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Excessive screen time increases depression, anxiety

In the modern world, many would agree that it is nearly impossible to spend an entire day without using technology, especially cell phones. Although the American Psychology Association does not characterize excessive cell phone use as a recognized addiction, the symptoms of overuse are similar to those of any other addiction. The progression of technology has completely consumed lives and altered the way society functions. 

According to La Amistad Behavorial Health Services, screen time can increase mental health complications and affect brain development, sleep patterns, productivity and the body’s capacity to regulate itself. 

NMSU students stare at their cell phone screens when they could be interacting with one another. There are many negative repercussions associated with the overuse of cell phones including a lack of in-person communication. (Photo by Juliana Trujillo/Kokopelli)

An informal survey of 34 NMSU students revealed these students log an average of five to six hours of screen time a day.

NMSU freshman Clayton Rowland puts in an average of nine hours of screen time daily, and has faced ramifications. 

“Sometimes I’ll come home and I’ll lay on my bed, and I’ll pull out my phone even though I’ll have something to do,” Rowland said. “And the next thing I know, 30 to 40 minutes have passed and I literally had something to do, but I didn’t do it because I was too distracted by my phone.”

Social media, especially, has modified how individuals spend their time and the content they absorb. It is becoming more common for younger generations to use social media as their main contact with others, making it difficult to go without it.

“There’ll be times that people will literally be sitting in a group and hanging out with each other, but everyone’s literally on their phone and texting each other instead of talking,” Rowland said. 

In a world where companies and businesses thrive off of social media involvement, it can be particularly difficult for those trying to manage phone addiction. 

Senior Mia Tontodonati, social media manager for NMSU’s student-run radio station KRUX FM, manages all the station’s platforms. She finds that this position makes it difficult for social media to not consume a substantial amount of her time. 

“I find myself going back and forth between the KRUX and my personal Instagram,” Tontodonati said. “Just scrolling through both like when I get bored with mine, I’ll scroll through the KRUX one. So I feel like it does [take up a lot of time] because I get a different variety of content on each.” 

The use of cell phones and social media late at night can also cause difficulty falling asleep and the inability to have quality sleep. This occurs because the blue light omitted by screens can suppress the body’s secretion of melatonin and decrease REM sleep, affecting the way the body recovers. Additionally, sounds and notifications can disrupt circadian rhythms, which is the body’s 24-cycle that regulates physical, mental and behavioral changes.

Mia Tontodonati works on a KRUX 91.5 FM social media account on April 4, 2021, while simultaneously monitoring other accounts. (Photo by Juliana Trujillo/Kokopelli)

“I would say it does affect my sleep schedule,” Tontodonati said, “because sometimes I’m just like enjoying whatever I’m watching too much. Even if I’m tired I’d rather sit there and watch whatever it is on my phone. I’d rather be doing that than sleeping.”

Although social media can be an effortless way to stay in touch with long-distance friends and family, it is also a constant reminder of what others are doing and how others are spending their time.

Tara Wharem, a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with many NMSU students, explained that overuse of social media can lead to people developing unrealistic standards and an unhealthy need for approval.

“What we would typically think about in terms of comparison, or using it as the basis of our self worth,” Wharem said. “Like, ‘oh I’m a worthy person if I get this many likes or people comment or if people share videos.’ But there’s also just the increased stress that comes from it. We often question ourselves and we’re like, ‘what’s going on with me or what’s wrong with me?’”

It is common, especially among high school and college students, to feel as though they need to live up to the social constructs that society has set. Rowland said he regularly uses Instagram and Snapchat and occasionally struggles with this feeling. 

“I guess just because those are all my friends and it’s like I can see them and everything they’re doing, but I don’t get to be there for them,” Rowland said. 

Shockingly,  it only takes a few hours  to notice shifts in emotions and behavior. 

“There’s research that shows you only need to be on your phone three or more hours a day to notice some impacts, [including] mental distress such as anxiety, increased depression and increased impulse control issues,” Wharem said.

It’s important to monitor cell phone use and to be willing to spend time finding other hobbies, rather than relying on phones and social media as a cure-all for restlessness and boredom. 

Learn more about social media addiction and internet addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with these or other technology-related addictions, visit the Addiction Center online or call 866-440-3814.

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