“Worldwide, the average person spends a total of 6 hours and 57 minutes looking at a screen each day (for internet-connected activities). And the majority of this (3 hours and 43 minutes) is spent on mobiles. This includes 2 hours and 27 minutes of scrolling through social media channels, 1 hour and 33 minutes of streaming music, and 55 minutes listening to podcasts”(Moody, 2022). Over the past couple of years, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has helped us feel connected with the outside world. There was plenty to be learned from all the new podcasts, and we are now able to stay better connected with extended family more than ever. However, what is the impact of screen time on our mental health? “While mindful (and regulated) use of digital devices is linked with well-being, excessive screen time is reported to be associated with a range of negative mental health outcomes such as psychological problems, low emotional stability, and greater risk for depression or anxiety” (Allen et al., 2019; Aziz Rahman et al., 2020; Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2020; as referenced in Pandya et al., 2021).
Recent research has focused mainly on children's screen time; however, children aren’t the only ones being affected. What about adults? A majority of adults spend a significant amount of time daily looking at screens for work. Anya Kamenetz addresses this in her book called “The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.” She asks readers a series of questions, one of the most important ones being, “Do you exercise and spend time outdoors?” If the answer is no, now is the perfect time to start spending more time outdoors, and that’s because today, April 22, 2022, is Earth Day.
Prior to Earth Day is Earth Hour, an important focal point of Earth Day’s message. Earth Hour is “A moment of solidarity, where people from 192 countries and territories come together to support our people and planet. Landmarks switch off their lights as well as supporters at home.” If you missed it, no problem. Simply create your own Earth Hour, switch off all electronics, and spend quality time with those around you. In addition to this, spending time outdoors is a great way to improve your mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, “Strolls through a city park, a day spent hiking in the wilderness and exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”
However, if you’re struggling to find the time for this, try an alternative method, as suggested by Cassandra Gould Praag, Ph.D., lead author, and research fellow at the University of Sussex. Inspired by studies on the negative effect of background noise on the brain, she recommends that people get outdoors to take walks as much as possible and incorporate nature sounds from an app throughout the workday. She said, “I really do find using nature sounds throughout the day helpful for those times when I can’t get away from my desk” (MacMillan, 2017). How much time outside is “enough time” outside? In other words, how much time outside should you try accommodating in your schedule? According to a 2019 study published in Nature, “120 minutes a week, that’s just two hours every week, with benefits appearing to max out between 200 and 300 minutes” (Gritters, 2020). There are so many ways to spend those minutes and help planet Earth.
Here are some great ways to celebrate Earth Day and improve your mental health while spending time outdoors!
Earth Hour. 60+ Earth Hour. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.earthhour.org/
Gritters, J. Benefits of Outdoor Time Begin at Just 120 Minutes a Week, Research Shows. REI Co-Op. (March 27, 2020). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.rei.com/blog/news/this-is-the-optimal-amount-of-time-to-spend-outside-each-week
Pandya, A. and Lodha, P (2021). Social Connectedness, Excessive Screen Time During COVID-19 and Mental Health: A Review of Current Evidence. Frontiers in Human Dynamics. https://doi.org/10.3389/fhumd.2021.684137
Macmillan, A. Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science. Health. (April 5, 2017). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.health.com/condition/stress/why-nature-sounds-are-relaxing
Moody, R. Screen Time Statistics: Average Screen Time in the US vs. The Rest of the World. Comparitech. (March 21, 2022). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.comparitech.com/tv-streaming/screen-time-statistics/
Moritz, K. Should Adults Have Screen Time Limits Too?. Rewire. (April 11, 2018). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.rewire.org/adults-screen-time-limits/
Weir, K (2020). Nurtured by Nature. American Psychological Association. (51)3, page 50, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature#:~:text=From%20a%20stroll%20through%20a,upticks%20in%20empathy%20and%20cooperation
10 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day. Alamanac. (March 23, 2022). Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.almanac.com/content/earth-day-date-activities-history