Digital Health: Balancing screen time and social media usage for your mental wellbeing

procrastination productivity stress Mar 28, 2024

In 2024, it’s hard to remember what life was like without smartphones and social media. The past 20 years, particularly the past five years has seen the way we interact, communicate and access information completely transform. With terms like ‘Tik Tok’ it’s no wonder digital overload is so prevalent. 

Whilst there are many pros to this new way of living, our digital habits have been proven to have a dramatic impact on our mental wellbeing. With increasing screen time, especially amongst the younger generations, as well as social media addiction, it’s crucial to set boundaries and create healthy digital habits for not only your short term health, but long term health as well. 

When you understand the psychological effects as well as the science behind excessive use of these devices and platforms, it becomes easier to find a balance that works for you. 

Checking in on your screen time

The average Australian adult spends 5.5 hours a day on their phone. That’s 83 days out of the entire year. Whilst there are many things you need your phone for, it’s good to become aware of where those hours are going.

If you have an iphone, you can go into the settings on your phone, click ‘screen time’ and see how long you’re spending each day on your device. It will show a breakdown of where you're spending that time. 

Why is excessive screen time bad for your health? 

  1. Sleep: Prolonged screen time, especially right before bed can have a negative impact on your sleep and circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). Stimulation and the blue-light that emits from your device causes a decreased production in melatonin (the chemical that makes you sleepy), meaning you may find it harder to get to sleep and reach the deep REM sleep stage that you need in order to operate at your best. 

  2. Social isolation: Excessive screen time and social media use can trick you into thinking you are connecting more than you actually are. Texting and phone calls are great for keeping in touch, however it doesn’t measure up to a face to face meet up. Be mindful of how often you connect on your phone and opt for an in-person catch up where you can. 
  3. Impaired cognitive functioning: Constantly consuming new information and stimuli can impair cognitive functions like attention and memory, hindering your productivity and cognitive performance. To avoid this from happening take proper brain brains eg. tech-free walk around the block. This helps to let your brain truly rest and process so that you can rebound back into productive work. 
  4. Anxiety and depression: Research links excessive screen time to higher levels of anxiety and depression. The constant barrage of information and social comparisons exacerbates stress and can have a poor effect on overall well-being.

Understanding social media's influence on mental health

Social media platforms tap into our innate desire for social connection and validation, leveraging addictive mechanisms through:

  1. Dopamine-driven behaviour: Social media features like likes and comments trigger dopamine release, fueling addictive behaviours and creating a cycle of craving and reward.
  2. Social comparison: The curated nature of social media feeds unrealistic comparisons, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
  3. Escapism and distraction: Social media serves as an escape from stress, offering temporary relief through mindless scrolling. However, this reliance on digital distractions can interfere with healthy coping strategies.

Good digital habits to support your health and wellbeing 

To cultivate a healthier relationship with your smartphone and social media, consider the following strategies:

    1. Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries around screen time and social media usage. Allocate specific time slots for tech-free breaks and avoid devices as soon as you wake up (at least the first 10 minutes) and before bed (at least 30 minutes). Consider swapping out late night scrolling for reading a fiction book, having a bath or practising a sleep meditation. 
    2. Turn off notifications: Have notifications hidden for platforms you don’t need eg. Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook. 
    3. Use ‘Focus mode’ when you are doing deep work: On iphones there is a setting called ‘Focus mode’ or ‘Do not disturb’, you can tailor your settings to allow certain calls to get through. Meaning you can do deep work without notifications other than emergency numbers or work related calls coming through. 
    4. Have tech-free rooms in the house: Consider making certain parts of your house ‘tech-free’, allowing you to truly rest and recharge without stimuli.
    5. Curate your digital environment: Unfollow accounts that trigger negative emotions and limit exposure to addictive content. 
    6. Use the app time limit function on your phone to minimise excessive usage: Underneath screen time in your setting, you will find a sub heading that says ‘App limit’, here you can set boundaries with certain apps that may be big distractions for you. 
    7.  Lead by example: Model healthy digital behaviours for children and adolescents. Eg. No phones at the dinner table. 

Technology is here to stay, and it's essential for you to control how you use these devices to support and not hinder your wellbeing. By being mindful of your digital habits like setting boundaries and giving yourself proper breaks you can enjoy the advantages of technology whilst protecting your mental health in today's digital world.

Learn more about digital health and setting healthy boundaries with Keynote Speaker, Jay Pottenger.