Is your screen addiction troubling you?  New research shows, on the one hand, we love using our screens, but on the other hand, millions of us have become mentally and emotionally obsessed with our devices. As a result of this screen addiction,  we will experience real-life health consequences.

The Study

Khalili-Mahani is a neuroscientist who works at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre. In a recently published paper in the Journal of Medical Internet ResearchNajmeh Khalili-Mahani explores how screen addiction links to stress in humans, particularly in self-confessed screen addicts.

Her team used an online survey, asking over 60 questions to 650 responders about the types of screens they were dependent on. These included TV, smartphone, game console, tablets, etc.  The researchers asked what they were using them for.

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Are You Really a Screen Addict?

The subjective self-assessment of being screen-addicted was also recorded in the survey. This was controlled by quantitative questions about the number of hours spent on screen-related activities. It also investigated the scale of addictive behaviors. These include compulsive use, withdrawal, losing track of time and tasks, as well as a defensive attitude about screen use.

A similar approach was used to record different types of stress related to specific life events. These included relationship problems, financial difficulties, bereavement, and so forth. For quantitative control, the scales of emotional, perceptual, health, and lifestyle stress were calculated from specific questionnaires.

Khalili-Mahani said online gambling was not something they explored. She believes that behavior deserves its own separate study.

Screen Addiction Stress Points

“Those who considered themselves screen-addicted were indeed the ones who were spending more times on screens,” she says. “And those who considered themselves screen-addicted were more likely to have higher scores on all types of stress.”

However, the reverse was not the case. Over 60 percent of all respondents reported at least one kind of stress. Be it bereavement, finance, relationship, health, or exam. Yet only one-third of them described themselves as screen addicts.

Serious stress such as bereavement and chronic health were not associated with differences in screen use.

The factors associated with greater dependency on social networking were finances, exams, relationships, and self-evaluated mental health stress.

Emotional Stress and Screen Addiction

Khalili-Mahani cautious about drawing any conclusions about the causality of the relationship between stress and screen usage.

“Those who identify themselves as screen-addicted are more likely to be those who are spending more time on social networks, games, or relaxation,” she says.

“People who consider themselves screen-addicted are also more stressed emotionally. More work is needed to study the subjective differences in justification of using screens for leisure activities.”

Khalili-Mahani adds that it is plausible that self-admitting addicts perceive time spent on social networks with more guilt than time spent on the news or searching for information.  Both are the most important activities for all groups.

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Coping on the go

Researchers are using the findings to develop mental health care e-tools. They hope these e-tools will help reduce the chronic stress delivered via screen addiction. Moreover, e-tools should also be designed for mobile devices. This is because self-identified screen addicts value portability, communication, and leisure.

“Emotional stress was very dominant in predicting screen usage. That’s what we’re focusing on moving forward,” explains Khalili-Mahani.  She believes screens can be used for some sort of emotional intervention. The researchers believe that adopting a gamified approach will help to ensure that the interventions are relaxing and fun.

The study was funded through a fellowship from Concordia’s Office of Research. You can read the cited paper.

Want to know more?

Stress is also not always a negative thing. It can sometimes provide the motivation and focus that we need to help us overcome a difficult task or situation. However, when stress becomes chronic, it will have negative effects on our physical and mental health. If you enjoyed this article then you will enjoy reading 16 ways to conquer stress in your life.


Gisèle Wertheim Aymes

Gisèle is the owner of the Longevity brand and a self-proclaimed health hedonist. When she is not working, you'll find in her in a yoga class or active in the great outdoors. Gisèle is passionate about health and sharing information. You can follow her @giselewaymes on Twitter and Instagram or read her Linked-In profile for full bio details.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.