How to control your screen time: a technology addiction
Are you suffering from screens?
What happens to your body when you spend extended periods of time looking at a screen?
Is technology good or bad for mental health?
And if technology isn’t going away, what can you do to keep control of its’ effects?
Let’s dive in…
The internet has brought us so many great opportunities. Similarly, It has enabled the advancement of thousands of industries and it has changed our social construct permanently (for good and/or bad). However, along with all the good that it brings, the internet has many downfalls too. In fact, the most troubling aspect about the internet is that it is highly addictive. Studies show that our brains enjoy being overloaded with choices (like flipping the channels on your TV). It isn’t necessarily the final outcome which brings us joy, it’s the process of looking at your options with the anticipation that you’ll find something that you’ll really enjoy.
When you’re scrolling through your social media feeds, your brain releases a chemical called Dopamine. This chemical is associated with the anticipation of a reward; not from the reward itself (which was the original thought back when scientists thought of Dopamine as ‘the happy chemical’). Nowadays, research has shown us that Dopamine is actually released before the reward; for example, when you’re queueing for an exciting event or activity. Our bodies crave this chemical because it makes us feel good. But how does that relate to social media?
The Dopamine reward loop
Before opening your phone, your brain may release a small dose of Dopamine as a sort of teaser. This ‘taste’ of the chemical causes us to seek more of it, and this is where your social feeds come in. The mere act of scrolling our feeds is causing Dopamine to be released (in anticipation of finding something pleasurable to view). Dopamine is associated with the reinforcing effects of drug use. It isn’t the chemical which is addictive, rather the sensation in the body caused by the chemical. Many addictive substances will trigger a release of Dopamine, which leads to feelings of happiness; hence, its’ relationship to addiction and drug use.
Internet addiction is particularly prevalent in adolescents. The average screen time for this group doubled during the Coronavirus pandemic to 7.7 hours a day – not including time spent in front of a screen for school work. The effects of this can be damaging to young people. To clarify, excessive time spent looking at a screen can impact one’s ability to communicate effectively in-person; it is also linked to depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation and low self esteem.
Social media’s effect on the brain
When we scroll through our social media feeds, we (consciously or subconsciously) compare ourselves to everyone else that we see. This leads us to feelings of low self esteem, social isolation and the fear of missing out (FOMO).
While looking at all the wonderful posts that friends and family share, your brain is subtly comparing your life to that of the one perceived from social media.
Rarely is someone’s online profile a truly fitting tribute to their daily life, because people tend to only post things that portray them in a positive light. However, our brains aren’t processing these falsities when we scroll through social media. This results in low mood and feelings of inadequacy.
Heavy social media usage
- Heavy social media users are 3 times as likely to report feelings of social isolation
- 73% of users report feeling lonely
- 56% have less social interaction due to technology
59% of teenagers have experienced some type of cyberbullyingPew Research Center
Negative interacts online can lead to depression. For every 10% increase in negative interactions, a person is 20% more likely to experience symptoms of depression. This is especially worrying for adolescents as they spend so much of their time on social media, and cyberbullying is rife in this age group.
There are numerous ailments which can be attributed to excessive screen time. Our devices are so integrated in our lives that it’s hard to see the bad that they are doing to us. The issues caused by extended screen-use are:
- Interruption of normal sleep patterns
- Weight gain
- Physical inactivity
Spending lots of time staring at a screen will inevitably take its’ toll on your eyes. Symptoms of eyestrain include:
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Pains in head/neck/shoulders
To reduce the effects of screens on your eyes, you should take regular breaks to look away from screens in order to give your eyes a rest.
Many of us (myself included) are guilty of using our phones right up until bedtime. Like many other vices, we know this isn’t good for us, yet we can’t help but give in to temptation. But why is it bad for us?
The blue light emitted by electronics tampers with natural sleep patterns. Studies have even shown that using your device before bed on 5 consecutive days delays your circadian rhythms (or in layman’s terms – your body clock) by 1.5 hours; which can lead to multiple problems with concentration, feelings of depression, ability to regulate moods etc.
Slips, trips and falls
When your head is buried in your phone, you’re not paying attention to the world around you. Many incidents have occurred where a person has been seriously injured because they were too busy looking at their phone.
Weight gain and physical inactivity
3.2 million deaths a year can be attributed to physical inactivity. Although we cannot solely blame technology for all of these deaths, our devices are frequently chosen over more worthwhile activities such as physical exercise and connecting with nature.
