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Get Some Rest: Take A Break From Screens
Research on the effects of screen time is ongoing and ever changing. In fact, the term “screen time” itself is already passé. There is plenty we don’t know. But patterns are emerging across everything from personal anecdotes — “if I look at my phone past 11 PM I can’t fall asleep” — to actual studies like this 2019 one from Harvard that explains how our digital devices affect things like sleep and creativity by depriving our brains of boredom and suppressing melatonin secretion.
More recently, according to a New York Times article, our attention spans are all over the place: “...records showed that people switched from one screen activity to another continually, every 20 seconds on average, and rarely spent more than 20 minutes uninterrupted on any one activity, even a full-length movie.” The same article cited the frighteningly common low moods and depression many people experienced due to their social media activity.
While there is more to discuss than could possibly fit into this one post, what we’re interested in right now is what should we, each of us, do about it? In light of the New Year, we’re trying something we’d like to call a virtual detox: giving your brain a break from screens and rewiring your mental state to be clearer, more focused, and more well rested in 2021.
Turn off notifications
First things first: Turn off all notifications from social media, email, and other messaging apps. Tell your family and friends they can call you if they need you. If you have responsibilities that require notifications, try to keep them off on weekends and after working hours. Tip: you can set up “after hours” contacts so people like your mom can still reach you for emergencies when your phone is in “do not disturb” mode.
Maintain a digital schedule
Try to set strict phone and computer hours. Avoid checking your devices first thing in the morning, even if it means waking up a little earlier. Plug your phone in outside your bedroom and decide on a time to stop looking at it before bed. Don’t check it throughout the night. According to the Harvard study, the blue light emissions from your digital devices suppress melatonin secretion. If you have trouble sleeping, keep off all your devices at bedtime and read a physical book or magazine instead. By setting “digital” hours, you’ll find your mind wandering more often and chances are, your sleep will improve — as will your creative impulses.
Phones off the table
According to a Berkley article, phones affect personal relationships and interfere with intimacy by simply being there: “A set of studies actually showed that just having a phone out and present during a conversation (say, on the table between you) interferes with your sense of connection to the other person, the feelings of closeness experienced, and the quality of the conversation.” Make house rules about your devices — no phones during meals, for example. Stay off your phone during conversations with others and try to maintain eye contact instead.
What can you do without your phone?
Maybe you use it to track your mileage on runs or to listen to music at the grocery store. But take a look at your daily routines and see where you can cut out your screen: maybe you can map out your running route ahead of time so you don’t rely on your phone and instead can pay attention to breathing through your nose. Do you check your phone while you’re showering? Try leaving it in another room from now on. Constantly checking it while working from home? Try hiding it from view while working to reduce switching between devices too frequently. Chances are you’ll get more work done this way — and you’ll have more time for yourself later on.
Delete your biggest distractions
If you struggle with disciplining yourself while on your devices, try this: delete the apps you spend the most time on. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but if you’re committed, it should be for as long as it takes to form a new habit. That is to say anywhere from 18 to 254 days (yes, it’s quite varied). Delete, learn to live without it — or within a reduced amount of time — and introduce it back to your life with a new schedule intact. New year, same devices, new you.