A recent survey conducted by MoneyGeek addressed the financial impact of coronavirus and how people were coping with the major changes to their daily lives. One of the questions asked in the survey was how Americans plan to spend their time while isolating or in quarantine. Here's how they responded:
|Watching TV, Movies, etc.||37.5%|
While we're on lockdown, we'll be spending a lot of time looking at screens. People who work from home will most likely be doing most, if not all of that, looking at their computers. Children engaged in distance learning will be doing the same. When we're not working or doing schoolwork, we'll be chilling out with movies, YouTube and television, which means more screen time. Even reading, which 25% of us do electronically, requires that our eyes will be looking at the screen of our e-reader, tablet, phone or computer.
It's natural to want a distraction from boredom, worry about loved ones, and economic and political uncertainty. Too much screen time, according to many studies and experts, is harmful to us physically, mentally and emotionally. The good news is that there are easy ways to avoid these problems with a few small changes in your COVID-cramped lifestyle.
What’s the Problem With Screen Time?
Screen time, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, covers “activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer or playing video games.” These activities help us earn money, keep us entertained and even teach us during the COVID quarantine. But there is a downside to too much screen time, especially for children.
According to the Mayo Clinic, excess screen time is associated with:
- Irregular sleep schedules and less sleep
- Behavioral problems
- Loss of social skills
- Less time for active play
The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults limit kids' viewing and especially that we "set an example. Consider that your child is watching you for cues on when it's OK to use screens and how to use them."
Screen Time Doesn't Only Affect Kids
Too much screen time doesn't only impact children. Adults, especially those who rely on devices for both their work and entertainment, are at risk. Too much screen time for adults has been studied by organizations ranging from Pew Research to the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA). Their conclusions are universal in that excess screen time leads to health problems, including:
- Brain atrophy, especially the parts of the brain that control impulses, allow us to plan and organize and to feel compassion and express empathy.
- Damage to connections in our brains, which slows down our thinking and causes cognitive and emotional difficulty.
- Addiction-related behavior, because when we become dependent on our screens, our brains respond the same way they do when we become addicted to substances — they break down.
- Relationship damage, because if you're on your screen, you're tuned out to other people in your life. The changes in your brain that lower your ability to feel compassion and understanding won't make you any friends, either.
- Obesity, because very few of us manage to exercise while viewing movies, texting or scrolling through Instagram.
- Poor sleep, which has a couple of causes. The light emitted by a screen suppresses melatonin, the hormone that sends you to sleep. And checking your messages keeps you from checking out when your body needs to rest. Sleep specialists recommend that you don't keep electronics in your bedroom, even if they are turned off.
One frightening study by researchers at Oregon State University found the exposure to blue light from screens could be accelerating our aging process. Fruit flies exposed to blue light, even if they did not look at it, aged significantly faster than those that did not receive such exposure.
How to Reduce Your Risk While Staying Sane
Screen time attacks our well-being on several fronts: activity level, intellectual engagement, sleep health and social development. But there are ways to combat these issues with coronavirus activities (including one popular one — coronavirus cleaning). You may find that your quarantine is a good thing if it helps you establish better screen habits and increases your real-life resources.
Protect Your Vision
The Oregon State researchers say that we may not be able to avoid the blue light that could be harming our health, but that we can protect ourselves somewhat.
PC Magazine says that it's easy to turn off the blue light on your iOS, Android or Windows 10 devices.
- iPhone or iPad: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness. Tap the Night Shift setting.
- Android devices: Go to Settings > Display. Find the option for Night Light or Blue Light filter.
- Windows 10: Go to Settings > System > Display. Turn on the Night Light feature.
If your device does not have an option to filter out blue light, there are apps that can do that for you. You can find them on app stores or download them from a browser.
Protect Your Heart
One of the side effects of too much screen time is too much down time. Sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to a significantly higher risk of heart problems, even in healthy people. If you’re wondering what to do during quarantine, the answer is, ironically, to use your technology. If you work from home, set a timer on your laptop to go off every hour or two and make yourself get up and get yourself a glass of water or a cup of tea. You'll stay hydrated and get the blood moving through your body.
If you have a family, make this a routine — everyone checks in for "tea time” before heading back to work or schoolwork.
Make Time to Imagine
Take several breaks to incorporate informal activity. What can you do? It depends on your home. If you are lucky enough to have a long hallway with wood floors, turn it into a fun zone. Pile pillows at one and have sock sliding competitions. Build forts in the living room and start Nerf wars (remove anything that could be damaged first). Pillow fights are good family fun. It doesn't have to be all board games and cards.
Designate a time to stop work and school and get into workout mode. Whether it's just you, you and a significant other or a whole family, there are coronavirus workouts for all. Livestream free classes from sites like 305 Fitness or get your daily routine for free from Orangetheory Fitness At Home.
