Imagine an era when people went into their offices, sat at their desks and worked with pen, paper and typewriters. Seems obsolete, right?
There was a time when people functioned without the use of screens: no computers, no laptops, no ipads or no mobile phones.
Since the advancement of technology, working or acquiring information by typing into a gadget seems impossible.
Approximately 10 hours of your day are spent in front of the screen. And this is why we are talking about the mental health effects of screen time. You are sitting at your desk pushing those keys, getting work done, meeting deadlines and sending emails.
Having a device at your disposal has certainly made professional life easy. Especially during the pandemic, it ensured that companies were in service. It brought new work from home culture, which has massively changed the work lifestyle. But this led to poor mental health effects of screen time.
All of which seem impressive. But have you thought about the real mental health effects of screen time on your mind and emotions?
It has been just about three decades since every workplace has adapted gadgets. Hence, there is not much research or substantial evidence about the mental health effects of screen time.
Nevertheless, observing how this technology-based work culture personally affects you is something all of us can do for ourselves.
How Much Is Too Much?
Employees, on average, spend 11 hours looking at a screen. It may be their laptop, mobile phone or television. Eleven out of twenty-four hours is a significant part of the day.
Let us only focus on mental health effects of screen time usage during work hours. That amounts to about nine hours per day. These nine hours cause strain to the employee’s eyes, neck and back and cause headaches. This is the physical aspect of it.
The mental health effects of screen time and psychological aspects on the brain involve lack of concentration, feeling disoriented, lack of interest in tasks, lack of motivation, feeling emotionally drained, reduced social contact and many others.
Let’s do some introspection. You are working, pressing those keys. But you can no longer stand the screen and the information on it. You feel like your brain is blank. You feel like shutting down the screen and walking off – a stark reminder of the mental health effects of screen time.
The urge to walk away from your work, to close your eyes and think of things other than work, is your cue. The feeling of being burnt out signifies the negative mental health effects of screen time.
Changes In The Brain
Psychology does not only include emotions. It also focuses on the brain and its functions, structure and changes.
Neuroscientists have observed that excessive use of digital devices has proven to harm some brain functions, which may or may not be reversible. This is called digital dementia, a dangerous byproduct of the mental health effects of screen time. It hampers the memory, attention and concentration span.
A book by German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer brought the term digital dementia.
The book published in 2012 explains the damage caused by technology. It highlights the level of damage to cognitive abilities, which are equivalent to those with a head injury or severe psychiatric disorders – and this is just one of the mental health effects of screen time.
The structure of the brain does not change overnight. It takes repetition of the same activity for the occurrence of severe changes in the brain.This suggests that if an employee is prone to excessive screen time, even during work hours, it might affect his attention span, memory and ability to carry out their tasks, and other more severe mental health effects of screen time may occur.
How many of us employees have our gadgets open with multiple tabs open at the same time? They may all be related to one task or to various tasks we are trying to complete simultaneously.
The learnt habit of multitasking and having many tabs open simultaneously has been linked to an increase in adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Reversing these mental health effects of screen time will require an extreme cut down on the usage of gadgets. Employees may have to step away from their laptops.
Various studies suggest that an increase in screen time results in a decrease in the quality of sleep. It affects the hours of the dreams and causes fatigue even after hours of sleep.
The rays emitted by screens impact the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Even if the body is tired and demands sleep, the brain refuses to adhere to the demand due to the effects of excessive screen time.
Every day brings along with it a different mood wave. Yesterday you were feeling low and wanted to avoid social interaction. Today seems like a bright day and team meetings don’t seem like such a bad idea.
Our moods are a result of our hormones, environment and our inbuilt personality. When there is a persistent change in mood, one of the three aspects has to be checked.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), through research, has identified mood swings and unexplained mood changes as the symptoms of technology addiction.
Companies have all kinds of employees. Some of them are grumpy and unpredictable. These are the ones who are facing multiple problems. Their problems range from family/personal problems to workload to financial strain to physical illnesses.
If managers practice an open door policy, wherein the employee has direct access to the manager and can discuss personal hurdles, the manager can assist the employee in overcoming the ongoing issue in some manner.
Every employee may need such support some or the other time. Therefore having a mental health professional onboard can be a great asset to IT companies.
Have you noticed yourself getting irritated quickly and acting out at the most minor inconvenience after a long day at work? That is your stress trying to find a release.
Constantly being on high alert for deadlines, incoming work and the current task can overwhelm the nervous system. Such constant stress on the nervous system makes the employee feel burnt out and burdened, therefore increasing the mental health effects of screen time.
The stress experienced by IT employees is not only regarding their workload. Excessive screen time affects the brain in such a way that the constant processing of data seen on the screen causes stress directly to the brain.
Processing information for hours while straining the eyes causes direct stress to the brain to a point where it refuses to accept any more information or fails to process and store the information that is being presented to it.
A field like IT is all about the study, analysis and usage of gadgets. Which unfortunately involves minimal human interaction.
The minimal usage of communication at the workplace causes a reduction in the communication skills of the employees. This is exclusive of the formal communication required within the workplace.
Social communications require a touch of emotions. Without any expression of emotion, communications are bland and fail to form personal relationships – a negative impact of the mental health effects of screen time at work.
If the employee loses the ability to communicate effectively, they will find it challenging to socialise within the workplace as well as in other social setups.
The above-mentioned mental health effects of screen time may seem minor and negligible initially. But when these issues are ignored for an extended period of time, they lead to major psychological disorders.
As mentioned above, the psychological disorders can include adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety, sleep disorders and even changes in the brain.
All of the above psychological impacts of increased screen time can be controlled and avoided if the employee manages his own exposure to the screen in spite of it being a requirement of the job.
Breaks at regular intervals along with minimal usage of gadgets can be the first step towards a reduction in screen time.
Taking steps toward recovering from the mental and physical impacts of excessive screen time will cause a change in the individual’s overall life.
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