Should we be worried by the apparent surge in user screentime globally? 

Yes and No. Despite the potential for overuse, screentime is currently providing many of us with an extremely helpful link to other people. It allows us to connect with friends and family we may not be able to see in the current circumstances and also to continue our studies or work which allows us to keep a sense of purpose during an uncertain time. Loneliness can be a big problem when self-isolating, in fact, 31% of those who self-quarantined during the SARS outbreak suffered from depression as a result of this, so it is vital to maintain social connections and friendships during this time.

However, if screentime is not monitored and being used (consciously or not) to further isolate and disconnect, the mental health repercussions could be dire. Some of the key symptoms of overuse are sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety, affective responses, a lack of focus and motivation and, negative self-image.

How real is the threat of phone addiction?

Real! Like any addiction, if you repeatedly increase the dosage, you will also increase your tolerance. As such, the ‘user’ needs more of the substance to get the same ‘fix’. In this case, the substance is dopamine and it’s delivered to you directly through your smartphone.

What steps can individuals take to try and limit their screentime?

Schedule allocated screentime into your day. Look forward to a group-video call with your friends at the end of the day, schedule an hour for gaming in the afternoon – but don’t fall into the trap of spending all day in front of a screen. Online activities may very likely take up a good chunk of time, however, it is important to also find non-digital, alternative activities, especially, if a large amount of time is already spent in front of a computer working or studying remotely. Cook, exercise, read, play a board game. Catching up on any tasks you haven’t had the time for are potential activities that maintain our sense of productivity and create a counterbalance to on-screen time.

Remember that your smartphone and the apps on it have been designed to keep you online, so regain control where possible and try to use the internet and social media in the ‘right-way’, as a tool to stay connected with others, rather than letting it control you and contribute to anxiety and loneliness.

If you find it hard to regulate your screentime, download a website/app blocker like Freedom or Limit that temporarily restricts your access to certain sites or apps.

Attend a workshop 

We run private workshops, for both parents and students, to help understand the impact of digital engagement and social media interaction on personal health and wellbeing. We help our students to reflect on their digital habits and give them practical tools and methods to help maintain a balanced approach to social media and screen time.