Your Student Life: Technology, Electronics and Mental Health

May 16, 2021

Whether for work or school, we are increasingly spending more time with electronic devices and technology than in the past.  This increased screen time for work and school may cause previously used screen time for leisure activities not as restorative; as this may increase total screen time and sedentary behavior.

Zhai and colleague’s review of 24 studies shows that too much screen time (> 6 hours per day) can impact depression.  Similar, a review of 31 studies concluded that sedentary behavior may also impact anxiety.

More devices are now available than ever before: computers, televisions, tablet pcs, smartphones, smart watches, etc.

While healthy technology use can have benefits of productivity, social connection, entertainment and improved health; unhealthy technology use can worsen our distraction, isolate us socially, increase stress, expose us negative social influences; and negatively impact our health.

The American Psychological Association offers the following strategies to use technology in healthy ways:

  1. Avoid distracted driving. APA advises us to turn off notifications and place your phone out of reach when driving.
  2. Avoid electronic devices before bedtime. Previous research showed blue light from electronic devices used at bedtime can impact sleep, stressful material on electronic devices can also interfere with our ability to fall asleep.
  3. When smartphone users turned off smartphone notifications, they reported lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity than they did during weeks when their notifications were turned on.  Frequent notifications were also associated with lower levels of productivity, social connectedness and psychological well-being.
  4. Schedule time for email, when possible. People who checked email continuously reported more stress than those who checked email only three times per day.
  5. Manage expectations. If possible, schedule time to check messages, email, notifications etc. and if possible, let others (family members, boss, etc.) know how often you do this, to help manage their expectations.
  6. While social media can help us connect with others, it can also impact feelings of sadness or depression, other people may find it helpful. Consider how social media use makes you feel and adjust your use accordingly.
  7. Face to face interactions are important for mental health. The 2017 Stress in America survey found 44 percent of people who check email, texts and social media often or constantly report feeling disconnected from their family, even when they’re together. When you’re with friends and family, make an effort to unplug: consider silencing your phone and put it out of reach at dinnertime or during family outings.
  8. Disconnect: Instead of grabbing your phone during spare time, disconnect from electronics to reflect, recharge, relax; and collect yourself.

To counteract excessive screen time, sedentary behavior from remote work/learning, consider the following:

    • Periodic breaks away from the screen, even a few minutes per hour may help.
    • Stretching, walking during these breaks may be helpful.
    • Instead of mindless “infinite” scrolling, consider your goal before starting a device or program.
    • Consider time outside, in nature and other leisure activities for mental health.
    • Exercise, playing sports can also help address the negative mental health effects of excessive sedentary behavior and screen time.
    • Check out mindful technology use by OSU Digital Flagship

Ryan Patel DO 

FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist
Counseling and Consultation Service
Office of Student Life