Here’s a tidbit that might blow your mind: research shows that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with spending more time on screens. In fact, turning to tech can have a myriad of benefits, allowing us to connect with friends, family, and coworkers, and even helping us manage difficult emotions and reduce stress.
Not all screen time is created equal, though. Certain ways of engaging with tech can have detrimental impacts on our social connections, our productivity, and our emotional health. For example, spending hours passively scrolling through social media feeds is linked to greater feelings of envy and loneliness, and a higher risk of depression.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Month, The Coding Space wants to empower you with some practical tips to ensure that your relationship with tech stays as healthy as possible. Keep reading to learn more!
It’s difficult to change any behaviors when we’re not clear on what those behaviors are. A good place to start is by tracking your screen time — how much time you’re spending, and on which devices — by using an app, like OFFTIME or Moment, or your phone’s built-in screen time tracking tools. Studies suggest we tend to underestimate how long we spend scrolling and swiping. By tracking your habits for a week or two, you can get a sense of the changes you may want to make!
In the era of remote work, the boundaries between working hours and personal time can be especially blurry. And even when it is “work time”, too often we allow our productivity and workflow to get derailed every few minutes by the constant arrival of non-urgent messages in our inbox. Instead, find an app – like Inbox Pause or Batched Inbox — that collects all of your messages and delivers them in batches at certain times of the day. Studies show that checking your email only a few times a day reduces stress and boosts productivity by removing interruptions so you can finish important projects and blocking off time for deeply focused work. What’s more, setting these kinds of limits allows you to set boundaries between your personal and professional life and, therefore, find a better balance.
Social media can be a wonderful tool for connection, but our approach to social media can make a big difference in how it affects us. A number of studies suggest that passive time spent on social media can be worse for our well-being than more active use. Imagine you’re scrolling through your feeds and you see a photo from an old friend’s recent wedding. “Passive use” would mean that you simply continue to scroll without engaging; “active use” would mean leaving a quick comment or congratulating that friend in a DM. The more time we spend scrolling through social feeds without actively engaging, the more likely we are to make unhelpful comparisons that might lead to negative thought patterns. Of course, this doesn’t mean that, in order to use social media healthily, we must all comment on every new post we see. However, we can make an effort to recognize when we’re not feeling communicative and perhaps find a different screen-based activity to occupy that time.
Blue light emitted by your phone, tablet, or laptop can affect your sleep by tricking your brain into thinking it's daytime. Taking a quick glance at your phone before bedtime isn’t guaranteed to wreck your sleep, but it is worth limiting your exposure to screens before bedtime as much as you can — especially if you regularly struggle to fall asleep. Poor sleep can have all sorts of disruptive effects on your mental health in the short and long term, making it more difficult to cope with the minor stresses of daily life. Thankfully, Apple devices and Windows 10 devices have a nifty feature called Night Shift that changes the color temperature of the screen, reducing blue light.
For many of us, the first thing we do in the morning is check our phone. Maybe we see a flood of Facebook notifications, or maybe we absentmindedly open Instagram and start scrolling. Before we know it, we’re down the rabbit role — it’s 11am, and we haven’t dressed, showered, eaten breakfast, or worked out.
It’s important to engage with social media intentionally so that it doesn’t eclipse other fulfilling tasks in our days. You might consider setting a social media schedule — staying off the apps on Sundays, for example, and only using social media between 10am and 6pm. Most smartphones have settings that will allow you to limit the use of certain apps to specific times per day!
The thing about many apps is that they’re designed to hijack our attention and entice us to spend as much time as possible on them. When we get a notification, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. But between the big red numbers and the incessant dinging tones, you may find yourself shifting your focus away from what and who matters most to the device buzzing at your side. Or you may realize that all the notifications aren’t just robbing your time and attention; they’re also increasing your stress and anxiety.
With notifications constantly bombarding you, it can feel like you have to respond to everything right now. But not everything requires an instant response — as it turns out, not much is truly urgent. Turning off notifications for apps like Twitter, Gmail, etc — and keeping notifications on for only calls and texts — is a great way to let your phone work as a tool for you rather than letting it control you.
Technology has the ability to help us advance in our personal, social, and professional lives: through tech, we can take our businesses online, connect with old friends, or share important milestones with our network. This Mental Health Awareness Month, we at TCS want to give you the tools to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with your devices, so that you can reap the benefits of tech while preserving your social connections, productivity, and emotional health.