Screens are ubiquitous in most peoples’ lives from the moment you wake up with a morning alarm clock, checking the weather or the news, texting, checking e-mails, social media, and the constant, and often unimportant, notifications. When I discuss this issue with people, everyone seems to agree, we’re on screens too much.
Some of the concerns I hear include:
- True human connection has been replaced by a more superficial level of interaction.
- Many people, especially in younger generations, have less confidence communicating by phone or having longer and more meaningful conversations.
- We have moved into an age of fast information rather than deep understanding when it comes to news and knowledge.
- Diminished self-esteem due to comparing one’s self to the “perfect lives” people tend to reflect on social media.
- Eye strain and headaches
- Interference with sleep
Screen addiction can be compounded with other issues such as internet addiction. Internet addiction is a very real and often quite challenging to overcome. For some it can seriously interfere with daily life. The pleasure that the digital world can provide actually changes neurotransmitters like dopamine, reinforcing the behavior. It can take different forms such as pathological computer use, internet gaming addiction, pornography addiction, online gambling, and others. When you take a look at the warning signs, you may be surprised to find that you have some of them, even if you don’t fall into the category of a true addiction. For example:
- Online longer than originally intended.
- Preoccupation with the internet. (Thoughts about previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session.)
- Use of the internet is a way to escape from problems or to relieve a dysphoric mood. (e.g. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, depression.) (1)
If you think you have a true internet addiction there are resources available to you such as mental health professionals that are well-trained in this area and support groups. See your healthcare provider for a referral.
Yes, the internet is not all bad either. It and our many screens can connect us with others, provide tools for education, inform us up to the minute, help spark social change, help us track health and fitness, and so much more, but most people can admit it’s also causing problems.
Here are some steps to help create a healthier balance between you and the screens you interact with:
1. No Phones During Meals
Not only does this mean when you’re with company (because even if it’s subconsciously, people feel like the person across from them isn’t completely engaged when their phone is on the table) but also when you’re dining alone. This is important for several reasons. First of all, when you’re eating you should be in the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system state, and if you’re working through your lunch break or reading the latest in politics, you’re not fully focused on eating.
Along the same lines, by focusing more on eating you are exercising mindfulness, which is “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Exercising mindfulness has shown to have such benefits as stress reduction, improved working memory and focus, more cognitive flexibility, less emotional reactivity, relationship satisfaction, and more.
2. Turn on App Limits
Most smart phones have ways of self-limiting your time on certain apps. If you want to spend no more than 15 min per day on Instagram, you can program your phone to stop you at 15 min for example. On iPhones this can be done under Settings–> Screen Time where you can schedule “Downtime” away from the phone, set App Limits, and set other restrictions.
3. Limit TV Time to 1 Hour or Less Daily
My parents did this for me as a kid and I am forever grateful. It allowed me to be more aware of screen time and gave me the time to do things that I could have easily missed out on had I been glued to the screen. Be intentional about the things you watch. Adults should practice this too, because, as my mother would remind me, whatever you’re doing with your time, you’re choosing to do that over something else. Those books you want to read, the skills you want to learn, the writing you want to do, the games you like to play, the walks outside you enjoy… they’re all there for you. This isn’t to say you should feel guilty about your down time, because you need that too, but it can help motivate you to turn off the screen sooner.
4. Unwind Differently
After a long day, of course you just want to take a load off and do something mindless for a little while. Who doesn’t? Screens are an easy thing to turn to in order to fill this need.
Why not unwind a little differently? Some ideas could be spending time with one of the popular adult coloring books, going for a walk, playing with a pet, meditating, listening to music, calling a friend or family member to catch up, doing a crossword puzzle, reading a book, or if you are crafty, knitting and sewing can be quite therapeutic.
5. Limit Social Media
If you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or any number of the social media platforms out there today, you’re probably on your phone more than you think. Between notifications, wanting to stay connected with friends, and the stimulation of the reward pathway in your brain from getting “likes,” social media use can result in a true addiction.
- Turn off your notifications.
- Move the apps away from your home screen.
- Set a time of day that you devote to checking your social media sites, like 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night for example.
- Make it a point to seek deeper connection with your friends and colleagues on social media by inviting them to coffee, lunch, or giving them a call.
- Consider deleting the app all together.
6. Completely Unplug Every Now and Then
Leave your phone behind, don’t turn on your computer or tablet, and don’t turn on the TV. For some people this can actually produce anxiety, but that means you probably need it even more. If you were born in the 80s or earlier you lived in a time when you didn’t have a cell phone and you survived, and you still can. You may need to tell a few people, but they’ll understand and maybe even follow suit.
So whether it is to foster deeper connections with friends and family, give your eyes a break, spend more time doing the things you really want to do, or because you have true internet addiction, cutting down on screen time is a good idea for just about everyone. So stop reading this, put away your phone or laptop, and begin breaking your screen addiction!
1. What is Internet Addiction. Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery.