By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes a day looking at a screen. Digital burnout is a growing problem that’s taking a toll on people’s physical, emotional, and mental health.
If your screen use habits could use an upgrade, consider the following menu of tips. Perhaps one or more can provide you with a realistic and helpful opportunity.
- Postpone picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You can use this time to envision how you’d like your day to go, practice mindfulness, or recite or do a gratitude list.
- Turn off any unnecessary notifications and alerts.
- Postpone checking a text immediately. You can even use the text chime as a reminder to take a deep breath or have a mindful moment.
- Leave a room without your phone.
- If you always take a device outside with you, consider going out without a screen, or taking it but turning it off for a little while. You can use the opportunity to practice being present with your body and your surroundings.
- Set reminders, alarms, or an intention to check in with your body when you’re screening or scrolling. See if your posture needs adjusting or if your body is ready for food, water, movement, or fresh air. Notice if your brain is feeling foggy. Our bodies and our intuition will tell us what we need if we pay attention.
- Look for opportunities to put your devices on airplane mode with wifi off. These windows of time can help you practice getting comfortable with unstimulated moments.
- Avoid multitasking. Although doing more than one thing at a time can appear to be productive, it can actually do more harm than good. Multitasking can lead to excess stress, memory problems, and ironically, decreased productivity. Stay on the lookout for double or triple screening and know that your nervous system will benefit from you slowing down and doing one thing at a time.
- Consider deleting any apps that you find depressing or depleting.
- Move apps that you consider time killers to the second or third page on your devices so you don’t see them as frequently.
- Set digital limits with yourself. Some devices have settings that allow you to choose when certain apps will automatically close. This can help if you tend to get caught up screening and scrolling and lose track of time.
- Set a timer to be online for a certain amount of time and then take a screen break.
- Set a timer to be offline a certain amount of time before you go back on. You can use these breaks to check in with yourself, sit in silence, connect with someone in-person, get some fresh air, or allow for creative ideas.
- Browse in a craft or hobby store and see if anything looks like something you might want to try. It could be an old hobby you used to enjoy, or a new hobby, craft, or project.
- Purchase a book or workbook on a topic of interest.
- If you always eat with a screen, try a screen-less meal, or even part of a meal.
- If you use screens at night, the blue light can disturb your sleep so consider changing the light on your devices to a different color and reducing the brightness.
- If you use screens right up until you fall asleep, try turning them off earlier than you normally would. Consider reading a book, journaling, listening to soothing music, meditating, mindful breathing, reciting a calming word or phrase, writing or thinking about things you appreciate or feel grateful for, or imagining yourself accomplishing a goal or a dream. (Right before sleep is a wonderful time to plant seeds into our subconscious minds.)
- Set reminders to ask yourself if you are time killing or spirit filling. Of course, we get to play or check out sometimes. It’s just helpful to check in about how often we are checking out so it doesn’t contribute to depression, anxiety, depletion, or sleep disturbances.
- Create a list of healthy non-screen activities that might fill your spirits. Here are some ideas from clients who’ve created spirit filler lists to support themselves having more off-screen time: getting into nature, listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bath or a foot bath, walking, swimming, biking, dancing at home or taking a dance class, playing cards or a board game, meditating or practicing mindfulness, gentle stretching, qigong, playing or learning an instrument, crafting or starting a hobby, resting, visiting with friends and family, laughter yoga, writing or reciting a gratitude list.
Creating an easily accessible list of potentially fulfilling activities can really help since it tends to be easier to start a behavior rather than stop one. So if you’re wanting or needing a screen break, you can try doing something on your list.
If you do decide to cut back on screens, it’s important to know that some feelings might come up, feelings that will definitely need compassion and may need support. Screens might appear to be innocent little devices but they can have an incredibly strong pull on us, and our use of them can sometimes be attempting to distract us from deeper issues. What’s most important is to stay conscious about how and how often you are using screens so you don’t feel used or used up by them.