We’ve all heard the vague warning that too much screen time is bad for your health. But screens are a major part of our lives. It’s easy to write off warnings with arguments such as:
- “I’m not giving up my favorite TV show – it helps me unwind after a long day.”
- “I’m not going to get off social media – that’s how I stay in touch with family.”
- “My job is almost entirely digital – I have to be on my computer all day!”
These arguments are valid. We’re living in the digital age. Devices have the powerful ability to help us live more productive, connected lives. Paradoxically, though, they can also distract us and harm relationships. To make the most of technology, it is important to educate ourselves and approach it mindfully.
Too much screen time can lead to information overload
Though multitasking is sometimes lauded as a skill of effective workers, research from the American Psychological Association indicates it significantly impairs productivity. It’s tempting to toggle from email to Facebook to sending a text, etc.
Before you know it, information overload ensues, you feel like your head is about to explode, and you realize hours have elapsed without accomplishing anything meaningful. With so many “tabs” open in your brain, it can be hard to think critically and be creative.
This overload can also seep into face to face interactions and cause us to be less present. When we feel compelled to check social media, or are thinking about an email we just received, the quality of the interaction suffers.
Too much screen time can lead to poor health
Data from the National Institutes of Health also links screen time to:
- Obesity, due to the sedentary lifestyle that ensues when exercise is foregone to interact with technology.
- Body aches and soreness, due to muscle strains from sitting too long in one position without moving.
- Difficulty sleeping and poor sleep quality, because the blue light emitted by screens tricks the brain into functioning as though it is still daytime.
- Data from the U.S. National Library of Medicine indicates a direct correlation between increased screen time use and chance of depression in adults.
How can we combat negative effects of screen time?
First, acknowledge screens are a necessary, valuable part of life. Then, strategize to maximize their benefit while minimizing their adverse effects. Be smart about the times when you’re looking at a screen.
At work, results matter more than time logged. Set aside your phone and use a software on your desktop browser to temporarily block websites that don’t pertain to the task at hand. This will allow you to get in the zone and knock tasks out, so you can intersperse quick, offline breaks into your day. For more digital breaks, ditch the device when you attend meetings, so that you can fully embrace the interpersonal interactions away from your desk.
Outside of work, two simple actions will make a big difference: squeeze in some exercise and keep screens out of the bedroom. Technology tempts people not to get their recommended dose of physical activity. Don’t let that happen to you – be intentional and schedule some movement. Don’t feel like you can’t enjoy screens after work; instead, give yourself a buffer of screen-free “winding down time” before bed.
Much like what you eat, balance is critical with screen time. Implementing these simple tips will allow you to harness the full potential of technology while living life to the fullest.