Finding It Hard to Unplug? Try Mindful Screen Time.
This past year many of us saw a dramatic increase in the amount of time spent staring at a screen – from zoom meetings and other online video apps to binge-watching TV shows and shopping online – we’ve been plugged into our devices more than ever before.
And it’s not always a bad thing. It definitely has its benefits and value, so I’m not here to say it’s time to unplug entirely.
I just wanted to put a plug in…um... or shall I say, I wanted to make a recommendation to take a closer look at how often, why, and when you are spending time looking at a screen and to practice being more aware and intentional in your screen time.
In other words, consider approaching your screen time more mindfully, instead of mindlessly.
For a lot of people, it’s become routine to frequently look at something on your phone or check your notifications without even thinking about it. It’s become automatic from the moment you wake up in the morning to right before you fall asleep at night…and you may have even had times when you wake up in the night and immediately look at your phone.
Which begs the question...
What’s this all about?
It’s clearly become a habit and, in some cases, an addiction, and it’s a socially accepted one at that. And yet, how and when you spend time locked into your screens can have a significant impact on your mental health and well-being.
Habitual browsing, scrolling, and checking can end up contributing to stress, fear, worry, sleep problems, and depression - you can end up feeling bad and feeling bad about yourself. Plus, getting lost in your device pulls you away from anyone who is in your immediate presence which can create distance and disconnection in your relationships.
On the other hand, the access to information, entertainment, and social contact that you can get online does have incredible benefits, so as I mentioned, the answer isn’t to throw away your phone and completely unplug, but to learn to engage more mindfully so that you’re not just operating on automatic.
So how can you have more mindful screen time?
You can begin by being more aware and curious about the time you spend on your device. Take a few moments to think about your patterns and their impacts by answering a few questions:
How are you spending your time on your phone? What are your go-to apps? What are you checking most often?
When are you spending time on your device? How often do you check your phone? How much time are you spending each day? Do you often spend more time than you intended?
Why do you do it? If it’s not for a purely functional purposes like a meeting or appointment, paying bills, work-related tasks, etc., ask yourself:
What need is being fulfilled?
The need for…
distraction, entertainment, stimulation, connection, reassurance/certainty, validation, knowledge…anything else?
What are the impacts? How do you feel after you’ve spent time on the screen? Was it satisfying? Do you feel better, the same, or worse?
With a greater awareness and understanding of your patterns of engaging with your devices, you can start to experiment with different ways to change your patterns and engage more mindfully.
Here’s what a more mindful approach might look like:
If you know that you have a habit of checking your phone first thing in the morning or immediately after you hear a notification sound, your first step may be to pause first and practice slowing down the process so that you can be more present and intentional in your approach.
Notice the impulse to pick up your phone and try resisting the urge. Take a deep breath or two and sit with the feelings and urges for a few moments before acting or before responding to a notification. What do you notice? What thoughts and feelings come up?
Set an intention.
Before you get on your device, set an intention for how long you will spend or what the goal or purpose is. You can also set an intention to be selective with what you look at.
Check in with yourself.
Practice bringing your awareness to the present moment and pay attention to how you’re feeling while you are on your device.
Judging or criticizing yourself for your patterns and impulses will only add to your stress and it can be discouraging. Offer yourself understanding instead of judgement. Even if you decide that you’re ready to make some changes in your patterns, understand that there will be times when you pick up your phone without even thinking, and that’s ok. You can still practice mindful screen time.
As soon as you become aware that you are on your phone, take a deep breath, and then proceed with the steps listed above - observe what’s happening, check in with yourself, and then decide how you want to proceed. Ask yourself:
How am I feeling? Any signs of stress? Any tension in my body?
Why am I doing this right now? What do I need?
Is this something I want to continue or can I set it aside for now? Is there something else that I can do instead?
This practice of bringing your attention and awareness to the present moment by observing and checking in with yourself can make a difference in how you feel and how you go about your day. It allows you to slow down and it opens up the opportunity to make choices to reduce stress, listen to your needs, gain clarity, break harmful habits, and be more present and engaged in your life and relationships.
Give it a try and see what happens. And even if you don’t necessarily change the amount of time you spend on the screen at first, you can at least make an effort to change the quality of the time you spend.