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How Screen Time Affects Mental Health

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With more of us than ever working remotely, Zoom meetings and virtual training sessions have become part of our daily routines. We see our colleagues two-dimensionally and even socialize with our friends on our screens rather than face-to-face. With screen time rapidly increasing in our world, what are the effects on our brains?

Where’s My Phone?

A study in 2018 showed that American adults spent between two and four hours per day on their devices, which added up to about 2,600 taps, swipes, touches and types per day. When the pandemic hit in 2020, those numbers went up exponentially given the need to replace in-person work and play with virtual alternatives.

The study also indicated that 73% of adults experience anxiety, even a mild state of panic, when they can’t find their phone, because we’ve become so entwined with our digital lives. Smartphones allow us to carry all of our social media addictions with us 24/7, so we always have these connections at our fingertips.

There’s no doubt that advanced technology provides some great benefits, however it can also negatively affect our mental health with increased anxiety and depression as well as poor sleep habits.

Dopamine and Social Reward

Dopamine is a brain chemical that is linked to motivation. It’s released when we taste something delicious, after we exercise and when we have positive social interactions.

Because dopamine rewards us for certain behaviors, it motivates us to do those behaviors again. Since positive social experiences release dopamine, those experiences are transferred to the virtual world through our devices and social media platforms. Each text message, email and “like” on Facebook or Instagram becomes a positive social stimulus where we keep craving more. These cravings for virtual stimuli can lead to addiction to screens and replace healthy in-person interactions and outdoor time.

Effects of Too Much Screen Time

Sleep Deprivation

Because the blue light from screens interferes with melatonin production, the amount of time you spend on your devices directly impacts how much sleep you’re getting. Enjoy better sleep by cutting out screen time before bed.

Impaired Social Skills

Even though we’re using our devices largely to socialize, we’re still doing it alone and separate from others. Having fewer real-life interactions leads to less practice, more social anxiety and loneliness.

Weakened Emotional Judgment

Too much screen time affects your ability to register and process emotions. Desensitization to violent content, for example, is a concerning side effect of weakened emotional judgment. Exposure to violent media content can also increase aggression levels and affect one’s level of empathy.

Strain on Your Eyes and Body

Spending long hours staring at a screen takes a real toll on your body, especially your eyes. Also, being constantly hunched over to look at our devices impacts your posture and can cause stiffness and pain in your neck and shoulders.

Lower Self-Esteem

Too much time spent in the virtual world can have a negative impact on how you perceive yourself. The time you lose that could have been spent on forming relationships with others, discovering passions, honing your skills and experiencing new things leads to a weakened sense of self-identity and confidence.

Healthy Alternatives for a Whole Life

If you think you’re spending too much time in front of your screens beyond what is necessary for work, there are some simple changes you can make to lessen your devices’ hold on you.

Optimizing your environment by keeping your smartphone out of your bedroom, designating the dining table as a screen-free zone and seeking other activities to relax are easy ways to eliminate temptation and teach yourself healthier avenues to experience life.

If you need additional help from our team of caring professionals, reach out to the AdventHealth's Behavioral Health team to find comfort, calm and a renewed sense of confidence. We’re here to help you feel whole in body, mind and spirit.

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