Technology is a definitive part of our 21st century experience, where recent innovations have improved the way we work, travel and connect. Upgrades in computer and mobile technology have in many ways simplified the way we live, shortening processes and making daily tasks increasingly streamlined.
This is all good news - but there are downsides to technological innovation. Tech can replace human beings in the workplace leading to job losses, whilst unregulated developments in artificial intelligence raise numerous ethical questions.
On a daily basis, technology also has a big impact on our mental wellbeing, where high doses of screen time can worsen sleep, further social isolation and lead to addictive behaviours. Read on for an insight into all the ways that technology can impact our mental health.
One of the most common ways in which we all use our mobile devices is to access social media. Although this can help us to stay connected with people in our lives through the sharing of ideas, images and videos, it can also have its downsides. Excessive social media usage is associated with an increase in anxiety, depression and an overall decrease in confidence.
The 2022 Digital Wellbeing report from The Cybersmile Foundation found that 89% of 16-24 year olds questioned indicated that social media had a negative impact on their mental health. This negative impact is thought to be caused by the way that social media encourages us to compare our lives with others, as well as the feeling of missing out when our own lives don’t compare to those shown on the screen.
Social media allows users to only post the highlights of their daily lives, leading people to feel unworthy in comparison to this image of perfection. Social media may also allow people to access unsuitable content which in turn affects mental wellbeing, whilst online bullying and harassment through social media can also cause a range of mental health difficulties.
Social media is also highly addictive, especially with the development of continuous scrolling on most applications. This can make it difficult to step away from the screen, leading to a range of associated problems such as disrupted sleep and isolation.
Further Impacts Of Technology On Mental Wellbeing
Social media on its own can cause various mental health difficulties for its users, where these can be exacerbated by screen usage in other areas of life. Lots of people work daily on a computer, whilst we also rely on screens for entertainment, navigation and money management. As such, we all experience the negative effects of this screen time, where key issues can include:
It is well-established that excessive screen usage can have an impact on sleep. This is because our devices produce blue light, which in turn suppresses the brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone which helps us to sleep when it’s dark.
As such, tech users can spend longer getting to sleep, where this could develop into insomnia. A lack of sleep is proven to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, where it can worsen depression and anxiety. In serious cases, sleep deprivation can even lead to bouts of paranoia or psychosis.
The addictiveness of social media and technology in general can encourage users to spend longer on screens than necessary. Autoplay options on streaming sites in addition to continuous scrolling can make it difficult to switch off, leading to long periods of inactivity. This can compound other ill-effects of screen usage, where physical activity is directly linked to mental wellbeing.
According to UCLA Health, the number of poor mental health days a person experiences per month drops by more than 40% with the uptake of regular exercise. This is because physical activity can help to reduce stress and anxiety, in addition to boosting self-esteem. It can help both to prevent the development of mental illness and manage existing mental health problems. If technology is encouraging us to lead more sedentary lives, then this will inevitably further a reduction in mental wellbeing.
Compromised Attention Spans
Technology is designed to keep us looking at our screens, where this is believed to have a negative impact on our attention spans. Our devices allow us to multi-task and remain totally absorbed in entertainment, where this can be through using multiple devices at once, such as browsing social media whilst watching TV. The brain can become dependent on this kind of stimulation, making it harder to focus on time consuming off screen activities.
Phone notifications are also designed to draw us back to our devices. According to King’s College London, UK adults estimate they check their phones 25 times a day, when in reality the average is 80 times.
Although it is difficult to measure the exact impact of technology on our attention spans, the overload of information and connectivity that our devices provide can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety, as well as making it harder to mentally disconnect and wind down at the end of a busy day. Constant connectivity can lead us to feel like we’re always ‘on’, even when we’ve left work or shut down our computers. Naturally this can result in a decline in overall wellbeing.
Children & Technology
Increasingly, the impact of technology on young children has become a topic of public interest, where children today are growing up with a much more normalised usage of digital devices than ever before. The World Health Organisation recommends that children below the age of five years should not spend more than one hour a day passively looking at a screen, including television and smartphones. According to a research overview from the National Library of Medicine, excessive Internet usage in children can lead to reduced cognitive function and decreased verbal intelligence. Other areas such as memory, emotional intelligence and attention were also negatively impacted.
A study into the impact of appearance-focused online games on girls aged 8-9 years showed that these games harm the perception of body image and reduce self esteem levels. Although moderate usage of technology can support creativity and the development of problem solving skills, excessive usage is linked to insomnia, stress and separation anxiety symptoms when devices are removed.
Loneliness & Isolation
In all age groups, heavy technology usage can lead to feelings of isolation. This is because digital devices can interrupt real-life social interaction and lead to feelings of disconnect, whilst continued technology immersion can ultimately damage social skills and lead to an increase in social anxiety. A 2017 study of adults aged between 19 and 32 concluded that those with high social media usage levels are three times more likely to feel isolated than those who use these sites less frequently.
Combating The Impact Of Technology On Mental Wellbeing
It can be difficult to reduce screen time, especially when many of us rely on digital technology for work and daily communication. But there are still small changes we can all make to give ourselves some tech-free time, where these include:
Designate tech-free hours in the morning/evening, especially if you’re working on a screen all day
Return to using paper whenever possible for making notes or plans
Engage in more physical activity that takes you away from screens
Silence notifications or use the do not disturb mode, especially after working hours
Use your device’s blue light filter or night mode settings to improve your quality of sleep
Set app timers to help you limit social media usage and overall screen time
Delete non-essential apps that are causing you to waste time or feel unhappy
Cleanse your social media timelines of content that isn’t serving you or that impacts your self-esteem
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If you wish to help improve the mental health of adults and young people, then a career in counselling might be for you. At Key Counselling Training, we offer a wide selection of accredited counselling courses to develop your professional skills, where these include psychotherapy training and child and adolescent counselling qualifications. We also offer a range of Continuing Professional Development events and workshops on a range of essential areas such as imposter syndrome, conflict resolution and attachment. Contact us today to find out more about our courses.