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How to manage your screen time

Using devices to stay connected online has become a big part of everyday life, so it’s important to make sure you know how to balance your time with it.

Online gaming is fun, social media is a great way to stay in touch, and there are always movies and TV shows to binge on. With so much available online whenever and wherever you want, it’s very easy to find yourself spending a lot of time in front of a screen.

If you feel the need to constantly refresh your apps or check your notifications, it’s probably time to take a break. Why? Because too much time online can make study, work and relationships more difficult, and even drag down your physical and mental health. 

On this page:

How much is too much?

Working out how much time online is ‘too much’ will vary from person to person. It’s important to think about all the types of online content or activities you are engaging with, as well as the quality and whether it’s a good addition to your everyday life.

Be aware of how your time online may have an impact on your mental and physical health, your work or study, and your relationships (including with friends and family). If you notice you’re being affected in your ‘offline life’ by what you see and do online – and it’s becoming a problem – it’s likely that you need to cut back on the amount of time you spend online. Start thinking about if you’ve had any of the following impacts.

  • Impacts on your brain chemistry and mood: Our brains ‘reward’ us for ongoing attention with a rush of dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good. Apps are designed to keep us using them, so the more we tap on notifications, get more likes on a post or level up in a game, the happier we feel. We may come to crave that feeling and spend more time online.
  • Impacts on your body image: There are endless tutorials across websites and social media feeds that show us how to build muscle, put make up on or dress fashionably. Constant exposure to this kind of content might set unrealistic standards that may damage your self-image and mental health. It’s important to know that sometimes these posts are altered with photo editing apps or are chosen because of selective angles, good lighting and expensive photoshoots to present that person as their best selves.
  • Impacts on your view on the world: Doomscrolling is when you constantly click on bad news, hurtful content or posts that make you envious of others – then feel sad, stressed or depressed because of it. Although staying informed can be healthy, spending a lot of time focusing on negative things online can dull experiences we normally enjoy, and even damage our mental and physical health. The more you click on the same kind of content, the more it’s served to you, so you may end up in a ‘filter bubble’ or ‘echo chamber’. This is when you only see the information or opinions that encourage the same beliefs, without having different perspectives to balance it out. 

Some other signs that you may be spending too much time online include:

  • having ongoing headaches, eye strain or sleep disturbance 
  • constantly talking about a particular app or activity, such as a gaming site
  • withdrawing from your ‘real world’ friends and activities
  • feeling your online activities and contacts are more important than anything else
  • not performing to your usual level at work, study or school.

How to help balance your time online

Turn off app notifications and spend time device-free

Many phones have settings that allow you to track how long you spend on apps and set daily usage limits. Activate these on your phone or other devices and look out for other apps that can help you be more aware of how you use your screen time. You can also leave your devices in another room or where you can’t see them so you’re less tempted to go online.

Set boundaries with the people in your life

If someone keeps messaging or calling you when you’re at work, in class or even asleep, it may be time to talk about boundaries. Let them know when you plan NOT to be online or checking your phone, so they don’t expect you to be available all the time. Remember that you need to look after your own health first, even if you’re worried about a friend – if you’re finding this difficult, you might like to get advice from a confidential counselling and support service about the best way to help them.

Take regular breaks

Setting yourself time limits for when you want to be online can help you find more time offline. This could include catching up with friends in person, playing your favourite sports or other activities you enjoy.

Find balance between online and offline activities

Not everything has to be completely online or offline all the time. See what online activities you can do with a friend of family member in person – for example, an online gaming session. Remember, balance is key.

Tips for young people

Take control of your online experience, rather than letting it control you. It can be tricky to put technology down completely, given that you might use it every day for school or work, but there are ways you can stop yourself from checking it so frequently.

Tips for parents and carers

Help your child achieve a healthy balance between time spent online in front of a screen and more physically active ‘offline’ time.

Last updated: 01/11/2023