Tanya Young, RN
School Health Nurse
WELLNESS COORDINATOR PROGRAM
Screen Time and Your Health
Do you often find yourself spending all day in front of a screen? You’re not alone. Screens are everywhere, whether you’re working on a computer, checking your phone, or watching TV at night to unwind. As we all use technology more and more, researchers are finding that all that screen time may be affecting our physical and mental health by reducing exercise and increasing obesity risk, altering the quality of sleep, and other impacts, according to the Mayo Clinic. While it may be impossible to cut out all screen time, you can take steps to reduce it to improve physical and mental health.
Screen Time & Mental Health
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), since the rise of the smartphone, indicators of mental “wellness” such as happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction have decreased while serious mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide have increased significantly, particularly among young people. It’s possible that more time spent on screens, particularly social media sites, may lead to increased risks of stressors like social isolation, cyberbullying, social comparison, decreased life satisfaction, reduced productivity and distraction from personal values and goals.
Tips for Reducing Screen Time
Many of us could benefit from less time spent on screens and more time doing healthier activities. Here, from NAMI, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are some tips to limit screen time, increase your physical activity and improve your mental health:
Log screen time for one week. Get a realistic view of just how much time you and your family members spend in front of screens by logging screen time every day for one week. (See this screen time log from the NHLBI for an example.) If you and your family members are logging more than two hours of screen time per day, create a plan to be more physically active as a family.
Minimize your non-work screen time. If your work requires you to be on a computer for long periods of time, take frequent short breaks to get up, stretch and move. Minimize your screen time or simply turn off all screens when you’re not working.
Connect in real life. Having screen-free, face-to-face connections can improve your mental health. While this may be tough to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting a friend at a park to walk and talk, while social distancing, is a nice option. If your friends or family are not available, even making small talk in the grocery store line can improve your mood.
Make all the bedrooms in your home screen-free. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) blue light emitted by computers, cellphones and TV screens can affect the body’s circadian rhythm, your natural wake and sleep cycle. Blue light wakes you up and stimulates your brain, making it harder to fall asleep, and too little sleep can affect your mental health, according to experts at Harvard Medical School. To reduce your risk of these effects, limit screen time two to three hours before bed. If you use your phone as an alarm, try using a regular alarm clock instead.
Put down your phone. Do you bring your cellphone everywhere? If your phone is visible during work or while doing homework, you are more likely to look at it. Multi-tasking can cause distractions, reduce productivity and increase errors. Try putting your phone on silent and into your desk drawer when you get to work – out of sight, out of mind.
Be mindful about how you use technology. Are you looking at your phone because you are looking up something specific? Or are you mindlessly scrolling on social media? Are you procrastinating doing a necessary task? Are you truly enjoying what you are watching on the TV or your phone? If not, do something else.
Do something else! Find activities you love to do that do not involve screen time. Go outside for a walk, hike or run. Ask a friend to go for a bike ride. Schedule outdoor playtime as a family, or engage your family in weekly board games or challenging puzzles. There are plenty of activities you can enjoy instead of sitting on the couch watching TV.
Practice reflection and gratitude. Practicing gratitude can improve your psychological well-being. According to NAMI, research also suggests that gratitude may protect against social comparison and envy which are common experiences with social media. Try starting or ending your day by writing down three things you are grateful for.
Clarify your values. What do you truly want in life? Maybe you want to start a business, maybe you want to run a marathon. Once you figure out what you are truly working toward, ask yourself if being behind a screen is helping you to reach your goal.
*****Reducing screen time may help you sleep better, improve your mental and physical health, and may even make you more productive; just think of all the extra time you’ll have to get things done when you simply turn off the technology.
Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms (CDC)
5 Tips for Reducing Screen Time (Mayo Clinic)
How to Reduce Screen Time in the Digital Age (NAMI)
Tips to Reduce Screen Time (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
Family Media Plan (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Let There Be ‘Circadian’ Light (National Eye Institute)
Should You Be Worried about Blue Light? (American Academy of Ophthalmology)
Sleep and Mental Health (Harvard Medical School)
Effects of Screen Time on the Health and Well-Being of Children and Adolescents (British Medical Journal)
Media and Your Child: Making Choices (Onlife Health) Log in to your SEP account and click on the Onlife button. Once on the Onlife site, click on Menu > Resources > Health Content and enter the title in the Search field.
Disclaimer: The content of this Wellness Tip Sheet is intended to be informational and does not constitute professional health advice or an endorsement of the resources mentioned.
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