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The Impact of Screen Addiction on Health and Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to spend a lot of their time online. 

According to the Online Nation report by Ofcom, the average time UK adults spend online has increased – from under three and a half hours in September 2019 to four hours at the height of lockdown in April 2020

While many people are able to manage their time online, others have harboured feelings of dependency towards technology, and may have become addicted to their devices. 

What is screen addiction? 

Screen addiction is a group of negative behaviours that arise when people use too much technology, with these actions negatively impacting their life. 

Unsurprisingly, around 90% of adults own a smartphone, with approximately 95% of these phones being used daily. Smartphones, alongside other digital devices, have become integral to people’s lives in recent decades. 

Most people need the internet to work, study and socialise. So while using technology is not inherently bad, the focus is on how these screens are being used, and whether technology becomes an obstacle towards healthier living. 

How do you know whether you are addicted to screens? 

The three behaviours that help identify addiction – craving, tolerance and withdrawal – can help understand the compulsion that underlies screen addiction. 

  • Craving is a powerful desire for something. For screen addiction, consistently choosing screens over other activities would be an example of a craving. 
  • Tolerance is the amount of something needed to satisfy your craving. Screen addiction increases your tolerance, which means spending hours in front of screens to achieve the same fulfilment as before. 
  • Withdrawal is resistance when something is being taken away, bringing feelings of anger and agitation. Without devices, a person who has a screen addiction can become irritable and upset. 

Looking at these behaviours, screen addiction can be difficult to stop because negative feelings that emerge at the withdrawal stage can only be remedied by using technology – giving in to the craving and repeating the addictive process over again. 

This cycle becomes extremely hard to break. While 47% of smartphone users have tried to limit their usage, only 30% felt they were successful

Over time, a screen addiction can take over a person’s life, and when it becomes impossible to control, they are diagnosed with internet addiction disorder (IAD)

What are the effects of screen addiction on physical and mental health?  

For adults, screen addiction can lead to: 

  • Physical strain – Constantly looking at a screen for long periods without rest can cause digital eye strain. Symptoms include headaches, blurry vision as well as neck and shoulder pain. 
  • Sleep deprivation – Screens disrupts sleep because the blue light emitted from digital devices suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep at night. 
  • Increased risk towards chronic health conditions – Spending time online often involves sitting, depriving yourself of being physically active. Continuous sitting can contribute to health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 
  • Lower self-esteem – Being addicted to screens can negatively alter how you perceive yourself, weakening your self-identity and confidence. Low self-esteem can lead to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. 

Screen addiction negatively impacts physical and mental health in the long term. A 2011 study found that among young adults, high mobile phone use was associated with sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression. 

With technology companies designing products and services that exasperate online cravings, it might seem impossible to stop your addiction to screens. 

Here are some ways to combat screen addiction: 

Take control of your time by: 

  • Setting up a specific time in the day to look at screens for pleasure, specifying a time limit so you can move onto another activity. 
  • Creating no-tech periods throughout the day restricts your access to any digital devices. 
  • Taking part in more offline activities, or even spending time doing nothing, can reinvigorate your body and mind. 

Make your digital devices less of a distraction by: 

  • Sorting through mobile apps that appear on your phone. Organise your home screen by clearing out apps you don’t need and disabling certain apps you use too much
  • Turning off all but necessary notifications deters you from checking your phone constantly. 
  • Changing your phone display to grayscale removes eye-catching colours that will trigger your brain’s reward system. 
  • Charging your digital devices outside your bedroom stops you from scrolling through your phone right before you go to sleep. 

On average, people pick up their phones 58 times a day. While you may have had a reason to check your phone initially, after a while, you end up mindlessly using your phone without realising. 

Screen addiction starts through a simple bad habit like this. By taking control of your screen time, technology will become an asset rather than a hindrance in your life moving forwards. 

At Ceed, your tailored life coach will help you become proactive in managing your screen timeVisit our website to find out more. 

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