Brain Drain: Too Much Screen Time Adversely Affects Mental Health
- Overuse of devices is connected to increased levels of anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and increased risk of car accidents.
- 73 percent of adults experience anxiety, even a mild state of panic, when they can’t find their phones.
- Too much screen time affects your ability to register and process emotions.
29 October 2021 | From Adventist News Network: With screen time rapidly increasing in our world, what are the effects on our brains? Murtaza Syed, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and expert on mental health, provides helpful information.
A study in 2018 showed that American adults spent two to 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 percent of adults experience anxiety, even a mild state of panic, when they can’t find their phones because we’ve become so entwined with our digital lives.
Dr. Syed said, “While smartphones and other devices provide great benefits to our society, including during the pandemic, those benefits also come at a great cost to our mental health. Overuse of devices is connected to increased levels of anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and increased risk of car accidents.”
Dopamine is a brain chemical that is linked to motivation. It’s released when we taste something delicious, when we have positive social interactions, and after we exercise.
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 that prompts us to keep craving more.
Dr. Syed said, “While all of this may seem harmless on the surface, these cravings for virtual stimuli set us up for screen addictions and take the place of healthier, face-to-face interactions with friends and loved ones, time spent outdoors, and doing other things.”
The Effects of Too Much Screen Time
- Sleep Deprivation.
Using your devices before bedtime makes it more difficult to fall asleep. “The blue light emitted from your screen interferes with the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone,” said Dr. Syed. Cut out unnecessary screen time and refrain from using your devices around bedtime for better sleep.
- Impaired Social Skills
Having fewer real-life interactions leads to less practice, more social anxiety, and loneliness. Even though we’re using our devices largely to socialize, we’re still doing it alone and separate from others.
- 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. “Too much screen time not only strains your eyes and dries them out, but can also lead to stress on the retina and affect visual acuity,” says Dr. Syed. 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. “We often compare ourselves to others through social media. This does nothing but decrease our own self-worth because what we see others post on social media is far from a reflection of their true character and lifestyle. It’s important to remember that others’ online profiles are a curated snapshot, not a full picture of real life’s imperfections and challenges,” says Dr. Syed.
- Sleep Deprivation.
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:
- Keep your smartphone out of your bedroom;
- Designate the dining table as a screen-free zone;
- Seek other activities to relax.
These are some easy ways to eliminate temptation and teach yourself healthier avenues to experience life.
This report has been edited by AToday staff.
(Photo: Too much screen time has been linked to “increased levels of anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and increased risk of car accidents,” said Murtaza Syed, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and expert on mental health. Photo by PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.)