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Yes, Increased Screen Time Affects Your Mental Health In More Ways Than One

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

It’s becoming more evident day by day that staying indoors, in the safety of your own homes, is the best way to get through the pandemic. The banana breads and online workout tutorials of the first lockdown are a distant memory and we’re back to spending worrying amounts of time in front of our screens, whether it’s to pass time or for work. It’s not a groundbreaking revelation that anything in excess can be bad for our health. With most of us opting to work from home during the pandemic and distracting ourselves with the multitude of content available to stream online, it’s become nearly impossible to regulate screen time. Unsurprisingly, this has started affecting physiological changes in our bodies like chronic neck pains and eyesight issues resulting from constant exposure to screens.

Aside from long-lasting physical damage, increased screen time has started showing effects on our mental health too. Chennai-based clinical psychologist Taniya Kaushik agrees and says, “Physical connection is needed for social and emotional well-being, and increased dependency on social media for connectedness has further increased feelings of isolation.” She goes on to add that our sedentary lifestyle and addiction to gadgets and screens have led to an overall deterioration of the quality of our life, including our mental well-being.

Depression, Anxiety, And Loneliness

It might seem as if being constantly online would mean a decrease in feelings of isolation, especially during the pandemic, but it turns out it’s been having the opposite effect. Studies have revealed a direct connection between increased screen time and the manifestation of symptoms of depression in adults. These include constantly feeling fatigued, lack of concentration, insomnia or sleeping more than usual, irritability, restlessness, and appetite loss. The time we spend scrolling through Instagram, seemingly connecting with distant family and friends, is only helping us establish a ‘pseudo connection’. Kaushik claims that these unprecedented times have worsened this as we’re distancing ourselves from the people around us and the need to physically connect with people is not being met. “All this has led to an increase in cases of depression and anxiety in people.”

Sleep Deprivation

We’ve all been guilty of falling down the rabbit hole of obscure YouTube videos, or tantalizing Twitter threads informing us of the history of ketchup (no judgements!), as we settle down for sleep late at night. It’s no surprise that exposing ourselves to bright screens actively harms our eyesight and causes long-term nerve damage in the eye. It also sabotages our sleeping patterns. “Being online or watching something on your phone or TV keeps you psychologically engaged,” says Kaushik. “Our brain doesn’t need that kind of stimulation late at night, especially when you’re about to fall asleep.” According to research, the blue light that emits from our screens actively suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for controlling our sleep cycle. Common sources that emit blue light include our TV screens, cell phones, tablets, E-readers, and video game consoles. This can also cause insomnia to set in. While sleep deprivation has some common short-term effects, like irritability and exhaustion, it has also been linked to the onset of several mental health issues like depression, ADHD, and anxiety. “Sleep deprivation makes us susceptible to so many mental health issues and is directly responsible for the deterioration of the quality of our life on both personal and professional fronts,” says Kaushik.

Self-Esteem Issues

It should come as no surprise that seeing the picture-perfect lives of strangers leads you to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with your own life. There’s only so many mid-century modern living rooms you can scroll past before your own starts looking like a dull cave. A majority of our screen time consists of the time we spend on social media. Being exposed to the curated lives of people around the world gives us unrealistic aspirations and, consequently, self-esteem issues. “We start comparing ourselves to people who we have never met,” says Kaushik, “This undermines our self-worth and leads to feelings of inadequateness and resentment. It also causes problems like body image issues too.”

Sedentary Lifestyle

Over the past year, most of our lifestyles have become largely sedentary. Even working out has mostly become confined to virtual sessions with private trainers or following Chloe Ting’s seemingly easy tutorials on getting toned legs and washboard abs in two weeks. Even the commute to work has been condensed to trekking from your kitchen to your home office (which is just your bed with a foldable desk, be honest). A recent study revealed that spending more than eight hours a day sitting, even with moderate to vigorous physical activity for an hour per day, can strongly impact our mental health. “Sedentary lifestyles usually cause low motivation, fatigue, and an inability to manage stress and anxiety,” says Kaushik. It also causes physiological problems like back pains and cardiovascular issues that further aggravate stress and anxiety.

It’s true that escaping the screens is next to impossible in the times we live in. With our increased dependence on our phones, laptops, and tablets, it can be hard to regulate our screen time. The important thing to remember is that you need to give yourself a break at regular intervals to interrupt your screen time. You can do that by taking scheduled breaks to walk around your house, or take a stroll outside. You can also meditate to offset the stimulation from your screen usage. The key is to practice everything in moderation for a healthy lifestyle. So practice balance and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up once in a while.