The proof is undeniable: our devices are making our lives more stressful, toxic, and anxious.
For many of us, our devices are the first thing we look at and the last thing we see.
Yet they have become an integral part of our lives and in many ways, are improving the way we live.
They allow us to work from anywhere in any time zone.
We can reconnect and stay updated with people who would have otherwise been lost to us through time, and feel like we know them even if we never speak to them in real life.
You can find the answers to anything you can imagine in seconds.
You can monitor your health and even find apps to make you healthier.
You can be informed and entertained, and never have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings of loneliness, boredom or awkwardness, simply by turning on a screen.
They have become our constant companions.
Yet, the more plugged in we are, the more disconnected, lonely, and overwhelmed we become.
When my husband and I watch TV, often I’ll sit in front of him and rub his feet while he rubs my neck or plays with my hair.
It’s a nice way for us to connect and each get some loving in after a long day.
The other night while my husband and I were on the couch in our basement, he was watching hockey, and I was snuggled up next to him and decided to check my Instagram.
I had been rubbing his arm, and he my leg, when I felt him impatiently nudge me because I had stopped as soon I checked my phone.
Annoyed by his impatience, I asked him if he was trying to get my attention.
Immediately I realized that I had disengaged…from him: a real person here with me now.
(Sigh, I’m human too.)
When I see commercials of families watching TV together, they look something like this:
A happy family is tangled together on the couch laughing.
There’s usually a dog, some popcorn, and the room is dimly lit to highlight the TV screen that everyone’s eyes are on. The faces are engaged, smiling, and happy in a beautiful yet comfortable living room.
I’ve never seen a commercial of mom and dad trying to catch up on work emails while the kids are on Snap Chat. The whole family all staring at their own device, not speaking, while the TV blares on.
But maybe this one is more honest.
This is the paradox of devices because as humans we are all looking for connection.
And, you can be disconnected, distracted, and disengaged from your life and everything you say you love most…like I did with my husband.
Screens are important, and using limits allow you to enjoy the power of them while still feeling present and connected to what’s important to you.
Personally, I utilize strong limits and I have specific rules for my screens. Here are a few simple ones I try to use daily:
- Do not disturb. I have mine set from 9pm to 9am even though I get up at 6am everyday. This allows me to be in control of what and when I see it. Before 9am it’s my time and family time.
- Out of sight out of mind. When I’m with my son, family or friends, my phone is away. I don’t want to be distracted (or tempted) to reach for it so I keep it out of sight until I need it. It actively prioritizes the people I’m with.
- Time limits. Social media is like a black hole for me just like it is for so many. It’s too easy to keep scrolling hoping to find something that peaks your interest. But we don’t feel any happier, and often feel worse and more agitated because of it. Information overload is a real thing so, I limit my sessions to under 5 minutes.
- I have my work email on my phone, and just like I don’t start looking at them until 9am, I also don’t check them after supper. Looking at email in the evenings makes our minds too active to wind down, so leave it for the morning.
- Turn off your push notifications. When I had a Blackberry, I used to get anxiety every time the red light flashed, and it flashed ALL THE TIME. That flashing little light was so hard to resist, and it felt so insistent. So, I turned the push notifications off and have never turned back, continuing to do this with my iPhone. Turning off the notifications puts me back in control, so I am the one deciding when to look at my phone, not the phone.
- The TV is on for only a few hours. Before I moved in with my husband I hadn’t owned a TV for over 8 years. We have satellite and Netflix, but I still find TV mostly boring and a time waster that doesn’t do much for me. We have a young son, but even before he came along the TV was never turned on until after supper, and now, it’s after he goes to bed. Now, when we do watch TV together, it feels like something special rather than something to fill the space with.
- Read books. Even with all my limits, I use my device for most of my news, recipes, and information, so when evening comes, I read real books and magazines. One of the things we often forget with devices is that we are rarely ever doing one thing. We are often looking at multiple things at a time creating more brain buzz. Reading a book creates more focus, calms the mind, and helps you wind down before bed.
- Ask why. Lastly, question your motives when reaching for a screen. Are you bored? Do you want to kill time? Do you want to be entertained? Are you lonely? Are you uncomfortable? Do you want to feel busy? Do you want to tune out? These are all valid and very real ways to feel, and screens can easily be used for coping, but at a high cost. Instead, by putting screens away you’re doing the real work of building resilience, connection, and meaning which are the building blocks of happiness.
These aren’t the only ways to limit your screen time, and it’s a work in progress for me as I try to balance it within my own life. What I do know, is that using these guidelines has dramatically lowered my stress, made me feel more in control, and deepened all my relationships.
Tell me in the comments, how you manage your screen time and what are you interested in trying on the list?