Coronavirus and the resulting shelter-in-place shift have changed regular life for everyone. While daily routines transition to more remote or distanced options, socialization has also moved online. Now, more than ever, adults and children rely on screens for both work and play.
In a survey published by the PEW Research Center, 76% of Americans report using email or messaging services to connect with others during the coronavirus outbreak. Nine out of 10 Americans say a major interruption in their Internet or mobile service would be a problem for daily life.
For many, the pandemic has also inspired something called “doomscrolling.” Added as a watchword by Merriam-Webster, the dictionary defines doomscrolling and doomsurfing as “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.”
Digital addiction is nothing new, but in a new world where we rely on screens for work, school, medical appointments, shopping and even socializing, there are increased risks to our mental health.
Amplified screen time poses two dangers: escapism and isolation, according to Dr. Hilarie Cash in an interview with Bustle. Cash is the chief clinical director of reSTART Life, a digital addiction recovery center near Seattle, Washington.
Many apps are designed to keep people engaged with their screens and they encourage mindless scrolling without interacting with others. This affects our ability to discern properly since people “don’t know how to consume something of interest while thinking critically about it anymore,” Cash said.
One way to determine if you have a screen problem is to unplug for a day. If that’s not possible, Cash suggests at least removing an entertainment app for a period of time.
“If you can’t stick to it, it might be a problem.” she said.
In an editorial for Relevant Magazine, Pastor Scott Savage suggests three ways to break free from screen addiction:
- Fast from websites and social media
- Learn how to discern good and bad sources of affirmation
- Don’t look to social media for validation
“This struggle to navigate the line between affirmation and validation is a scrap many of us know all too well. While I believe my struggle is not unique, I think many of us are losing our battle with the dark side of modern technology and experiencing tremendous anxiety as a result,” he said.
Dr. Randy Kulman suggests we work to increase “healthy” activities, even if we can’t reduce screen time. In an article for Psychology Today, he said even those who live in apartments or crowded cities can still find ways to get outside and take a walk. And even if that’s not possible, “use screen time to spur indoor workouts,” he said.
“My intention is not to encourage a free-for-all screen time over the forthcoming months but, instead, a loosening of limits that could make your household a calmer, safer, and saner place. If you can use screen time in a positive fashion, I encourage you to do so.”
Dive deeper into the topic by listening to the August 14th episode of Good Company.