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Minimizing the Negative Effects of Screen Time on the Brain

November 18, 2021

Screens are a major part of life. Fifty years ago people spent an hour watching the evening news each day and occasionally went to the movies. Now, they check their phones, use their computers, and watch their televisions around the clock.

40% of college students admit that they’re addicted to their phones. Vox reported in 2020 that Americans spend an average of 600 total minutes in front of various forms of screens each day — and counting…

Humanity has benefited tremendously from the technological and information ages. But it doesn’t change the fact that our excessive use of screen time is posing some serious long-term threats, particularly when it comes to our mental health.

How Screen Time Negatively Impacts the Brain

It should come as no surprise that too much screen time hurts the body and the brain alike. The physical effects are often easy to spot. Reduced activity leads to weight issues, staring at a screen all day strains the eyes, and so on.

The mental side of the equation is harder to identify, but often just as detrimental.

For instance, while not definitively conclusive, studies have suggested that too much screen time can lead to grey matter shrinkage in the brain. It can also hinder the ability of white matter to communicate and generally hobble cognitive performance.

In addition, there are indirect effects. Blue light has been connected to sleep issues for a while now. If sleep is disrupted, it can lead to further cognitive function concerns from struggling to preserve memories to lower mental agility, hormone regulation, and even major issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

Harvard researchers have also reported that, along with sleep deprivation, too much screen time can interfere with creativity. The brain needs time to wander with nothing to do. This boredom is often the time when creativity and innovation are the strongest. Excessive screen time takes away that process.

Some of the subtlest ways screen time impacts our mental state is through its addictive nature, as well. Digital devices encourage things like FOMO (fear of missing out), dopamine-inducing environments, and the need to “always be sharing” information. All of these can seriously influence how we perceive and interact with the world — and mostly in negative ways.

Ways to Minimize the Effects of Screen Time

There’s no doubt that screen time is a growing issue with modern individuals. However, the integrated and valuable nature of digital devices makes entirely removing screens an impractical solution. Instead, here are a few suggestions to help you better manage your screen time.

Limit Your Screen Time

It may sound difficult, but it really is possible to reduce your screen time. If you’re in virtual school classes or you work remotely, you likely have certain quotas of screen time that you simply can’t get out of each day.

But you can still look for ways to be healthier “in the cracks.” Instead of vegging out in front of the television every day, look for healthier options, like playing a board game with a friend or going out on a date with a loved one.

You can also look for recurring activities, like a home workout routine, that can keep you motivated to do non-screen activities on the regular. By finding hobbies or setting fitness goals, you give yourself something to focus on and work toward that isn’t screen-dependent.

Get Screen Time Accountability

If you want to manage your screen time better, you may need to get some help. It’s important that you approach the issue as any addict would. Trying to positively impact your situation on your own is both risky and prone to failure.

Instead, look for accountability to help keep you on track. This could be daily check-ins with a friend. It could also come from creating a screen time agreement with your family that creates basic parameters for your digital device usage.

Whatever you choose, setting up accountability is a great way to truly break your unhealthy screen time habits.

Support Your Mental Health in Other Ways

Along with removing the screen problem, you also want to look for ways to proactively fill it in with positive mental health habits. Some suggestions include:

● Eating a clean, healthy diet;

● Getting consistent exercise;

● Addressing the quantity and quality of your sleep;

● Cultivating a positive, thankful, and grateful mindset;

It’s hard to remove something like screen time without filling in the hole with another equally potent (and ideally positive) alternative.

Minimizing the Negative Impact of Screen Time

Screens are a necessity of life. But that doesn’t mean they should be used in an unrestrained manner. On the contrary, it’s essential that you make an effort to regulate your screen time and minimize the effect that it can have on your mind.

So use the three tips above as a starting point and then look for ways that you can improve your screen habits. Your mind, body, and emotions will thank you in the long run.

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