Screen-Time Linked to Higher Anxiety in PreK Moms

Moms of young children who engage in more screen-based sedentary behaviors, such as spending time on smartphones, tablets, or computers, tend to have greater levels of anxiety, according to a new study by researchers at Deakin University in Australia.

In fact, the findings show that for every extra hour of screen-time, anxiety levels increase, and this remains true even for moms who are otherwise physically active.

“Women are a high risk group for developing anxiety, with women aged 25-34 years almost twice as likely to experience an anxiety disorder compared to men of the same age. The risk of anxiety has been shown to peak between the ages of 25-44, which are the key childbearing years for women,” said lead researcher Dr. Megan Teychenne from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University.

“At the same time, there is some limited data available that shows women aged 25-34 years, spend the greatest amount of time in sedentary behavior compared to any other age group,” she says.

Furthermore, maternal anxiety has been shown to be a key predictor of child anxiety, so it is critical to identify strategies to reduce the risk of anxiety in mothers, says Teychenne..

For the study, researchers asked 528 Australian mothers with children aged two to five years to complete a survey, in which they reported how much time they spent using screens (TV, computer and devices such as tablets and smartphones) for leisure purposes. They were also screened for heightened symptoms of anxiety.

The findings show that for every hour the participants used a computer or handheld device, their anxiety levels increased. However, no link was found between TV viewing and anxiety symptoms.

Furthermore, even if the mothers engaged in large amounts of physical activity, if they also spent long periods of their leisure time on a computer or handheld device they were still at greater risk of anxiety.

Teychenne says that the new findings can help researchers gain a better understanding of how alternative strategies may help reduce the risk of anxiety for mothers with young children.

“We know that a lot of mothers with young children are incredibly busy looking after their children, however, if they tend to spend long periods of leisure time on their computer, smartphone or tablet, they may actually be increasing their risk of developing anxiety,” said Teychenne.

“Given that a lack of time can be a huge barrier to these mums being more active, a more feasible approach may be to instead try to reduce their sedentary behavior,” she said.

Teychenne offers time-restricted moms a few simple strategies they can use to avoid overuse of technology.

“Mums could try a ‘digital detox’ by limiting the time they spend on social media, or browsing the web at night and make this a challenge they set with friends. They could also try taking short breaks from the screen by standing up every 20-30 minutes and going for a walk to get a glass of water, or even just to stretch,” she says.

“Reducing the time that mothers with young children spend using computers and handheld electronic devices for leisure purposes may be an important and cost effective strategy to lower the risk of anxiety in this high-risk target group.”

The study was published recently in PLOS ONE.

Source: Deakin University