The advancement of electronics has caused many of us to become lazy, consequently, if we spend too much time sat in front of a screen we may experience some of the following:
- Heart problems
- Muscle and joint pain
Screen time for kids
It is especially important that we monitor the amount of screen time that children are having as excessive exposure to computer screens can have an even bigger effect on them. Frequent misuse of screens may result in:
- lower academic performance
- lack of attention span
- less creativity
- delays in development (language, emotional and social)
- physical inactivity/obesity
- social issues/anxiety
- aggressive behaviours
- addiction to technology
- higher BMI
How to manage your screen time
- As the impact of technology on children is greater, their use of it should be monitored and restricted. It is recommended that children between 0-18 months should avoid screens altogether, and children between 2-5 years old should be limited to no more than an hour of screen time a day.
- The 20-20-20 rule: To reduce eyestrain, for every 20 minutes of screen time, you should take a 20 second break to look at something at least 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a well-needed rest and enables them to recover before returning to a screen.
Decreasing the time you spend looking at screens
First, you need to know how much screen time you’re currently logging. You can do this on most phones by searching for “screen time” in the settings. You can then add conditions to help manage your screen usage, such as setting a limit or choosing what apps to block at certain times. Thankfully, there are many helpful applications for phones and computers which can help you better manage your screen time (for example, ScreenTime or BreakFree).
Do a cleanse of all of your unused apps. This will prevent you from receiving any notifications that could potentially draw you into the Dopamine cycle. You can also delete of create restricted times of use for the apps which you don’t want to waste time on.
Opt for colourless
Set your screen to monochrome. All those bright colours can be distracting and may cause you to spend more time on a page before moving on. Setting your screen to black and white (especially during work or bedtime hours) will vent you from being sucked in and will enable you to walk away from your device with greater ease.
Switch off notifications
Turn off notifications. It isn’t surprising that the more notifications you get, the more likely you are to look at your phone. These devices are designed to keep you entertained and interacting, notifications play in to their strengths. By switching off notifications (or at least most of them), you will significantly decrease the amount of times you are unlocking your phone in the day, in addition, you will regain some of the power, so that you are looking at your phone when you want to, not when the device wants you to.
Make time for necessary actions online
Schedule time to look at emails, social media etc. We often can’t escape using these applications, but by setting yourself a specific timeframe to check up on such communications, you free up the rest of your day.
Go screen-free for the 1st and last hour of your day
Finally, try to resist the temptation of looking at your phone or computer in the first and last hours of your day. This will enable your body to warm up and cool down from the day. By switching off your device during these hours, you allow your body to return to its’ natural state; giving you the best chance at starting and ending your day in a healthy way.
In conclusion, screens aren’t all bad when you are in control of how and when you use them, however, the problem only arises when your device is dictating your life. Therefore, by implementing the above strategies, you will have more control over what you are doing online and when. Using screens is often inescapable (as most of us have integrated technology in our lives), but it is important to be mindful of the time you are spending in front of a screen, and to challenge yourself when you notice the signs of internet addiction.
- “Why Can’t I Stop Scrolling On My App Feeds?” – YouTube
- Dopamine & Capitalism: Why is the internet so addictive? (yaabot.com)
- Dopamine in Drug Abuse and Addiction: Results of Imaging Studies and Treatment Implications | Psychiatry and Behavioral Health | JAMA Neurology | JAMA Network
- Average Screen Time: Statistics 2021 (elitecontentmarketer.com)
- 27 Eye-Opening Screen Time Statistics You Should Know (2022) – Soocial
- How Does Technology Affect Mental Health? | Bradley University Online
- 19 Negative Effects of Technology on Mental Health — Etactics
- Sleep deprivation: Causes, symptoms, and treatment (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Social Media Addiction – Addiction Center
- A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying | Pew Research Center
- Here’s Why You Can’t Stop Looking at Your Phone – Lemonade Blog
- 10 Best Free Apps to Limit Screen Time on Android and iOS (wondershare.com)
- Digital poverty and its impact on the UK9 out of 10 people low income households in the UK are facing the tough decision to give up the internet in favour of paying more essential utility bills.
- How to control your screen time: A technology addictionAs technology advances, we find ourselves in front of screens more regularly. But what does all this screen time do to our mental and physical health? And what can we do to stay in control of our wellbeing?
- Technology: The Controversial Ways It Helps Mental Health.Staying connected Technology makes it easier for people to get online and stay connected to those important to them. This gives people the opportunity to talk to others …
- Wildlife over waste: We need to act now!Have you ever thought about how the waste you produce effects wildlife? We throw things away without even thinking. It takes 2 seconds to chuck something in the …
- The truth about eco-anxiety: A climate change catastropheWhat is eco-anxiety? Eco-anxiety is a term that has recently received added attention. In the wake of COP26, our society is under more pressure than ever before to …
- CO2: The devastating impacts it has on everyone!Green house gases are what keeps are planet warm. Carbon dioxide is a green house gas that makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere. While this isn’t a huge …