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Shedding Light on the Impact of Excessive Screen Time on Mental Health

Beth Bradford

1/24/23, 12:55 PM

We all love our phones, but it's important to know when to say when.

You may not realize it, but screen time can have a profound impact on your mental health. In fact, studies have shown that excessive screen time can lead to a number of concerning issues, such as anxiety, depression, and even addiction.

Below we'll explore the effects of excessive screen time in more detail. We'll also provide you with some tips on how to reduce your screen time and protect your mental health.

What the Experts Say About Screen Time and Mental Health

Excessive screen time has become a growing concern in today's society, with many people spending hours each day staring at screens from their phones, computers, and televisions. This prolonged exposure to screens can have a significant impact on mental health, affecting both the short and long-term people’s well-being.

One of the most significant ways in which excessive screen time can impact mental health is by disrupting sleep patterns. The blue light emitted by screens can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This can lead to insomnia, difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and overall fatigue. Studies have shown that people who spend more time on screens before bed are more likely to experience insomnia and other sleep-related problems.

Another way in which excessive screen time can impact mental health is by increasing feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Social media platforms, in particular, can foster feelings of loneliness and isolation, as people compare their lives to the curated and often unrealistic portrayals of others on these platforms. This can lead to feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, and can exacerbate existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A systematic review found that adolescents who spend more time on social media are more likely to report feeling depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.

Excessive screen time can also have a negative impact on cognitive functioning. Studies have found that prolonged screen time can lead to decreased attention span and concentration, and can negatively affect memory and learning. This can be particularly detrimental for children and adolescents, whose brains are still developing. 

Overall, excessive screen time can have a significant impact on mental health, affecting sleep patterns, social connections, stress levels, and cognitive functioning. It is important for individuals to be aware of their screen time and make an effort to limit it, particularly before bedtime. This can include setting aside specific times of the day to check social media, turning off notifications, and engaging in activities that do not involve screens.

In addition, too much screen time can also lead to physical health problems like eye strain, neck  and shoulder pain, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. We often overlook the physical effects of technology overuse, but they're very real and should not be ignored.

The bottom line is this: If you're concerned about your health, cut back on your screen time.

Understanding the Link Between Screen Time and Mental Health

So why is screen time so bad for our mental health? Well, there are a few reasons. For one, screens can be addictive. They're designed to keep us hooked, and the more time we spend on them, the more we want. Screens can also be isolating. Instead of interacting with other people, we're often interacting with screens, which can lead to social isolation and loneliness. And finally, screens can be distracting. They keep us from focusing on the task at hand, which can lead to productivity loss and stress.

Establishing Healthier Habits for Managing Screen Time

The good news is that once you recognize that you’re spending too much time on screens, there are many things you can do to reduce the negative impact and establish healthier habits. A few tips to help include: limiting your total daily screen time, setting realistic goals and breaking up tasks throughout the day.

For instance, if you're working on your computer, try to take a 10-minute break every hour or two to give yourself a chance to move around, socialize, or relax. Doing so will allow your mind to stay focused and energized and decrease the chances of getting stuck in a cycle of mindless screen scrolling.

It's nice that phones allow you to monitor where and how you're spending your time on screens. It can also be helpful to create visual reminders - like post-it notes - that act as cues throughout the day when it’s time for a break from screens. This not only helps you keep track of how much time you're spending on them but also gives you something else to think about when the urge arises. And sure, my Apple Watch will often tell me when I should get up and move. Perhaps we can use that as a reminder of how we might be stuck on a social media site.

Utilizing Supportive Resources to Reduce Technology Addiction

It is important to understand that technology addiction is a real issue. If you feel overwhelmed or like your mental health is taking a hit due to excessive screen time, there are steps you can take to limit this behavior.

The first step is to identify why you turn to your device when anxious, stressed or feeling low. Are you using it to distract yourself? Are you using it as a way of bonding with friends and family? Knowing why you turn to your device might help you come up with alternative coping strategies that don’t involve excessive screen time.

If needed, don’t be afraid to utilize helpful resources such as counseling services or technology addiction support groups. There are also online tools and apps that can help monitor your digital habits and reduce the amount of time spent on devices. Ultimately, the goal of reducing technology addiction is having control over how much time we spend on our devices — not letting our devices control us.

Steps to Take for Healthy Social Media Use

If you’re struggling with the impact of too much screen time, don’t be discouraged—there are steps you can take to have a healthier relationship with social media.

Set rules and boundaries for yourself—like limiting yourself to an hour of screen time per day, or turning off notifications. You can also create a digital detox plan or challenge yourself to delete your least favorite app.

You might also find it helpful to set realistic expectations for the amount of engagement your posts will get and manage your online presence by finding ways to enjoy online activities that are not related to likes and followers.

Ultimately, healthy social media use starts with understanding how technology affects our mental health, so take steps to protect yourself from getting trapped in an endless cycle of comparison and self-doubt. With a mindful approach, you can make sure that screen time doesn't become overwhelming for you.


So, what can you do to mitigate the harms of excessive screen time and protect your mental health?

First and foremost, be honest with yourself. Are you using your phone or computer as a crutch to avoid dealing with difficult emotions or situations? If so, it might be time to seek out professional help.

Secondly, set some ground rules for yourself and try to be mindful of how much time you're spending in front of a screen. Make a point to take breaks, spend time outdoors and interacting with other people, and try to get a good night's sleep.

Screen time can be harmful, but with a little effort, you can protect yourself from its negative impacts.

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