Can Sitting in Front of a Computer Screen Affect Your Mental Health?
The global average screen time is currently reported at 6 hours and 55 minutes per day. Spending 29% of your time absorbing media via a screen – likely more for those of us who work on computers everyday – doesn’t induce a healthy work life balance. Whilst the physical elements of excessive screen time are widely reported the mental impact is often forgotten.
Have you ever experienced any of the following…
- Neck or back pain?
- Painful or stinging eyes?
- Headaches or migraines?
- Weight gain?
These are all common issues for people who work long hours in front of a screen or have a questionable relationship with their smartphone. Whilst we can address the physical elements of screen time with preventative measures and medical care is the constant access to screens impacting our mental health? If so, what can be done to alleviate the problem?
If you’re concerned about the number of hours you spend in front of a screen the article below will outline some of the psychological warning signs and how to address them.
Are you struggling with insomnia or poor-quality sleep?
What is the first thing you do when you wake up? How do you spend those final moments awake before you go to bed? Many of us share our beds with smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Rarely are they out of arm’s reach and many find themselves watching their favourite shows or browsing social media until the early hours.
Whilst we all enjoy the odd late night once in a while, spending so much time staring at a screen can have a negative impact on your sleep. This is exacerbated further if you have a job which requires a lot of screen time too. Do you ever feel tired in the evenings but wide awake when bedtime rolls around? Being glued to media can increase brain stimulation and feelings of alertness – not ideal for when trying to switch off and regenerate with a great night’s sleep.
Even if you do step away from the screen to hunker down, it is likely the damage has already been done. Falling asleep can be challenging or you may find yourself in and out of poor-quality sleep all night and feeling groggy in the morning. For some individuals, screen time can be blamed for insomnia.
Poor quality sleep can lead to burnout or fatigue. The number one tip to start getting your sleep pattern back on track is to banish technology at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. Try reading a book or listening to a podcast if simply laying in the darkness isn’t for you. You could also try:
- Implementing a strict sleep schedule
- Ensuring you are active in the day
- Limiting caffeine and nicotine consumption
- Avoiding heavy meals before bed
- Restricting liquid intake before sleep
- Not taking naps or sleeping in the day
What is neuroplasticity?
It may sound dramatic, but too much screen time can change how your brain functions. This is known as neuroplasticity. If your brain is engaged in anything for three or more hours a day it is considered stimulating and can rewire the brain. Considering the average person is spending over double this amount of time focusing on a screen per day it is safe to say that we may not be firing on all cylinders.
When you are occupied by a screen so regularly the brain adapts to this new virtual environment by developing new neural pathways. This means your neural pathways that aren’t being exercised will deteriorate over time unless they are re-established. You may find that you’re struggling with poor cognitive function, also known as brain fog.
You don’t need to avoid screen time altogether to reduce the effect of neuroplasticity. This simply isn’t feasible when so many people make their living via screens. Being mindful of how long you’re spending engaged with a screen is important. Make sure to take regular breaks, every couple of hours is ideal, even if it’s just to make a drink or check the post. Switching off for five to 10 minutes every now and then is crucial to promote a healthy mind.
Can screen time exacerbate depression and anxiety?
Undoubtedly technology has its advantages. The ability to work remotely without a hitch, stay connected with family, and enjoy your favourite forms of entertainment are all positives of screen use. However, what happens when you spend more time connected to a screen than connected to the real world?
Trends in the number of people seeking help for anxiety and depression has increased over the past few years. Whilst this could be partly due to wider global recognition of mental health problems it is reported that, over the past 18 months, the impact of the pandemic has seen a rise in the number of people seeking treatment. For many people, working from home has been a strain on their mental health. But what has this got to do with screen time?
Remote working has caused many employees to lose their off switch. It’s easy to slip out of your typical hours and work extra in the evenings, at the weekend, or through your lunch breaks. More and more people are going above and beyond because their tech is so accessible whilst working from home. Furthermore, job security over the past year has been a worry for many, so the urge to go above and beyond is strong.
Working on a screen all day and then divulging in media via another screen is not conducive to a happy and healthy mindset. Screen time addiction can affect the following:
- Your relationships
- Your personal hygiene
- Your diet
- Your exercise levels
- Your self esteem
A decline in these life elements can impact your mental health. Whether you are predisposed to anxiety or depression, or it is a new issue, too much screen time can add fire to the flames. Whilst simply cutting down on screen time is an obvious solution sometimes the human psyche does not want to play ball. There are countless online resources that can help you address issues with your mental health but you could also try:
- Exploring your nutrition and adopting a new way of eating
- Changing your working hours to better suit your needs
- Take time to perform self-care acts and putting yourself before work
- Maintain personal relationships through social interaction
- Introduce exercise or take up a new active hobby
Technology is powerful and makes our lives considerably easier in some respects, especially when working from home. We have access to just about anything we want by simply tapping a few buttons. If you are mindful of your screen usage and seek help, should you need it, tech can continue being a positive aspect of your life rather than harming your mental health.