When was the last time you checked your phone? If you’re like most Americans, it probably hasn’t been more than 10 minutes. In fact, a 2019 study showed that the average person checks their phone 96 times a day. All that screen time can have a negative impact on your mental and emotional health. While it’s unrealistic to completely stop using digital devices, there are steps you can take to safeguard your mental health while staying connected.
The effects of screen time
While screen time can be enjoyable, studies have suggested that it can take a toll on our emotions. Social media in particular, can wreak havoc with our mental health. A University of Missouri study found that regular use of Facebook could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user. The study’s authors found that people with perfectly good lives believed themselves to be unworthy of happiness due to feelings of inferiority.
But it’s not just social media that can affect your mental health. Any screen time can take its toll, especially for children, adolescents, and teens. While we’re still figuring out the full range of mental and emotional ramifications, research has found an association between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents.
Are you feeling the effects of too much screen time?
If you’re wondering if your mental health is taking a hit from your digital devices, consider if you’re noticing the following in yourself:
- You need positive feedback to feel good. While it feels good to get that positive feedback when you post a photo or event, if you only feel good on the days you get that feedback, you may be depending on social media too much.
- You’re an instant gratification addict. We have become a society of people who seek out instant gratification. While it’s okay to want instant oats and instant movie streaming, having a need to instantly feel worthy and good through social media can be harmful. If the promise of that hit of instant gratification is driving your desire to post or share your life online, you may have become too dependent.
- You’re experiencing digital fatigue. In a post-COVID world, where many individuals are still working or learning from home, staring at a screen has become an essential part of the day, with little to no “stopping cues,” such as a lunch break or a commute back home. This can lead to digital fatigue – another type of mental exhaustion. Symptoms of digital fatigue can include difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, low energy, and feelings of anxiety.
Protect your mental health
It is possible to use your digital devices without your mental health suffering. Like many things in life, it’s about setting boundaries, working toward balance, and practicing moderation. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Schedule breaks. Consider implementing mini breaks throughout your day that get you away from a screen. You can go for a walk, take a stretch break, or just close your eyes. Giving your eyes, body, and brain a break from the screen can help mitigate digital fatigue and help you feel more energized.
- Practice mindfulness. Sometimes we turn to a screen as a distraction or out of habit, rather than a genuine interest. Being aware of these tendencies can help you choose an alternative that may be better for your mental health. Cultivating mindfulness is a practice, but considering it can also reduce anxiety and improve concentration, it’s worth trying.
- Set limits. This can be a particularly useful tactic for children, adolescents, and teens. With summer break (and boredom) upon us, it’s easy for kids to slip into increased screen time usage. Consider allowing time to watch one episode of a show or scrolling through social media for 30 minutes. Once that time is up, have another activity ready and waiting!
- Learn social media literacy. It’s important to remember that what you see online is not always the full picture. Photos can be edited and people are not always forthcoming about their challenges, painting a picture of perfection that doesn’t exist. Next time you’re scrolling through photos of fit bodies and expensive vacations, remember that you’re only seeing what that person wants you to see.
Get help if you need it
Digital devices aren’t going away, so it’s critical that we find ways to use them in a healthy and helpful way. No social media post, work presentation, or school assignment is worth risking your mental health. So if you’re feeling the negative effects of screen time, know that you’re not alone and that help is available.
If you want to find ways to better manage your screen time, but aren’t sure where to start, it could be time to reach out for professional support. At Sunstone, we have a team of highly trained and compassionate counselors ready to listen and guide you to a brighter tomorrow.