10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
Fact checked

With the emergence and evolution of technology, the human race has surrounded itself with the latest gadgets and machines, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, digital book readers, and more. While these gadgets have helped humans in multiple ways, such as bridging gaps, making communication easier, etc., the risk of engaging in their excessive use has also increased.

With each passing day, more and more people are becoming addicted to screens which have been harming their mental health in multiple ways. It is imperative to understand these effects and take steps to avoid them before they become permanent. 

To understand why excessive screen time is becoming so common across the world, it is imperative to understand its connection with dopamine, a natural neurochemical associated with motivation. The neurochemical releases in the brain when the body engages in a pleasureful experience, such as tasting something delicious, having a positive social interaction, and exercising. Dopamine is primarily responsible for rewarding a person for behaviors that benefits them. The aim is to motivate these people to engage in such behaviors again.

Effects of screen time and mental health

Every time a stimulus-response engages a person in a reward, these positive associations get stored in the brain, making a person repeat them in the future. For instance, if a person gets a “like” on their picture or status on a social media platform, it serves as a source of revalidation which may lead to positive feelings but is not always healthy. Because social media experiences regularly release dopamine in the brain, the organ compels users to engage in more screen time to get more revalidation. For them, social media becomes a positive stimulus that triggers rewarding feelings; hence, they always keep craving more.

While many people may consider these behaviors harmless on the surface, experiencing constant cravings for virtual stimuli can put people at risk of developing screen addictions. Such people may also be much more likely to engage in virtual interactions than meeting their loved ones face-to-face for more meaningful interactions. As the addiction increases, it may cut people off from other activities of the day, affecting their mental health.

In the current time, screens have become an inescapable part of daily life for both young and adults. While many people need to use screens to get important jobs done, such as preparing presentations or projects, others may use them for meaningless activities or to pass the time more easily. Regardless of the reason why a person uses screens, experts recommend taking regular breaks, as the excessive use of smartphones, computers, laptops, and other gadgets can affect mental health and well-being in different ways.

Too much screen use can send a person into sensory overload, making them mentally exhausted and struggling to focus. In the long run, such people may frequently experience irrational anger outbursts or engage in violence. Other important side effects of excessive screen time on mental health may include some or all of the following:

Anxiety and Depression

Recent research has shown that people who spend at least six to seven times on screens daily are more vulnerable to experiencing depression and anxiety. These people have less time to connect with their surroundings, have mental breaks, and have some time to themselves for peace and calm. Similarly, their excessive screen use also reduces the opportunities to think, reflect, and contemplate as they spend more time socializing online than forming meaningful relationships in person.

If this continues for long, such people may start exhibiting the common signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. These symptoms may include the following:

  • Feeling tired, sluggish, restless, or tense most of the time
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, or unhappy most times
  • Engaging in self-harming and self-destructive behavior
  • Avoiding fun activities
  • Struggling to maintain concentration
  • Changing eating habits-eating more or less
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Contemplating that something bad is going to happen
  • Having low-self esteem

Sleep Deprivation

As the sun goes down, the circadian rhythms and the melatonin production in the human body predominate to put the body to sleep. However, using screens at this time can prevent these significant events from happening, keeping many people up at night against their will. People who watch TV or play video games at night may also feel more active and less sleepy no matter how late it gets. This excessive screen time causes people to get insufficient sleep, which may cause issues like poor academic or work performance, irritability, aggression, and loss of focus. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to depression and anxiety.

Learning and Developmental Delays

Developmental processes are at their peak, especially in young children. These populations learn a lot by noticing how adults around them behave and exploring their surroundings. However, when they start prioritizing screen time, their capacity to observe and engage in day-to-day activities may reduce, creating a tunnel vision that harms their overall development. Additionally, their ability to learn new things and linguistic growth may also take a toll.