Cook up Some Fun
If you have artistic talent or are crafty, you're probably already exercising some creativity. But if not, try it in the kitchen. We all have to eat, and now we may have more time than usual to prepare food. Include some cooking shows in your TV time. Then get into the kitchen and have some fun.
People who cook and eat at home more often tend to be leaner and healthier than those who eat out, especially at fast food or chain restaurants. You're stuck at home. Why not learn something — and again, it's an opportunity for bonding in real life. Sit down at a real table and eat with no TV. Have genuine conversations. Teach your kids table manners.
Get out the good dishes and use your cloth napkins. As a bonus, you won't have to duke it out at the grocery store for paper towels as often. If you have the luxury of time, use it.
Plan Your Weekends
If you work from home, it's easy to see weekends as the respite you've earned. But with nowhere to go, it's also easy to descend into apathy and depression by sleeping (way) in, remaining in your pajamas all day, forgoing basic hygiene and binge watching TikTok videos.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional guilty viewing pleasure — we all have them. According to a survey of 2,000 people by Patient.info, those aged 18-24 were five times more likely to feel lonely, three times more likely to feel depressed and twice as likely to feel anxious, sleepless and empty after binge watching a series.
To combat this slide, plan your weekend fun ahead of time. Here are a few ideas for quarantine activities:
- Pack a picnic and go outside where you won't encounter crowds. Take the usual sanitary precautions of wearing gloves and masks and obey your local laws. If you have access to a secluded piece of land, trail or open area, it's great to connect with nature, let the kids and dogs stretch their legs and have a fun picnic together.
- If you have a yard, use it. Set up a tent if you have it. Barbecue. Get some fresh air. Play horseshoes, play catch (even adults can have fun with these things — just get into it). Toast marshmallows.
- Don't view aimlessly. Decide on a movie, make popcorn, pile up the pillows and enjoy a planned event. Streaming platforms such as Amazon are even offering movies that would be showing in theaters right now if not for the lockdown. But don't leave the set on all day.
- Plan a game night or two. Play for low stakes — like who has to do the next day's coronavirus cleaning. Or just enjoy some old school fun with board games, puzzles and hot drinks.
- Put on YouTube and learn a new dance together. The results may be hilarious — or romantic.
What NOT to do? Don't take your bored household members to public places if you don’t have to. One chain store employee, who wants to remain anonymous, works in the furniture department of a store that has remained open because her employer also sells food. She said, "Families come in and let their kids run around touching everything because they are bored. I have a son at home who just got out of heart surgery, and I am so afraid of bringing home the virus. I'd quit if I could afford to."
Dos and Don'ts for Coronavirus Activities
Remember that what you do — or don't do — may affect your health and that of others long into the future.
- Make coronavirus cleaning a daily thing to stay safe and combat boredom
- Don't crowd into public places to alleviate boredom
- Keep your screen viewing mindful
- Practice sleep hygiene, avoid screen time before bed and keep devices out of bedrooms
- Adjust your devices to limit blue light exposure
- Avoid bingeing on anything
- Move every hour or two
- Reconnect with your loved ones with coronavirus activities
- Get outdoors when possible
- Be silly — in a good way
Gina Pogol is an acknowledged personal finance specialist who has written for more than 20 years about personal finance topics ranging from mortgage and real estate to taxes and credit. A licensed mortgage originator, Gina's background includes mortgage underwriting and origination with CTX Mortgage, tax accounting with Deloitte and system development with Experian. You can find her work on MoneyGeek.com, Motley Fool, MSN Money, Fox Business and more. Gina is a Muck Rack-verified journalist meeting their high standards for journalistic integrity.
Mayo Clinic. “Screen time and children: How to guide your child.” Accessed April 7, 2020.
Mayo Clinic “What are the risks of sitting too much?” Access April 9, 2020.
Medical Alert. “Too Much Screen Time Is Bad for Kids AND Adults.” Accessed April 8, 2020.
New York Post “Binge watching leaves you anxious, stressed and lonely” Accessed April 9, 2020.
Oregon State University “Daily exposure to blue light may accelerate aging, even if it doesn't reach your eyes.” Accessed April 8, 2020.
PC Magazine “How to Stop Blue Light From Disturbing Your Sleep.” Accessed April 9, 2020.
Sleep Foundation. "Electronics in the Bedroom: Why it’s Necessary to Turn Off Before You Tuck In.” Accessed April 8, 2020.
USDA. “The Food Environment, Eating Out, and Body Weight: A Review of the Evidence.” Accessed April 9, 2020.
US National Library of Medicine. “Screen Time and Children.” Accessed April 7, 2020.