We've all been scolded at some point for spending too much time staring at a screen, be it while reading books on your phone or playing video games on your computer. But in the past decade, social media has turned screen time into a part of our daily routine.
How can ‘social’ media reduce socialization?
Plenty of researchers have claimed that smartphones and tech gadgets have ruined an entire budding generation, whereas many others contest that screen time hardly impacts an average individual’s mental wellbeing.
However, a key thing to remember in this discourse is that technology of all kinds, even those that existed before televisions did, are all fiercely determined to not only control but capitalize on our attention. Their goal is to ensure that we just can’t look away and with social media’s swipe-and-scroll habituation, we’ve been conditioned to keep our eyes on the screen. Social media has also made us dependent on other people's opinions, especially on our own selves. Research has indicated that low self-esteem, social anxiety, and similar mental health issues are deeply linked with social media usage.
Now more than ever, our eyes are often glued to screens and we forget to notice our own surroundings or look into the eyes of others. Every notification ping alerts our brain away from whatever task we may be doing, every phone call comes with a deathly need to answer right away. This is not to say screens are the bane of our existence, but we need to start acknowledging the various ways it constantly distracts and disrupts us.
Our Virtual Realities Are Starting to Take Priority Above All Else
While the quality of our social lives has decreased significantly with the ongoing pandemic and the unending stress of maintaining a work-life balance from home, digital platforms have emerged as a lifesaver. Social media offers people a space to connect, be updated with our networks, and explore new things.
Social media is an excellent form of communication, they foster virtual interactions and help satisfy our need for socialization. While social connectivity is known to boost mental wellbeing, the problem arises with the frequency of usage. There's a diverse range of activities you can perform digitally, be it for personal or professional use. ‘Practice everything in moderation’ isn't something that sticks with us when we spend hours staring at screens, shifting from a phone to a laptop to a TV. They're all screens at the end of the day.
Why Must We Be Cautious?
People have struggled to adjust to the 'new normal' routines the pandemic has enforced, it has increased levels of irritability, aggression, anxiety, and sadness among us all while dealing with these challenging times. However, a recent study has found that these emotional and mood changes have also led to a rise in cybercrimes. Cybercrimes, bullying, harassment, stalking, and doxxing are some of the greatest concerns with digital platforms and are quite common on social media. This raises further concerns for everyone’s mental well-being, especially teenagers and young adults.
The adverse impacts of technology and unregulated screen time are undeniable, but the discourse generally revolves around whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.
The Gottman Institute conducted a research experiment called the 'Still Face' to understand the impact of emotional coaching on children. Further research has established through the 'Still Face Paradigm' (SFP) that a parent's withdrawal or lack of response and attention towards a child can have detrimental effects on their socio-emotional development. This means that when we become habituated to our screens, we often grow neglectful of our surroundings - as is the case of many parents these days who often find themselves distracted by their phones. It also encourages the same behavior to be followed by children, with many getting their own phones by the age of 7.
Individuals often rely on technology to sustain their relationships, but mindfulness and restraint in digital practices are very valuable.
5 Ways How Excessive Screen Time Adversely Affects Our Mental Well-Being
Research has found that not only does increased screen time contribute to depression and anxiety, but it can also significantly lower your ability to read emotions in general.
Scrolling through our phones right before we sleep can greatly impair the quality of sleep we receive. Social media is filled with trendy and catchy stories that keep us alert and awake, but the real culprit here is blue light emission. It interferes with your internal clock and can leave your body confused, which can further lead to a decrease in melatonin production.
Have you heard of neuroplasticity? It's our brain's ability to transform both its structure and function in response to our experiences. While our brains can't magically change overnight, increased screentime does impact functioning in the long run. It can also lead to your brain losing volume, which further affects our cognitive and emotional operations.
Dopamine is well-recognized for the role it plays in our experience of pleasure and reward and is commonly known as the 'feel-good' hormone. We often excrete dopamine when we engage in activities like gambling, consuming drugs, or playing video games. Dopamine plays an important role in the development of cravings, addictions, and dependencies. Guess what? We also secrete dopamine while scrolling through social media. Every new post or trend we come across is a – Bam! instant brain candy.
Things that affect our attention also affect our learning. This is especially true for young adults and growing teenagers, who are more likely to suffer from attention-based disorders. Increased screen time, video games, and social media usage significantly contributes to this.
How Can You Reduce Your Screen Time?
Keeping track of your screen time can feel challenging, especially when the advised suggestion is to track it using more technology - be it screen tracking apps like Digital Wellbeing (Android), or mobile calendar and planning systems.
Standing desks have become incredibly popular as a way of improving one's health, but can also be incredibly expensive and attainable for most people. Instead, try to make a conscious effort to get up, walk around, and stretch a little after every 30-40 minutes you spend staring at a screen. If not, you could also finish a chore every time you take a break!
Use physical planners and calendars to keep track of your time, or try dividing your planning into both virtual and physical mediums. Be mindful to not grow entirely dependent on your technology and make use of your surroundings. For example: Try eating away from screens and invest in some quality one-to-one conversations with a family member or roommate, reading a book, or just getting some quiet time to rest your mind.
Therapy&Me: Reach Out for Help
Seeking support or asking for help can feel tough, especially with the ongoing pandemic and lack of access to our friends and family. If you’re struggling to maintain your work-life balance, unable to manage deadlines due to stress or burnout, or feeling low and anxious - reach out to a therapist at Therapy&Me today.
1. How Does Screen Time Affect Our Social Lives?
Screen Time can mean a variety of things, one of which includes social media. It is a powerful medium that helps connect people all over the world! But it can also impact interpersonal relationships by becoming a source of distraction instead, and taking away attention from a person’s surroundings.
2. How to Reduce Screen Time During a Lockdown?
Try to make the best of the time you have alone - try a new hobby, learn a new recipe, and clean your room! Every time you need a break from work, finish a chore or stretch your muscles instead of scrolling through your phone.
3. Do Kids Have More Close Friends Online Than in Real Life?
Friendships and relationships are subjective experiences that can not be easily generalized. Online friendships are often very successful, but it isn’t very safe for kids to be on the internet at a very young age. Parents often restrict and regulate internet usage for kids, which can make friendships difficult to foster. But many millennials and gen-z kids have grown up with friends all across the globe, much like pen pals the older generations used to have. Closeness may vary based on the friendship itself.