Short-Term Memory Loss & Cognitive Decline

Excessive screen time has been known to negatively affect the brain’s basic structure by shrinking the grey matter. Additionally, it also causes deformation of the white matter, which acts as a network center for all communications within the brain. These imbalances and irregularities in the brain structure may lead to issues like poor impulse control, weaker memory, poor information processing, and a lack of focus. The problems are particularly prevalent in young populations whose brains are still developing.

Poor Self-Esteem

Social media is the key reason why millions of people remain glued to their screens all the time. While this platform is commendable in certain ways for supporting mental health and helping people connect with their loved ones, it also makes people compare themselves with others, such as celebrities or influences. These platforms can make anyone compare their lives with those of a person they have never met and appear to be leading a perfect life. Such unrealistic comparisons promote feelings of low esteem, issues related to body image, and negative self-talk.

Social Isolation

While screens have made it possible to connect with others easily and quickly, their excessive use can sometimes have the opposite effect, leading to social isolation. This side effect is particularly true for younger generations, who may rely on screens for superficial social interaction instead of establishing meaningful in-person connections.

Risk of Screen Addiction

One of screen time’s most dangerous side effects is the increased risk of acquiring a screen addiction. The issue is much more prevalent in younger generations and is characterized by an inability to limit screen use and a constant urge to prioritize using screens over all other responsibilities and activities of daily life. In the long run, screen addictions can cause issues with impulse control, failure to cope with boredom, imbalanced emotional regulation, and other emotional issues. Younger people are more vulnerable to screen addiction as they use them purely for entertainment and social interaction.

Remember that the association between screen time and mental health is not always negative and can vary from one person to another. Some people can continue using them without facing any negative consequences, while others might be more sensitive to the effects. In the end, it is all about striking the right balance that lets a person enjoy screens in a way that supports their overall mental health and well-being.

Consider the following tips in mind if you wish to reduce your screen time and protect your mental health and peace.

Limit your daily phone use

Cell phones are one of the biggest contributors to increased screen time. It has become a common norm to take out the phones and start scrolling meaninglessly if you have nothing proactive to do at the moment. Start by cutting off the time you spend on your phone for unnecessary activity and limit it to a few meaningful hours where you truly need it.

Emphasize a healthy lifestyle

Eating well and exercising every day is necessary for optimal growth and development of the brain and maintenance of sound mental health. Unfortunately, these aspects are also vulnerable to getting hit by excessive screen time. For instance, a person addicted to screens may not pay much heed to what they are eating and prefer lying down and using their smartphone to go out and exercise. So prioritize your lifestyle for once and watch your mental health improve.

Avoid using electronic devices during meals

Make a strict rule not to have mobile phones at the dinner table. Put all gadgets on silent mode and quietly eat your food at home and workplace.

Make smartphones off-limits while spending time with others

Make a habit of putting away all gadgets, especially your mobile phones, when spending time with family members and friends. By doing so, you can give your loved ones undivided attention, engage in meaningful discussions, and reduce screen time, all of which positively boost mental health.

Choose a time to tune in and out

Choose a certain time frame every day and make it screen-free. For instance, remind yourself that every gadget is off-limits from 7 pm to 9 pm every day. Setting up this window can help you limit your screen time and encourage you to spend that time doing more productive activities. Moreover, because this time frame is close to bedtime, it will prevent your body from exposure to harmful blue light, which may otherwise disturb your daily sleep.

Make a screen-free zone in your home

Bedrooms can be the perfect place to declare a screen-free zone. What this means is you restrict yourself from using smartphones, laptops, tablets, or even digital book readers when you are inside.

Encourage yourself to engage in more outdoor activities

Physical activity has a direct relationship with everyday mood and overall mental health. When you move your body, the body responds by releasing endorphins, or happy hormones, which help balance your mood and promotes positivity. Following are some ideas to become more outdoorsy in ways that avoid screens:

  • Take a walk down the neighborhood
  • Spend time gardening your favorite plants
  • Consider doing yoga in the nearby park



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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