The amount of time we spend in front of a screen has increased. Our work life, social life and leisure life have all been pushed into the confines of a screen in the past couple of months. Whether that be on a smartphone device, television, laptop, computer or video game, we are constantly seeking important information, social connections and much needed distractions.
Compared to figures in February, Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) has seen a daytime usage increase of 70-80%. And according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), prior to COVID-19, around 90% of children are looking at screens each week and majority of them are spending 10 hours or more doing so.
Along with the time spent on screens, we should also be mindful of the kind of information we are consuming or exposing ourselves to. How does the information you are reading, watching or listening to make you feel? Does it make you happy or sad? What we feel online transfers to our normal life. Say you are constantly checking for news updates regarding COVID-19 and are consuming unpleasant information about everything happening around us. That is going to take a toll on how you feel at that present time and perhaps throughout the day too.
Effects of excessive screen time
- Vision issues: strained, dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches
- Chronic neck, shoulder and back pain
- Sleeping issues caused by blue light
- Poor posture
- Mood swings
Although it would be impossible to eliminate screen times altogether, the goal is to mindfully ensure we are strategically using our screens to boost our wellbeing, rather than hurt it.
Mindful screen time
Screen time is not entirely bad and it is even harder to avoid now that we are isolating at home. Instead, we should try to make the most of our time and ensure that the time spent is productive, necessary and uplifting. An hour spent in front of a screen researching for an assignment is not the same as an hour spent watching Tik Tok videos.
Author and science journalist, Catherine Price, said “You need to be intentional about your screentime”. It’s not the amount of time we spend that is a problem these days, more so how these screens are affecting how we feel. Ask yourself what parts of screen time make you feel good and what times don’t? This also helps you get into the habit of being conscious of your feelings and emotions in the present time.
Catherine has a great analogy; how we think about screens should be similar to how we think about food and eating. There are many different types of screens and information we can consume, just like there is food. Each food group provides us with different nutrients and benefits, while different screens provide a different purpose. Being healthy means finding the right balance.
Some screen time is necessary, such as work and career related time (these would be our fruits and veggies). Then there is screen time that while still important, we can live without it; zoom calls with family or online yoga classes with friends (meats and dairy). But there is also the bad and unnecessary screen time, such as mindless social media scrolling and constant news checks (our fats, salt and sugar). While we find comfort in these and they are not so bad in moderation, we should limit ourselves.
Five tips on how to reduce screen time
1. Create ‘screen-free’ spaces
Creating physical space between you and your phone will prevent the temptation and habit of quick phone checks. Eat your meals without a screen and as much as you may want to, avoid taking your phones with you to the bathroom.
2. Spend time with family
Put away individual devices and find something to do together. Even if that is watching a movie together without the presence of phones and everyone scrolling through Facebook while watching the movie at the same time.
3. Set a screen time ‘budget’
Set a limit or ‘budget’ on the amount of time you spend on devices. Catherine Price says that just as you would protect your money from scammers and thieves, protect your time and attention from those who want to steal it online. The screen time setting on iPhones allows you to track your daily activities, view which apps you spend the most time on, schedule time away from the screen and set time limits for specific apps.
4. Find alternative activities
Create a list of non-screen activities that makes you feel good. Often when we are feeling bored or stressed, we automatically gravitate towards quick fix solutions and quick checks such as our phones. If lists are created, we have alternatives at the ready.
5. Track your daily phone pick ups
According to a 2019 Screen time Stats Report, on average we pick up our phones 58 times per day. Most people spend 1 minute and 25 seconds on their phone every time they pick it up, meaning we lose at least 37.5 minutes per day just picking up our phone. By keeping track, you become mindful of your phone behaviours. Try to make it a goal everyday to lessen the amount of times you pick up your phone from the day before.
The wrap up
With all the changes happening around us, it is still possible to find a healthy screen/ life balance during this pandemic. Excessive screen time impacts both our physical and mental wellbeing. And while we may not be able to avoid screens altogether, we should aim to find that perfect balance by reducing screen time and being mindful of what we are consuming and how it makes us feel.
Learn more about how to practice mindfulness and its benefits here.