Tuning back into your life: 5 tips for curbing screen time

Even outside of work, we’re attracted to our phones, laptops, and smart watches so much so that minutes, sometimes hours, can sprint by before we ever look up to discover it’s near midnight.

We need those screens. For sure. Or at least we think we do. But every notification from our smart phones can trigger cortisol, the stress hormone. Repeated often throughout the day, the added cortisol can overwhelm you.

It can reduce not only your attention span but also your memory for things like where you parked your car or what you had for lunch yesterday, said Jenny Lobb, an educator with the Franklin County office of Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“If you are immersed in a screen and pushing your children away when they try to engage, they will learn that’s acceptable—and do that.”Jenny Lobb

Video games, texts, and social media posts can also trigger the reward center in our brains, releasing dopamine. No wonder we get addicted.

Distracted by phones, parents can become less patient and sometimes respond more harshly to their children, sending them away so they can get back to their latest email, text, or Facebook post, said Lobb, who specializes in health and wellness and gives webinars on disconnecting digitally.

Meanwhile, children notice.

“They will do what they see you do,” Lobb said. “If you are immersed in a screen and pushing them away when they try to engage, children will learn that’s acceptable—and do that.”

Social media use can also reduce our empathy and increase narcissism. Telling someone in a text that you need to cancel lunch, you never see the disappointment in their face. And posting on social media is all about you—what you had for dinner, your kid’s latest feat, your new car, house, dog. It’s a one-way street.

Cutting back does not necessarily require going off the grid in a cabin in the woods for a weekend or longer. It can be much easier. Lobb advises that people curb their screen use a little at a time.  

Here are her five tips:

Try to determine if you have a problem: Is time in front of a screen keeping you from getting enough sleep or regular exercise? Is it replacing talking to people or causing headaches or eye strain, irritability, or distraction? Is it tough turning off your phone for a while? Sometimes feeling like you just can’t step away is often when you need to step away the most.

Think of small ways to start cutting back: Eliminate technology during meals or near bedtime, or designate time every day with no technology, such as a walk after work. You can use that as a time to transition away from electronics. Or on the weekends, eliminate Facebook or another social media outlet. Similar limits can be set for children and adolescents.

Deleting all or many notifications or apps can help: That could keep you away from the apps that you had regularly gone to—out of habit.

Cutting back can trigger anxiety: Some people worry when they disconnect, they could miss something important in the news or happening with friends or family. So, for some, the anxiety of being apart from their technology can be normal. Ride it out and try to find ways to find calm through exercise, meditation, or just focusing on the timing of your inhales and exhales.

Re-examine your belief that your boss needs you to respond 24/7: A lot of times we place expectations on ourselves thinking the perfect employee would be available all the time, and that’s not actually expected. If a boss or coworker requires a 24/7 response, you might want to have a talk about what’s a more reasonable expectation.

For more information on reducing screen time, visit: 

go.osu.edu/secondhandscreentime or go.osu.edu/disconnecting.