If you knew how many times a day you picked up your phone, you would be horrified. Whether you’re checking Instagram, Strava or your work email, it’s very easy to spend hours and hours on your device every day without even realising.
During lockdown, it’s likely that you’re spending more time than ever checking your phone in an effort to stay connected to the people you love. While texting, sending voice notes and DMing memes is often better than not speaking to your friends and family at all, all of that time spending swiping, double-tapping and scrolling is not likely to be making you feel great.
It’s incontrovertible that excessive screen time is detrimental to your mental health. Many studies have shown that lots of time spent gazing hypnotised into laptops, tablets and phones can decrease happiness levels and increase feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. A 2017 study found that adults who spend more than six hours a day on screens had a higher risk of depression, and more than 100 child health health experts wrote to Facebook warning that excessive time spent in the digital world is ‘harmful to children and teens’. As well as being detrimental to our mental state, spending lots of time on screens can make you more susceptible to obesity, as well as negatively impacting sleep. Plus, you’re likely to be experiencing eye and neck strain from constantly squinting and bending forwards over a tiny bright screen. When Apple CEO Tim Cook says that he doesn’t want his nephew to use social media, you know that there’s something here you should pay attention to.
The average screen time for adults according to a 2019 study from analytics company Zenith is three and a half hours - but during a pandemic, it’s likely those numbers are far higher for many of us. We’ve assembled some strategies on how to reduce screen time, and work out how much screen time is healthy for you.
1. Have a schedule
Rather than mindlessly grabbing your phone and opening Twitter whenever you have a spare second, build specific times into your day to check your social media, reply to texts and look at personal emails. If you feel the urge to look at your phone between these times, remind yourself that your allotted screen time will arrive soon and resist the urge. This schedule will help to give you a sense of control, and will remind you that you control your screen time rather than the other way around.
2. Set limits
It makes sense to use the existing tools your devices have to control how much time you use them for. Check the settings section and look at how much time you’re spending on each app. Do you love Facebook, or can’t resist a few bouts of Candy Crush? Turn off the notifications for the apps you find the most alluring, and set time limits so that when you’re spent a certain amount of time staring at your screen, you’ll know when you should be putting it down. Even if you exceed these, the reminders will help you to realise how much screen time is healthy. Some phones can even make screens black and white if you exceed your usage limit, which will make looking at TikTok a lot less appealing.
3. Have phone-free zones
There are definitely some circumstances where your phone shouldn’t be welcome. During workouts, leave your phone at home or put it in another room so you don’t get email notifications in the middle of your yoga session. If you’re taking a relaxing bath, is it really necessary to check your Hinge matches while you soak? By creating electronic-free zones within your house and life, you’ll prevent the inexorable creep that devices have on our lives.
4. Get moving
Turning to screens to entertain us is easy when there’s not much else to do. An easy way to prevent this is by getting active. Not only is it basically impossible to scroll through your phone when you’re out jogging, working out will make you feel great, meaning you’re less likely to turn to your screens to feel better. Try some at-home pilates, dust off your trainers and go for a run or get into weight lifting.
5. No screens before bed
Technology can have a serious effect on your sleep quality. Bright blue lights from tapping and swiping in bed disrupts our usual circadian rhythms, making it harder to drop off and making it more likely you’ll toss and turn during the night. It’s best to avoid screens in the hours before bedtime - consider having a hot bath, doing some nighttime yoga or reading a book instead. Check out our tips for better sleep here.
6. Try a digital detox
When you’re trying to work out how to reduce your screen time, a digital detox can be a helpful tool for determining what you actually need and like to use your technology for. Spending two hours video calling your grandma is very different to two hours of hate-scrolling Pinterest looking at clothes you can’t afford, for instance. You can do without the second one, but you shouldn’t drop the first simply because it’s happening on a screen. Taking some time completely away for your phone, even if just a few hours, can help you to reestablish your screen priorities.