7 Expert-Backed Ways to Cut Back on Your Screen Time Right Now

Less is more when it comes to your devices—even while in quarantine.

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.

Set your screen to black and white.

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.

Allow for flexibility.

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.

Keep your phone out of the bedroom.

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.

Enable monitoring tools.

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.

Limit your news intake.

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.

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

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.

Connect with family and friends offline.

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.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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