As many of us spent more time at home and tried to stay updated on constantly changing news headlines this past year, the amount of time spent using devices shot up. Getting a notification each week with your screen time report became a somber reminder of how much life had changed.
While it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the world, especially as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, some studies have shown too much screen time is linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety, obesity and other adverse health conditions.
Using devices throughout the day can be a tough habit to break. But in an era where “sitting is the new smoking”, and mental health is more important than ever, making an effort to limit time on your phone or sitting in front of the TV can go a long way for physical and emotional wellbeing. The Mayo Clinic Health System recommends 2 hours of screen time for teens and adults, 1 hour for children 2-12, and no screen time for children 2 under. While this may be more difficult to achieve working from home and doing virtual school, there are still some changes you can make to help. Check out these six tips for reducing screen time while still staying in tune.
1. Track the “non-essential” time you spend on screens.
It can be easy to dismiss most of your screen time as necessary due to school or work – and much of it likely is. But it’s also easy to pack on a few extra hours without knowing. Scrolling through social media on your lunch break, watching TV while you cook and eat dinner, and catching up on the day’s news while you relax with your family can quickly add up.
Spend one week tracking how much time you spend using your phone, watching TV, and using the computer outside of essential activities such as work or school, connecting with family, or completing a virtual workout or health appointment. Add up the time and use this as a starting point as you work towards cutting out a little screen time each week.
2. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.
Constantly getting notifications about breaking news from Twitter or new posts on Facebook can lead you to get caught scrolling through these apps for longer than you intend to. Limit the number of apps sending you notifications to just those you deem essential, such as calls, texts and emails so you’re less likely to feel there’s something you need to check immediately.
Additionally, pay attention to how certain apps make you feel. Do you get stressed any time you see a breaking news notification? Feel jealous looking at other people’s photos on Instagram? Allow these feelings to guide how much time you’re spending on certain apps. Consider deleting or setting a time limit for apps that leave you feeling poorly. For example, take just 15 minutes at the end of the day to check Facebook and set a timer so you don’t end up scrolling for hours.
3. Establish specific “no screen” times.
Commit to not using screens during specific time frames such as while eating dinner or after 10 p.m. Leave your phone or the remote in another room so you won’t be as tempted to pick up during the screen-free time frame.
Consider additional “screen free times” such as committing an hour every night to spend as a family without screens (board or card games are fun but still give you a screen break) or dedicating an hour of your weekend to get active without devices.
4. Stop device multitasking.
Do you find yourself picking up your phone while casually watching TV? Flipping on the TV as you’re finishing up the workday? Many of us are guilty of device multitasking, which can lead to less focus and more time using screens. Work on using only one device at a time so you can better focus on the task at hand, whether that be finishing an email or watching an episode of your favorite show.
5. Lead by example.
Have you ever noticed how if one person in the group picks up their phone, everyone slowly begins to? We tend to mimic the screen habits of those around us, whether it be friends or family. Once you begin to use your screens less, your family or friends will likely follow. Be the first to set down your phone and be the example. An easy idea for busy families is to commit to screen-free dinners by setting up a basket by the table. Every family member can drop their phone into the basket to enjoy a screen-free meal together. Pick it up at the end of 30-45 minutes. All of those alerts can wait while you enjoy a healthy meal and time together without staring at your phones.
6. Pick up the phone and call.
With so much extra screen time, people young and old are complaining about too many emails and texts. This is an easy fix with a good, old fashioned phone call when your eyes need a rest from all of those words. Call your parents, siblings, other family members or friends and as a bonus — head out for a quick walk or turn on the treadmill while you chat. Turn your time catching up into activity time. A screen break and some cardio is good for you, there are so many health benefits to walking even just 20 minutes a day.
Screens are an essential part of our daily life, especially during the ongoing pandemic and distancing for safety, but they don’t need to control it. Get smarter with your screen time and begin to spend more time meaningfully engaging with the people and environment around you.