Are you the parent who’s worried about the amount of time your kids spend on their tablets while spending hours every day on your phone? If you are, you’re not alone. We often talk about screen time limits for kids but what about adults? The evidence shows that devices can be habit-forming for adults, too. Many adults are overly dependent on their screens, even while setting limits with their kids. Too much screen time in adults has negative impacts on physical and mental health. Here are a few issues to watch out for along with strategies for breaking the cycle.
Screen Time and Eye Strain
According to the Vision Council, an optical industry group, 80 percent of adults report using digital devices for more than two hours a day, and 59 percent report symptoms of digital eye strain. These include:
- Eye strain
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
The council recommends limiting screen time, along with using glasses to magnify text or filter light from the screen, taking frequent breaks, keeping your screen at arm’s length when possible and increasing text size when needed.
Screen Time and Neck Pain
The phenomenon known as “text neck” can be a problem for adults and teens alike. It’s a silly name, but the condition is no joke. Poor posture related to smartphone and device use can cause neck pain and long term problems. According to a 2014 study by spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj, tilting the head forward (as many of us do when using a smartphone) takes a toll on the upper spine as the forward angle of the neck makes the weight of the head feel heavier. Hansraj recommends keeping the spine neutral and shifting the eyes instead of the head when using a device.
Screen Time and Tendonitis
Smartphone thumb is another catchy name for a real problem. The condition known as smartphone thumb is a type of repetitive motion tendonitis that can cause pain and even lead to arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to limiting screen time, experts recommend using forefingers to text, using voice text, and old-fashioned phone calls to relieve stress on your thumbs.
Screen Time and Weight Gain
Numerous studies have linked increased screen time to the obesity epidemic in America. Spending time on a screen contributes to a sedentary lifestyle which is directly linked to obesity. Screen time also goes hand in hand with excess/unhealthy snacking. Instead, focus on active time and outdoor activities for both adults and children.
Screen Time and Sleep Problems
Studies have also linked screen time with sleep problems and suggest that the blue light our devices emit can impact our circadian rhythms, the natural cycles in the body that affect waking and sleeping. Studies show that light can disrupt our body clocks and make us more awake at night. Experts recommend keeping bedrooms device free and turning off devices at least an hour before bed.
Screen Time and Mental Health
Screen time in general and social media in particular can cause problems with depression and anxiety. So often, spending time on social media can lead to unhealthy comparison with others, as your day-to-day routine runs into the highlight reels of friends. This can contribute to feelings of being less-than and can hurt mental health. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation also says screens can be addictive in the same way as drugs or alcohol and lead to isolation, depression and extreme anxiety.
Screen Time and Adults: How Can I Break the Habit
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a series of recommendations for protecting your mental and physical health by reducing screen time and adopting healthy strategies for addressing dependence on devices and social media:
- Connect in real life and seek out face to face interaction
- Put away your phone when you need to focus
- Think about motives and feelings. Ask yourself why you are turning to screen time and confront negative feelings you may be seeking to avoid.
- Pursue active interests and hobbies
- Practice reflection and gratitude to help get out of the cycle of unhealthy comparison with others
Screen Time and Me: How Can My Primary Care Provider Help
If you feel that screen time is becoming an issue–or have received feedback from family members, your primary care physician’s office is a great place to start. Your primary care provider can help with the basics, including vision screenings and a physical exam. If neck or wrist pain is an issue, we can help you find non-surgical solutions, including recommending a physical therapist if needed.
Your primary care provider can help you create a plan for nutrition and exercise that will not only help you cut the cord but also boost self-esteem and reduce dependence on digital media. We can help you connect to strategies for increasing mindfulness and intent as you tackle your work life, home life and daily tasks. If mental health issues related to screen time and social media arise, we can refer you to a therapist to help you disconnect the impulse to turn to social media and address the underlying issues at the root of the problem.
At Comprehensive Primary Care, we look at our patients’ wellness as a big picture, including mental and physical health. So if you take an honest look and see that technology is causing problems, we’re here to help you break the cycle and regain your health.