Does screen time affect mental health?

Long-term use of screens may negatively affect mental health

One-third of children said they felt unimportant when their parents looked at their smartphones during meals or playing together. This can have severe consequences for children’s mental health. It might seem like a good idea at the time to be on your phone or to work, but have you considered what it does to your mental health? How about the mental health of those close to you?

This article will explore the issues screen use has caused to our mental health and how we can reduce the amount of time we spend using screens. 

What is considered “screen time”?

As defined by Medline, screen time is time spent in front of a screen, such as watching television, using a computer, or playing video games. Screen time is a passive activity, which means it involves sitting down and not moving. The amount of energy spent on screens is minimal.

Most American children spend approximately three hours of TV watching per day. The total screen time a person spends in a day can amount to around five to seven hours.

How Does Screen Time Affect Your Mental Health?

A study found that after one hour of daily screen use, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being. This includes less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, less ability to make friends, less emotional stability, and being difficult to care for.

Screen time is associated with depression among 14- to 17-year-olds who utilize screens for more than seven hours each day compared to those who use screens for just one hour a day.

Anxiety and depression

There is a complex correlation between excessive screen time and rising rates of depression and anxiety among young people. Today, children are less likely to take mental breaks from society or give their minds rest and quiet due to the availability of screens and social media 24/7.

The amount of time kids spend thinking, processing, and reflecting has declined. In addition, kids spend more time on impersonal social media “relationships” than they do with other people in person. UCLA researchers found that excessive screen time can hinder children’s learning abilities to recognize emotions. Cyberbullying can foster feelings of isolation and low self-esteem as it decreases face-to-face interaction and increases exposure to cyberbullying.

Despite social media’s potential risks, such as making unhealthy comparisons to others, bullying, or exposing oneself to harmful content, there is also evidence that it can bring positive benefits. Many kids report that using social media helps them keep in touch with other people, strengthen their friendships, and explore new information. Adults say that social media helps connect them to loved ones around the world and the communities they belong to. 

This helps bring people together and give them a sense of belonging, which helps boost their mental health. 

Many studies have explored the effects of too much screen time on children and adolescents, but it can also contribute to depression in adults. Spending too much time in front of your computer can put you at risk of depression. According to several studies, there is a strong link between a lot of screen time (while sitting down) and depressive symptoms, including one published in 2019 in The BMC Public Health Journal.

In another study published in Preventive Medicine Reports in 2017, the connection was powerful in women – but this could be a two-way street. People who sit on their computers for hours are more likely to suffer from depression, but on the other hand, those who are feeling depressed are more likely to browse Instagram under the covers.

Sleep patterns and Routine

Digital devices produce blue light, which affects the way your brain produces melatonin, a chemical it needs for sleep. Your brain may be more focused than relaxed, depending on what you see on the screen – such as a fast-paced movie, a work-related email, or a news feed. Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to focus, at the very least. Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to depression.

Electronic Screen Syndrome

To describe this disorder of dysregulation, Dr. Victoria Dunckley coined the term “Electronic Screen Syndrome.” In addition to irritability, anxiety, depression, tantrums, and impairment at school, home, and friends, children may also experience anxiety and depression. Moreover, some children experience cognitive decline and short-term memory problems. 

According to pediatric clinicians, a lot of the rise in ADHD and ODD is due to excessive screen time and insufficient outdoor time. Developmentally, a child’s brain gets wired to crave constant stimulation, and they have difficulty coping when the stimulus is withdrawn.

How To Reduce Your Screen Time

Tracking Screen Time With Tools

Our devices can help us track and limit our screen time, even if it seems contrary to reason.

Screen Time Report

A screen time report will be emailed to you if you use an iPhone. It will contain the average amount of time you spent using the phone each day and how it compared to last week.

The Apple report allows you to schedule downtime, define app limits, and break down downtime by category (e.g., social media versus reading and reference).

Most Android devices also have this information available in their settings.

Wearable Reminders (Smartwatch)

The majority of wearables provide reminders for movement breaks. You’ll hear from Apple Watch if you haven’t stood and moved for at least one minute every hour, for instance. The watch is basically telling you to take a break.

Fitbit also reminds you to get in your daily steps and move around. Other brands have also introduced smartwatches that remind you to take a break, move around, and even drink water. 

Blue Light-blocking Glasses

According to a small study, blue-light-blocking glasses help filter blue light, increasing melatonin levels and enabling you to sleep better.

Final Thoughts

Screen time is growing among adults as well, even though most research on the subject has been conducted on children and teens.

Social media usage seems to be associated with reduced anxiety levels and depression, but too much good can be harmful.

By setting limits on screen time and taking small breaks throughout the day, you can minimize adverse effects. The key to healthily using screens is to find a balance. 

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