By Tiffany Warner, Assistant Professor of Counseling, MA, LPC, CADCI.
At the beginning of this week, I received an iPhone notification that my phone usage was up 40% from last week. You may have received those same messages. With the recent pandemic, technology has become the only way we can connect for most. Between work, school, online social events, news reporting, and much more, we are more plugged in than ever before. Although it is a great privilege to have these resources, it can also create screen fatigue. If you find yourself struggling with sleep, blurry eyes, or just increased irritability, you may want to consider changing some screen time behavior.
Ever since technology became commonplace, many researchers have focused on how screens affect us. Though we have much to understand, we know that blue screens can affect our sleep and social media influences our moods. Screens impact our vision and even cause physical outcomes like carpal tunnel. All of this points to the importance of taking breaks from screens and technology.
What do we do when the only option is to be online to continue with life? There are many articles highlighting how you can maintain family, mental health, and work during this season. (See many of MU blog posts below). However, I want to add to this growing list of ways to take a break from the screen.
Establish a no-screen zone in your house.
Maybe it is a bedroom, the dinner table, or even the laundry room. The key is to have a separate space where screens are off. At first, this might seem simple, but this includes every computer, laptop, TV, and even wearable device. Once this space is established, use it for something that rejuvenates such as spending time with family, board games, prayer, or rest.
2. Turn off notifications.
There is science behind why we enjoy every ding and like which floods our brains with dopamine. Turning these reminders off can help us ignore the constant barrage of information. Better yet, try turning your devices off completely. There was a time when the world functioned just fine without them, and we could probably function without them for an hour or two. This means that instead of experiencing distraction with every new email or reminder, you can choose the times you spend online.
3. Create screen-free times.
This is easier for some than others, especially if you work from home, but establish a time where you don’t engage with any screens. Maybe you don’t look at screens while eating or you plan a walk every day. Try spending the first hour and/ or the last hour of the day without a screen, which can be particularly important for sleep. I encourage you to think about the times of your day that you can establish space for no screens and be creative.
4. Pick a plan and stick to it.
The final recommendation is to pick a plan to unplug and follow through. It takes our brain time to solidify new patterns and routines. If you try any of these recommendations once, you may have some benefit, but if you do it consistently the benefits become greater. This is the hardest part of any plan, the follow-through, but it is also the most important part.
At this point, you may be wondering what you will do during this non-screen time, and there are so many options to try like reading a real book, meditating quietly, playing a game with family, cooking a new meal, and much more. The most important thing is to give your brain a chance to relax and recover from so much screen time. So, this week, try one or a combination of these ideas and put them into action.