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7 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Your Screen Time Right Now

Best Life logo Best Life 4/6/2020 Lauren Gray
a person sitting at a table using a laptop computer: According to a 2012 study published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reviews, as much as 8.2 percent of the population in both the United States and Europe is dealing with social media addiction. Researchers theorize that people become addicted to social media as a result of receiving "multiple layers of reward" that are similar to the ones sought after by gambling addicts.When a person is addicted to scrolling through Instagram or posting on Facebook, they experience symptoms "similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from addictions to substances," Mark D. Griffiths, PhD, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, wrote for Psychology Today. And for more about the harmful addiction of the internet, check out the 20 Ways Social Media Stresses Us Out. © Provided by Best Life

According to a 2012 study published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reviews, as much as 8.2 percent of the population in both the United States and Europe is dealing with social media addiction. Researchers theorize that people become addicted to social media as a result of receiving "multiple layers of reward" that are similar to the ones sought after by gambling addicts.

When a person is addicted to scrolling through Instagram or posting on Facebook, they experience symptoms "similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from addictions to substances," Mark D. Griffiths, PhD, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, wrote for Psychology Today. And for more about the harmful addiction of the internet, check out the 20 Ways Social Media Stresses Us Out.

There's never been a more important—or more difficult—moment than right now to keep your daily screen-time habits in check. For many of us, the new rules of sequestered society spurred by the current coronavirus pandemic have removed whatever guilt or restraint we had when it comes to engaging with our devices. And while certain apps that keep us connected to one another during this difficult time are a godsend, there's still reason to resist the lure of endless scrolling.

For one, plenty of research suggests that excessive screen time is linked with reduced psychological well-being—and under these stressful circumstances, we all need to give ourselves a fighting chance at good mental health. There's also an important lesson in all of this that we should be sending future generations, by way of example: Even in a crisis, we can find meaningful ways to connect with one another, embrace hobbies that fulfill us, and enjoy simple pleasures in the absence of perpetual entertainment.

We've spoken with mental health professionals from around the country for their best tips on how you can develop healthier habits with your devices—and, in turn, healthier relationships with the people your life. And for ways to connect during quarantine, check out these 7 Easy Ways to Stay Social While in Isolation, According to Experts.

1. Set your screen to black and white.

a hand holding a cell phone: closeup of a man hand holding cellphone with internet browser on screen. Man with spectacles relaxing sitting on couch while looking at mobile phone. Closeup of mature latin man using smartphone to checking email at home © Provided by Best Life closeup of a man hand holding cellphone with internet browser on screen. Man with spectacles relaxing sitting on couch while looking at mobile phone. Closeup of mature latin man using smartphone to checking email at home

Kimberly Dwyer, PhD, a Denver-based clinical psychologist, shares that switching your screen settings to black and white can help rewire your brain's pleasure response to the device. "It decreases the visually reinforcing nature of scrolling through social media," she explains. And for expert-backed tips on avoiding excessive screen use while making the most of this time with your partner, check out these 9 Relationship Tips for Couples in Quarantine.

2. Allow for flexibility.

a person sitting on a couch: father and daughter watching movie © Provided by Best Life father and daughter watching movie

When it comes to limiting your screen time, it's key to set yourself up for success. That's why David Greenfield, PhD, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, recommends allowing yourself (or your kids) up to two hours of non-work or non-academic screen time per day to watch movies or chat with friends. Doing so lessens any unnecessary guilt and conflict, he explains, while increasing your odds of success in achieving other screen time-related goals. And to fill the other 22 hours of the day with your kids, be sure to check out these 27 Educational Toys That'll Keep Your Kids Entertained at Home.

3. Keep your phone out of the bedroom.

a man lying on a bed: bored couple lying in bed with smartphones, things you should never say to your spouse © Provided by Best Life bored couple lying in bed with smartphones, things you should never say to your spouse

If checking your phone is the first and last thing you do every day, that might serve as a hint that it's time to examine the level of attachment you have to your device—not to mention the effect it has on your well-being.

"Screens in bed also delay and disrupt sleep, especially at a time like this," says Greenfield, Instead, try switching to a good old fashioned book, or an e-reader that doesn't emit blue light for a better night's sleep. And to catch all the zzz's, check out these 20 Doctor-Approved Tips to Get a Full Night's Sleep Tonight.

4. Enable monitoring tools.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Graphic breakdown of smartphone usage © Provided by Best Life Graphic breakdown of smartphone usage

Most phones have built-in features that allow you to set limits for social media, and will monitor how much time you spend on your device. Use these roadblocks to endless (and mindless) browsing as tools to set goals, track your progress, and adjust your behavior needed. Simply open the "Settings" app, click on "Screen Time," and set your desired time limits.

5. Limit your news intake.

a person using a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: checking news on phone and computer at desk © Provided by Best Life checking news on phone and computer at desk

According to Greenfield, there's a fine line between being informed and being overwhelmed by troubling news. Try setting designated times to check in with current events, and take breaks if you find it's negatively affecting your mental state. Stop reading if you notice you're covering topics you're already up to date on, to avoid compounding your anxiety while also adding unnecessary screen time.

6. Focus on one thing at a time when working or learning from home.

a woman sitting at a table using a laptop: working woman at the office next to her laptop. © Provided by Best Life working woman at the office next to her laptop.

"Researchers have found that online learning can translate to 'distracted learning,'" says Beatrice Tauber Prior, a North Carolina-based clinical psychologist and the founder of Harborside Wellbeing. "Learning requires focused attention. In reality it takes longer to learn when you are toggling between open tabs on your computer screen," she explains.

The same goes for working from home—a new norm for many of us. You can minimize your screen time—and up your efficiency—by closing unnecessary tabs, and focusing on completing one task at a time from start to finish.

7. Connect with family and friends offline.

Esperanza Spalding et al. sitting at a table eating food: Family dinner © Provided by Best Life Family dinner

When we feel disconnected from one another, many of us turn to social media as a placebo for real connection. But as Prior points out, this falls short of the real thing, and alters our brain chemistry for the worse. While scrolling through social media can light up the pleasure centers in our brains, she shares that it also causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline. "These are the stress and energy hormones," she warns.

Instead of relying on social media for your daily dose of dopamine, try sitting down to a device-free dinner with your family for an uninterrupted conversation, or—if you're in total isolation—setting aside some time to call a friend on the phone.

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