With the coronavirus and nationwide protests, we’re glued to our screens like never before. When COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic in March, views on Instagram Live doubled in one week, Facebook reported a 70% increase in Messenger group video calls and WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage.
With social distancing protocols and a constant stream of news from the heightened Black Lives Matter movement, it’s easy to spend hours glued to our devices — but that doesn’t mean we should. Studies show that increased screen time can lead to a number of maladies ranging from the physical (eyestrain, neck strain, obesity) to the mental (anxiety, depression).
Though experts agree that a few weeks probably won’t cause too much damage, it’s unclear how long social distancing and stay-at-home will be mandated and encouraged— so it’s important to take stock of how increased screen time might be affecting you now.
How to do a digital detox
Some might suggest that a true digital detox would involve predefined abstinence from any and all digital devices and social media connections. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic for most individuals who are required to use some kind of electronic device for work.
Detaching from your devices can benefit your mental well-being, but doing a digital detox does not have to involve a complete separation from all devices. The process is often more about setting boundaries and making sure that you are using your devices in a beneficial, rather than a harmful, way.
Evaluate when and why you use devices throughout the day, and make plans to cut back on screen time from there. If you need your devices during the day for your job, try doing a mini-detox at the end of the workday. Pick a time when you want to turn off your devices, and then focus on spending an evening completely free of things such as social media, texting, online videos and other electronic distractions.
While it isn’t always possible to completely disconnect, setting limits on when digital devices are allowed can be good for your mental well-being. Therefore, the next step is setting boundaries on when and where you can pick up your device.
Times to prohibit screen time may include:
- When you are eating meals, particularly when dining with other people
- When you are waking up or going to bed
- When you are working on a project or hobby
- When you are spending time with family or friends
- You feel anxious or stressed out if you can’t find your phone
- You feel compelled to check your phone every few minutes
- You feel depressed, anxious or angry after spending time on social media
- You’re afraid that you’ll “miss” something if you don’t keep checking your device
- You check your devices the moment you wake up
- You find yourself staying up late scrolling through your devices
- You have trouble concentrating on one thing without having to check your phone
Another way to start your digital detox is to turn off push notifications on your phone. Many social media apps including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter send alerts every single time you get a message, mention or new post.
Rather than checking certain apps or websites every time a new story or post hits, set aside a specific time each day when you’ll check your messages or mentions. Then set aside a certain amount of time, around 20 or 30 minutes, to devote to catching up on what you missed.
Make detoxing a habit
The best way to lessen screen time is by making mini digital detoxes part of your routine. Look closely at your relationship with your devices. Do you immediately check your phone when you get a text, even if you’re in the middle of a task? If so, consider picking up the habit to finish what you’re doing before checking your phone. Do you have your phone in hand while you drive? Many of us do, though we know we shouldn’t. Therefore start forcing yourself to put your phone away when you get in the car. Stashing it in the glovebox is a great way to keep it out of reach.
These changes may seem small, but the accumulation of small alterations to our daily routines are what create big changes for ourselves in the future.