Even before the pandemic, many people spent nearly half their days staring into a screen. Market research firm Nielsen found the average American logged nearly 12 hours of screen time with their televisions, smartphones, and computers every day in 2019.
And that number has likely gone up over the past year or so as a result of the massive shift to remote work, increased dependence on virtual gatherings, and the never-ending influx of news.
Technology overuse can lead to a decreased capacity to focus on one thing at a time, inability to resist distractions, and increased difficulty returning to a calm state of mind. Screen addiction can also contribute to physical issues, including chronic headaches, eye strain, and posture problems. While most people don’t have the option to step away from screens entirely, experts maintain that there are ways to restore balance and use technology in healthier ways.
With tech addiction on the rise, it’s imperative to understand the risks of technology overuse and learn strategies to keep a healthy balance.
Here are five tips for overcoming your pandemic screen addiction
1.Recognize the issue.
Just as with other addictions, the first step to beating your screen viewing compulsion is admitting you have a problem. Most people don’t have the option of going cold turkey when it comes to technology because we depend on it to do our jobs and communicate with others. Instead of trying to go without technology entirely, setting your wireless router to turn off and on at certain times of the day, putting a passcode on your phone or laptop can do wonders to bring your attention back to what you are doing to prevent mindless consumption. Anything you can do to tone down digital stimuli and encourage moderation will help you wean yourself off your devices. Personally, I am a huge fan of the blue light filter to reduce the strain on my eyes.
2.Amplify your sensory environment.
As you work to cut back screen time, it can help to bulk up on the sensory offerings in your environment. If we just say ‘no’ to our devices and screens, but we haven’t given ourselves other options, we will fail every time. As an ex-smoker, I can attest to the need to keep my fingers busy to stop them from rolling another cigarette!
Making your spaces smell great with candles or oil diffusers and keep small fidget toys around that don’t involve cognition. For example, rather than a cognitive toy like a Rubik’s Cube, consider having a Koosh ball or rail spinner on your desk to capture your attention and give you something to do other than interact with screens.
Perhaps even go greyscale in your phone. All those colourful apps? They’re designed to trigger your brain’s reward system and make you feel good. If you want to check your phone less, cutting off this trigger may help. It won’t be easy, though. We’re pretty hooked on all those flashy colours. But most phones let you choose muted colours – or even greyscale.
3. Delineate your workday.
The rapid shift to remote work has blurred the line between work and leisure, so it can help to draw your own boundaries.
Scientists recommend turning off all technology for the first half-hour of the day in order to set your own intentions rather than allowing your inbox or the news cycle to dictate your day. They also urge people to shut down all devices including televisions for the last hour of every day and pick up a book, simply be quiet, or listen to relaxing music to allow your body and mind to calm down.
In addition to instating analogue bookends to your days, it can also help to sprinkle in tech-free breaks between tasks. Every 90 minutes, or after you’ve completed a chunk of work, it is recommended you getting up and taking a tech-free walk around your neighbourhood or house as a way to clear your head and shift gears from your head to your body and from being outwardly focused to being inwardly focused.
Notifications can be helpful when they let you know something important needs your attention, like a text from your kid or an email from your boss. But most notifications are sent by machines, not people. And they’re designed to draw you into interacting with an app you might not otherwise prioritize. Turn off as many as can be lived with.
4. Have a clear purpose for your screen time.
Internet rabbit holes can easily eat up hours of the day if you’re not careful. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have wanted to look something up to settle a discussion and ended up 3 hours in a research binge on the random tangentially related topic! In order to avoid mindless scrolling, make sure you have a clear purpose every time you check your inbox, open a tab, or pick up your phone. Pause before you pick up your phone or turn on your computer to consider what your goals are. Increasing your awareness of your habits and setting time limits on your usage can help you snap out of reflexive patterns.
Consider choosing set times throughout your day to check your email, rather than grazing through your inbox all day. And if you find you habitually use your phone to check the time and then get sucked in by notifications, consider getting a watch. It may help you to limit what is on your home screen. Keep only your email, maps, calendar, and whatever else you use daily front and centre. Put all those other apps—from games to recipes—into folders or move to the second or third screens. If you don’t see them right away, you’ll be less likely to use them.
5. Devote some time to silence.
Research has shown that 10 minutes of meditation a day can have an outsized influence on many aspects of our lives.
Those 10 minutes don’t have to look the same for everyone. You can spend them practising mindfulness meditation, directed boredom, or even just sitting quietly. Regardless of how you spend that time, the practice has the potential of reducing stress and increasing the grey matter in the regions of the brain that are being depleted by screen use. Aside from the documented benefits of daily meditation, devoting time each day to quiet reflection and breathing offers an excellent excuse to step away from our screens. These periods of time can also be called ‘digital detoxing’.
There are dozens of free meditation apps available, I am personally a fan of Smiling Mind as it has structured programmes for the foundational knowledge of mindfulness, digital detoxing, sleep and stress management.
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Written By Drew Callister