Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the world is experiencing a massive behavioral change. We’re all meeting online, both professionally and personally—even more than we already were.
Before the coronavirus hit, market research firm Nielsen found that American adults were using screens an average of 11 hours per day. Eleven hours of screen time a day is a tremendous amount of time, but now our screen time is up even more!
Why Are We Spending So Much Time Online?
We’re being told by public health officials to stay home, and while we’re inside, we’re spending a lot more time staring into computer monitors, laptops, tablets and cell phones. There are a few reasons why.
One part of the collective uptick in screen time is, of course, necessity. We must practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Those who are lucky enough to work from home during the pandemic are logging online for important business meetings and town halls. Productivity apps are helping us stay focused even when our lives are turned upside down.
The other contributor to our increased screen time is a stronger-than-usual desire to connect with others during an unpredictable time. Many people are lonely and scared. We feel compelled to check in on one another—albeit virtually. So, coworkers, friends and family are tapping into video for virtual meetups.
Then, of course, there’s our usual tech entertainment time. Many people are killing time indoors watching Netflix and playing video games—sometimes for hours on end.
And let’s admit it: it’s tough to not follow updates about the coronavirus. The situation is evolving so quickly, we feel the need to stay informed about recent developments. Even people who typically don’t watch the news or read stories from reporters are regularly refreshing news websites.
Can Too Much Screen Time Affect Your Health?
Yes, too much screen time can affect your mental health and your physical health. Thankfully, video conferencing allows us to connect with friends, family, and colleagues at a distance. But if we’re not careful, all this screen time can negatively impact our brains, our bodies, and even our relationships.
Increased screen link has been linked to:
- Anxiety and depression (an increased expectation to be available 24/7)
- Decreased sleep quality and quantity
- Neck, shoulder and back pain
- Repetitive-use injuries like carpal tunnel and tendonitis
- Eyestrain, headaches and muscle tension
Moreover, the sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies increased screen time has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and cancer. Some even say sitting is the new smoking!
Tips to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Tech While Stuck at Home
Complete avoidance of technology is completely unrealistic. We are relying on it to keep us connected while we’re physically apart—and we should be thankful for that! Can you imagine trying to navigate this difficult time without it?!
That said, it’s easy to fall into bad habits when watching a screen for hours on end. Here are some practical tips to help you strike a balance between the many benefits of technology and its drawbacks. In doing so, you can better appreciate all that tech does for us!
Monitor Your Screen Time: Develop Greater Awareness About Your Online Habits
The first step to striking a healthy balance with technology is to become aware of how much you’re using it. To become more conscientious, start by establishing a baseline of behaviour.
Here, the “enemy” is our friend! Technology can help us track so much—including how much time we’re spending on our devices. Apple and Google offer functionality to help people control their screen habits. One of the most eye-opening pieces of data that can be tracked is how many times your device was picked up or received a notification. You might be surprised!
Minimize Social Media Check-ins & Block Distracting or Negative Websites
It doesn’t matter if you’re posting photos or stories, scrolling through your Facebook feed, or tossing around hearts and emojis on Instagram—checking in on social media too frequently is dangerous territory. Sure, it connects us, but it can also deflate us through unfair comparison, negativity, and fake news.
If you tend to check social media compulsively, try limiting the amount of time you spend on social media sites. Turn off notifications and schedule “downtime,” so you only receive phone calls and use apps of your choosing. Apple calls it a “nap for your screen time.”
If you spend most of the day working on a computer, try downloading a website blocker like FocusMe or Freedom. These apps can help you prevent or limit access to websites and apps that distract you or make you feel lousy.
Limit Your Number of Screens
Have you ever caught yourself scrolling on your phone while sitting in front of your computer? Or working on your laptop while the TV plays in the background? Yeah, most of us have!
While it’s often helpful to have a second monitor if you’re working on two documents simultaneously, juggling multiple screens can negatively impact your productivity. Too many screens become an unwelcome distraction.
Use your own judgement here and think back to cultivating digital awareness. Is what’s on the other screen actually helping you? Be honest. Single-tasking is usually much more effective than multi-tasking across several screens.
Schedule (and Actually Take) Breaks from Screens
It may seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks usually helps people stay productive. That’s because it gives our minds a chance to reset so we can come back refocused and energized.
Much of the time we spend in front of screens is seated. A stand-up desk or a treadmill desk helps here, but if you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. Improvise with a high table, counter, or even stacked boxes.
Remember to stand up and stretch regularly. Mayo Clinic recommends taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes. Apps like Stand Up! The Work Break Timer can help you enforce this healthy habit. Once again, tech to the rescue!
Get Outside—Or At Least Look Outside!
The outdoors is an antidote to quarantine cabin fever and too much screen time. It’s full of refreshing natural lines, much different from the squares and rectangles of our devices. And let’s not forget fresh air and vitamin D!
If you’re relying on online videos for your daily workout routines, maybe it’s time to take a walk around the block instead (just keep a safe distance from others). You don’t have to go far to reap the benefits of the GREAT outdoors!
According to Harvard Business Review, natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of a workplace environment. 73% of employees said the longer they use devices, the more they desire a visual break such as taking a walk or looking through unobstructed windows to an outside view.
So, look away from your screen! Practice the 20/20/20 rule to prevent eyestrain. For every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds—ideally something outside.
Dedicated More Time to Offline Hobbies
Because so much more of our work and social lives have moved online, it’s that much more important to embrace offline hobbies. Netflix, classic movies, and video games are all go-to sources of entertainment, but try being extra judicious about your downtime activities during this time.
Spend time working on an offline hobby like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument. Read a paper book. Try meditating or practicing yoga. Write in your journal or send handwritten letters. Whatever offline activity you choose, guaranteed you’ll come back to the screen with newfound energy and enthusiasm.
Don’t Use Your Devices in Bed (Or Leading Up to Bedtime)
Did you know the blue light from your phone, TV or laptop negatively affects your sleep? According to the Sleep Council, it suppresses the natural production of melatonin (the hormone you need to feel sleepy) and wreaks havoc on your body’s circadian rhythms, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
While it’s tempting to answer emails and scroll through social media before bed, use this time to create healthy boundaries with screens. Use an old-school alarm clock if you have one, and keep devices out of your bedroom!
Appreciating Tech by Spending Time Offline
Online meetings are the new normal. Video conferencing is in its heyday, largely because so many people are working remotely. We need a way to stay connected with others, and video is the best way to do that.
But, for as much good as technology has brought to the world, it’s important to be mindful about how much time we’re spending on screens—especially since we’re online now more than ever. Spending time offline can help us find balance and make better informed decisions about how best to use our devices.
After all, we can appreciate technology more after we log off for a bit!