As technology permeated into our lives, we began to question how useful or beneficial things like screen time and social media truly were. While there were exciting new things to see and do as the world wide web evolved, researchers and mental health experts were also examining the health effects of increasingly being on a screen. More and more, parents were told to limit their children’s screen time, and similarly adults were also being encouraged to try and set boundaries when it came to phone surfing.
But as people began to self-isolate, they quickly turned to the internet in order to stay connected with family and friends, to stay on top of the latest news, and even to order food and other necessities. What was once a means of simply working or playing had become a necessity to stay healthy and safe. It was also many peoples’ lifelines: those who suddenly found themselves working remotely, kids who needed to keep up in school via virtual learning, or caretakers who wanted to check in on family and friends. Screens became our windows to the world.
This led experts to start re-examining the effects that screen time would have on people during a time of uncertainty such as this. While it was comforting for people to know they could actually “see” their loved ones via video chats, for example, the internet was also a place where endless information is being shared by the second, information that could be incorrect and, in the end, could create more harm than good.
Najmeh Khalili-Mahani is a research scientist at the PERFORM Centre at Concordia University and studies whether there are links between stress and screen addiction.
“Screen times are going up right now because people are stressed and they are using screens for adaptation,” she explained. “The increase in screen usage is because people don’t have another choice right now with the isolation.”
While new information reports that extensive screen sessions have the potential of affecting us psychologically, Khalili-Mahani also pointed out that it is also one of the ways that people can destress. Quite the Catch 22.
While the psychological consequences of increased screen time is difficult to define amid everything, there are certainly physical ramifications from using a screen for extended periods. Those who are on devices are exposed to more blue lights, Khalili-Mahani said, so their eyes will be strained or even dry, thus causing physical stress to the body. People can also experience headaches from too much time on a device.
Depending on how a person sits while using their device (whether it’s a laptop or a cell phone), this, too, can lead to poor posture or a sore neck and shoulders. These physical pitfalls can be especially detrimental to children, who are still growing and developing.
Studies have also shown that those who spend a lot of time using technology on screens have a more sedentary lifestyle. This has always been linked to a host of physical ailments, from weight gain to blood pressure problems, issues with cholesterol, and more.
Here are a few ways to ensure that screens are used in the best way possible:
- Narrow down your news and app alerts to the most important and reliable sources.
- Weed out all the excess noise of sensational reports and negativity. It will help your overall mental wellbeing.
- Turn off your notifications. You’ll check things when you get to it.
- Use your devices in short intervals. The same can be said about social media: too much of anything is a bad thing, and this is true of social media.
- Have a cut-off time. Set limits on yourself and your family’s screen usage. For example, no more devices after 6 p.m.