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Too Much Information: With Downtime Comes More Screen Time

April 27, 2020

They’re lifesavers – how we work, socialize at Zoom happy hours, visit with doctors via virtual health, stay abreast of the news – but our screens may also spark digital overload that negatively impacts our mental health.

It’s not just teenagers who need to separate from smartphones, laptops or tablets. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s social distancing and stay-at-home requirements, we should all put them down more.

Digital overload is exactly as it sounds– exposure to massive amounts of information through devices and the internet leave our brains struggling to process which, in turn, can leave us feeling anxious, depressed and exhausted.

According to Dr. Paul Weigle, associate medical director of ambulatory services at Natchaug Hospital, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network, signs digital use is causing depression include:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Irritability.
  • Change in appetite or weight.
  • Change in sleep patterns.
  • Low energy levels.
  • Decline in school or work performance.

“Increases in screen time have complicated effects on health, which vary greatly,” he explained. “Studies indicate that youth who spend the most time with screen media are most prone to depression, behavior problems, low self-esteem and poor physical fitness.”

Digital overload also can leave you unable to relax and subject to headaches, stomach aches and eye strain.

“We need to monitor our screen habits and make sure we’re being good role models because it does have a great effect on our children. We certainly need to educate kids on the importance of a healthy balance and the drawbacks of excessive screen entertainment,” Weigle said.

To avoid digital overload, try:

  • Taking regular breaks. Set a timer and put the devices down every 30 to 60 minutes. Move away from the device. Go outside for some fresh air, read a book or just rest your eyes on something else.
  • Stopping alerts. We don’t need to be the first to know everything. Alerts just tug you back into reading and scouring pages. Go one step further and put your phone on “Do not disturb” for segments of time.
  • Focusing on one thing at a time. You don’t need to check texts on your phone while scrolling through emails on your laptop. Research shows that such digital multitasking can leave you unable to perform tasks requiring focus.
  • Creating screen-free zones. Those can include the dinner table and bedroom, or at bedtime in general.
  • Plugging into life. Use your free time to play a board game with the family, write a letter to a relative or neighbor who lives alone or try a new recipe.

“(We just need) to develop a healthy balance with ample daily time for adequate sleep, family activities, chores, homework and reading for enjoyment, activities which should take priority over screen time,” Dr. Weigle said.

The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network is now scheduling virtual-health visits for mental health and addiction services. Call your provider for details. New patients can schedule a virtual visit by calling 1.888.984.2408.

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Need to see your doctor? New Patient? For more information about Hartford HealthCare virtual health visits, click here.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

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