Over the past several years, it seemed like you could not go anywhere in public where someone was not looking at a screen. People are constantly checking their smartphones or tablets while walking or sitting at coffee shops on their laptops. It seemed like screen-based technologies could not have gotten more ingrained in society, and then a pandemic hit.
Suddenly, everything was virtual: work, school, social activities; and the use of screen-based technologies increased significantly. Things we used to quickly discuss in person in the workplace, clarification on a project, or response to an email thread, have now become virtual meetings that take longer and require more screen time. In addition to the increased use of screen-based meetings, we now walk and stand a lot less because we no longer have to walk from the parking lot to the building or get up to go to a colleague’s office.
There have been many studies over the years showing negative effects from prolonging screen time affecting physical and mental health. We know that screen time affects sleep because the blue light emitted from many screens simulates daylight and throws off the body’s circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). Increased use of technology has also increased obesity in children and adults by taking the place of physical activity. In terms of mental health, prolonged screen time in children has been shown to lead to cognitive delays, increased irritability, and negative academic performance.
Internally, we discuss different Wellness Topics monthly with “the Effects of Screen Time” being this month’s topic. When I mentioned that experts recommend 2 hours of total screen time per day, “way to set us up to fail, Erin”, was the response I got. There are very few professions these days that allow for screen time of fewer than 2 hours per day. Even those fields that involve manual tasks still have to check work orders, addresses, etc on their phones or tablets. It seems that we just cannot get away from screens at work.
After thinking about this, my thoughts on screen time kept coming back to one thing: being mindful of the amount of time spent looking at screens. Take frequent breaks, stretch, and move as often as possible. Try calling friends and coworkers when you are able instead of video conferencing. Over the weekends, try to avoid screens when possible and do activities that reconnect you to nature, such as biking or hiking, or try a new skill that you have been meaning to learn: cooking, knitting, underwater basket weaving. And, when it is safe to do so, reconnect with friends and family in person.
On that note, I think I will grab the dog and go for a walk in the neighborhood…