If it feels like you’re spending an awful lot of your life staring at screens, you are right. The average American spends up to 12 hours a day on a screen, which is the equivalent of 44 years of your life.
Considering the adaptations we have had to make since the start of the pandemic, at more than a year in, you may be experiencing more screen fatigue than ever before. And, if you're anything like us, you may have fully exhausted the Netflix library. At this point, can you recite along to Bridgerton yet, or is that just me?
Screens are an unavoidable aspect of modern life. Despite the fact that we may find ourselves inexplicably tied to them, we can cultivate healthy boundaries towards screens. Like any act of self-care, knowledge is power. Understanding the potential health consequences and ways we can realign our values to our screen time can empower you to create healthier relationships with your devices.
Screen Time & Your Health
Because screens are by and large a helpful, ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it's hard to imagine they could harm our health. They solve so many problems for us! They help us run our businesses. They connect us to loved ones. They save us from boredom and loneliness. There are so many amazing things that screens do for us.
There is a dark side to our screen usage, which is why mindful boundaries are so important. Put plainly: too much screen time can negatively impact your physical and emotional wellness. Here are a few ways that it does:
Getting a night of quality sleep is incredibly important for your health. Sleep is an essential function that allows our body and mind to rest and reset. The blue light from our screens activates the part of our brain that keeps us awake. Sitting on a screen before bed can keep you awake and throw off your circadian rhythm. A bad night's rest and an irregular circadian rhythm can lead to depression, anxiety, and other health problems.
When we stare at a screen all day, we blink our eyes less, and our eyes become strained and dehydrated. This can lead to temporary issues such as computer vision syndrome, which causes blurred vision and headaches, and long-term problems like macular degeneration.
Sitting in front of a screen all day can have a negative impact on your body. Sedentary behavior can lead to chronic back and neck issues, poor posture, and obesity.
Your Mental Health
While some screen activities, such as playing video games or watching a funny TV program can release dopamine in your brain. Dopamine causes us to feel good. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing; too much screen time can lead to depression. One study found a "significant association between TV watching/computer use with moderate or severe levels of depression."
How To Reduce Screen Time
Going "screen-free" is extreme for most of us and, not to mention, impossible; our lives are too connected to these devices for that to be a reasonable expectation. However, we can work to reduce our screen time and develop "screen-wise" habits. If we can be thoughtful in how we engage with our screens, we can feel better about our usage and optimize the time we are tuned in.
Here are some tips to help you create healthy boundaries with your devices:
Evaluate Your Values
Deep down inside, what is important to you? What do you want your life to stand for? What sort of qualities do you want to cultivate as a person? How do you want to be in your relationships with others? Values hold the expression of our deepest desires for the way we want to interact with and relate to the world, other people, and ourselves. They are key principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life. Asking these questions can help define how anything may serve a meaningful purpose or not. Screens included.
Actionable: Take a minute and put pen to paper and answer these questions considering how your screen habits align or not.
Protect Your Emotional Space
The relationships that we have with our devices are emotional. We watch an animal video and we feel happy. We get a late-night email from a client and we feel frustrated. As emotional beings, there's no way we can detach our feelings from the information we receive on our devices. That said, we can establish boundaries around when we engage in usage that causes us to feel not great. For example, if reading Twitter while you're still in bed in the morning stresses you out, wait until you've had a full cup of coffee.
Pick The Things You Do Without A Device
What activities in your day-to-day life do you want to experience without a screen? Make a list of at least three things you don't need or want to use a device during. It could be things like grocery shopping, playing with your kids, or taking a hike. Pick those three things and try to hold yourself accountable for being device-free during them.
Get A Little Help
Trying to change a habit can be difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of modern solutions to help you cut back on screen time. If you want to control or limit how much time you spend on certain applications, there's an app for that. If you're looking to put some physical space between you and your screens, consider a gadget lockbox. We also recommend using a buddy system. If someone you know is also looking to cut back on screen time, ask them to be your accountability partner.
STOP is an acronym for stop, take a step back, observe, and proceed mindfully. This is a great skill to help you curb impulsive or mindless screen usage and proceed in a meaningful and mindful way.
Deciding to develop better boundaries with screens can be a great act of self-care. Remember to make it manageable and to be kind to yourself as you try to adopt new habits. If you’re struggling, working with a professional therapist can help you keep you accountable and focused on your goals. Reach out today.