s no need to judge ourselves or others about screen time.  For so many adults, screen time is something that can’t be avoided. Some jobs require that you work on a computer most of the day. 

Also, not all screen time is bad.  Keeping in touch with friends and family through social media or video chat is sometimes the only connection you may have with them, and those connections are important.

However, something to keep in mind is what this article  on keepitusable.com explains about how social media can be addicting.  It states, “Having your social connections reaffirmed makes you feel good.  Social networks are physically addictive as well as psychologically. A study from Harvard University showed that self-disclosure online fires up a part of the brain that also lights up when taking an addictive substance, like cocaine.” So when we feel like we are being sucked in and that we need to check in online it may be because we are craving that high that we experience from being online.  

The Netflix series ‘The Social Dilemma’ shows how the use of social media platforms is causing humans to interact with each other differently .  It goes on to demonstrate how social media platforms are able to manipulate their users through constant notifications, engagement features such as the like button, and by sharing information that is targeted to specific groups.  

Seeing these things and using these features encourage them to think and feel a certain way, and sometimes take action based on those feelings.  So, feeling like you need to check your phone constantly is based on compelling chemical responses occurring in the body.  

This is why it’s important to be mindful of being judgmental about screen time. It’s not all within your control, especially if you are not aware of the physiology behind those impulses.  This is why building awareness is key.

Building Awareness

Setting up boundaries and limits related to screen time is just as important for adults as it is for kids.  There are apps and tools on your phone or other devices that are available to help you track your screen time and set limits for yourself.  

iPhones give you a screen time report with the average time spent per day on your phone and how it compared to the previous week. 

You can go into your settings and schedule downtime or set time limits for each app.  Most Android devices also have this feature within their settings.  

You can also use devices like an Apple watch or Fitbit that will remind you to move when you have been inactive for a period of time.  Use these reminders to take a break from the screen.

Awareness and reminders are key to support you in beginning to wisely manage your screen time.  Managing screen time is something you can do to support your overall well being. 

How to Manage Screen Time 

There are a variety of ways you can set boundaries and limits for screen time. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create phone free zones like the dinner table or the bedroom so those spaces are always off limits for devices. 
  • Create a schedule and identify certain times during the day that you will avoid spending time on a screen such as first thing in the morning, while you are eating or right before bed.  
  • Develop a family agreement to hold each other accountable.   Establish times and spaces that are acceptable for your devices and give reminders to each other when one of you is on your device outside of the identified times and/or spaces.

When setting boundaries and limits on screen time you will need to be intentional and goal directed. 

If you are experiencing dissatisfaction, boredom, difficulty being present, difficulty concentrating or enjoying life, decreased personal interactions, trouble with relationships or poor sleep habits it may be directly related to the amount of time you spend in front of a screen.    

It can help to identify what you are struggling with and then track how cutting back on your screen impacts those specific struggles.  If you see positive results you will likely be encouraged to stick to your boundaries and limits on screen time.  

Focusing on these three things can make all the difference:  

  • understanding how screen time can affect your mental health
  • increasing your awareness of tools and strategies to limit screen time 
  • developing a plan to put effective boundaries in place.   

Do you have trouble setting boundaries for yourself when it comes to screen time?  If you need support with this Contact us, we would love to help!

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