We’ve been spending more time staring at our screens since the pandemic, whether it’s work meetings or free time. Kids are spending 50% more time on their devices with schools out and usual summer activities prohibited. But it’s not necessarily time spent on a screen, but the content we consume and when we choose to do it, that affect our mental health. Here’s what matters:
Avoid Upward Social Comparison
Social media and TV watching leads to low self-esteem over time because of upward social comparison. The lesson, avoid consuming content that triggers comparison and stifles self-improvement. Self-reflection matters in this case, since content will affect us differently. Someone doing a perfect handstand might inspire you, or it might deflate you. Knowing what type of content brings out the best in you helps.
Note that upward social comparison doesn’t just happen on our screens. It helps to have a strategy on how to cope when you find yourself comparing, whether that’s looking at a print magazine or your neighbor’s new gadgets. Having a mantra ready when you feel yourself plunging in this mindset helps.
It Might Be a Sign
Depression makes us more likely to spend on our devices. Being aware of the signs that you’re feeling down is the first step to getting yourself out of it.
Doomscrolling and Reinforcing Spirals
We tend to seek content that mimics our mood. If you’re happy, you’re more likely to consume content that makes you happy. If you watch sad movies when you’re feeling blue, and it deflates your mood even further, resist the urge. Know what type of content brings you up or brings you down and act accordingly.
Doomscrolling is the act of repeatedly reading over and over, news and information that’s negative. We know that our brains gravitate towards the negative, but doomscrolling is so much more than that. We repeatedly seek out and read information that is negative and that we are already aware of. Take note if you doomscroll and notice how it affects you.
Video Games Are Fine
Video games do not cause depression among adolescents. In fact, it’s social media that has a significant negative effect.
Value Your Time
One argument for limiting screen time is not the screen itself, but that watching something on your phone or TV means you’re sedentary and it takes time away from physical activities (aka Displacement Theory). In this case, you have to ask yourself if what you’re doing on your phone is really the best use of your time. Would doing something else yield happier results in the short and long term?
That blue light our screens emit blocks a hormone called melatonin, which makes us sleepy. We disrupt the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle with exposure to colors and that’s exactly what we do when we stare at our screens. Refrain from the screen 2-3 hours before sleep. Discipline helps.
Whether you’re waiting in line or just casually sitting doing nothing, turning on our device prevents us from letting the mind wander. Researchers believe that mind-wandering bolsters creativity.
In savasana, yoga teachers encourage us to let the mind wander or let our thoughts go without judgement. This exercise can be relaxing and it also allows us to observe and gain clarity. If whipping out a device whenever you’re bored or unsure of what to do has become a habit, assess how this serves you and reprogram if you want to break from this habit.
If you feel an urge to constantly check certain apps you’re not alone. Most apps are meant to be addictive and gamified. Meaning, they’re designed to keep you coming back and spend more time on it. You can start by first understanding how much time you spend on certain apps. For iPhone, turn on Screentime in settings, which gives you a report on how much time you spend on apps and websites. For Android, go to settings, and tap on Digital Wellbeing Tools.
The Phone is not the enemy. It’s what you do with it that matters.