Technology can be a fantastic tool. We can connect with friends and family across the globe, instantly access the cumulative knowledge of human history, and enter new worlds through social media, streaming, and video gaming. It is also becoming a key part of our professional lives, with 36% of us now working from home at least once a week (1). The benefits are clear, and research supports this – those who spend some time using digital and social media are reportedly happier than those who do not use the internet (2).
Our relationship with technology
However, there is a darker side to our increasing reliance on technology. Our screen time has increased over 60% since the pandemic, with normal users spending around 30 hours each week on screens; this jumps to 17.5 hours each day for heavy users (2). We check our phones up to 150 times a day (that is once every 6 minutes) (3). It therefore comes as no surprise that 62% of us may have a possible addiction to technology (3). While the figures may be partially explained by working from home, there is evidence that we use technology to cope with emotional distress (4), which could result in a variety of negative outcomes.
What are the consequences of technology overuse?
When we use technology to cope with emotions such as stress and discomfort, we build habit loops (cue, response, reward – click here to learn more). Our brain then learns to reach for the phone when we are uncomfortable. This could relieve the discomfort short term but is not a healthy behaviour long-term. Using technology to deal with depressive, stressed, anxious, or lonely states is more likely to lead to dysfunction in our daily lives and poorer mental health long-term (4).
High screen time has long been associated with poorer mental health, with reported increases in depression and loneliness and reductions in happiness and life quality (4). However, there are also other notable consequences linked to heavy technology usage, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Poor sleep quality
- Poorer relationships with others (2)(4).
How can we improve our relationship with technology?
From the research, it is clear we need to actively manage our relationship with technology, building healthy habits to use it productively and maximise our quality of life.
Here are some tips to help improve our digital habits:
- Digital detoxing - try spending time away from technology. We can start as small as we like; it may even be a few hours at a time.
- Intermittent social fasting – set clear boundaries for when you are plugged in and schedule yourself time unplugged. For example, you may decide to only use technology from 9am to 9pm. This is a great tool for improving sleep quality too.
- Use technology more mindfully – delete any unnecessary or addictive apps and replace them with more productive apps that instil positive habits, such as meditation, learning a new skill or language, or physical activity classes.
- Engage with screen-free leisure activities. This can be anything from sports clubs to board game nights with your family. Use your leisure time to relax, develop, and build strong relationships. For inspiration, check out our 7 ideas for a screen-free evening.
Technology is becoming increasingly unavoidable in our daily lives. Despite its benefits, we need to be mindful of our usage to prevent it from becoming an unhealthy addiction. Fortunately, there are an abundance of tools at our disposal to maximise the benefits we get from being online, without comprising our social relationships, health, or mental wellbeing.
- Office for National Statistics. (2022). Homeworking and spending during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Great Britain: April 2020 to January 2022. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk. Last accessed 31st March 2022.
- Pandya A & Lodha P. (2021). Social connectedness, excessive screen time during COVID-19 and mental health: a review of current evidence. Frontiers in Human Dynamics. Doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fhumd.2021.684137.
- Naik R & Js S. (2019). Mobile phone addiction: symptoms, impacts and causes – a review. Last accessed 31st March 2022.
- Longstreet P, Brooks S & Gonzalez ES. (2019). Internet addiction: when the positive emotions are not so positive. Technology in Society, 57: 76-85.