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If you’re anything like me, you find yourself cringing just about every time your phone reveals your weekly screen time. And, as we approach one of the most stressful times of the year, during the most stressful year of our lives, that number may be going up and up and up. Cutting back on screen time is great in theory but can often feel nearly impossible in practice. Our phones contain our work, our social circle, and our health and wellness tools, too, like exercise or meditation apps. They're a terribly convenient way to distract ourselves from just about everything, as spiritual medium and podcast host of You Are Not Alone, Erika Gabriel explains.
"It’s so easy to numb out on our phones,” Gabriel says. "[The] first step is to admit that you’re abusing or overusing the phone or your computer to escape reality. We’re all looking for ways to connect and feel a little bit better, especially during such an intense year. Don’t get mad at yourself, but recognize the issue and set a few intentions to try other things when you want a little escape."
Still looking for some specific ways to cut back? Here are 12 ways to start, from practical to unique.
As Gabriel says, sometimes taking a moment to practice aromatherapy can calm you down and make you rethink picking up that phone for the hundredth time. "Pick your favorite essential oils (make sure they are diluted as to not cause irritation)—dab a few drops into your palm, rub your hands together and then cup your hands over your nose and mouth and take five to 10 calming and healing deep breaths," Gabriel suggests. "The scent will ground you and help you connect with your breath and maybe even help you disconnect from the very thing that’s pushing you towards your phone."
Another thing that Gabriel and a few other sources suggested was to go outside and distract yourself instead of picking up the phone or opening your laptop. "We’re all truly on technology overload—sometimes it’s necessary to detox from technology totally," Gabriel says. “Go outside, look at a tree, see if you can see or hear any birds chirping, go for a quick walk around the block or around your neighborhood. Get some fresh air. It will 100% help calm the mind."
Try Some Breathwork
Trying to find some peace, quiet, and calm while constantly staying plugged in? It might be time to try some breathwork. “My favorite breathwork exercise, especially for busy people, is what I call 'double eights,'" Gabriel explains. “I close my eyes, drop my shoulders, relax my face, un-clench my jaw, and I breathe in, filling up all four corners of my lungs to the count of eight. Then, I hold my breath at the top for a count of eight, then I exhale the breath slowly for a count of eight. At the bottom of the exhale, I hold my breath for a count of eight, and I repeat. Even if I only have a couple of minutes, this is a great way to re-ground reconnect with myself And detach from technology."
Set A Timer
For a more practical approach, Courtney Somer, founder of fragrance brand Lake & Skye, suggests setting a timer. "This helps me resist the urge to pick up the phone unconsciously to check emails and social media," Somer says. "I know I’m going back to it soon enough, so setting aside a certain amount of time helps me unplug easier. I also don't scroll or get on electronics within 30 minutes of sleeping and read instead, which has helped me sleep better overall. I’d like this time to be longer but #goals for next year."
If you’re into meditation or yoga, why not use the practice to channel some energy away from all that screen time, as Somer suggests. "I’m a big kundalini yogi fan, and doing breathwork for three minutes helps refocus and recharge my energy, and to be more present, whether that's my kids or work," Somer says. "Even if it’s a matter of taking deep breaths for a minute, it helps me be more mindful when I am in front of a screen and not get lost in the scrolling."
Charge Your Phone In Another Room
"I plug mine in the kitchen every night before I go to bed, and I don't touch it again until the morning (unless there is an emergency),” Allyson Conklin, founder of Allyson Conklin Public Relations shares. "This helps prevent mindless scrolling and shuts down my brain, improving my chances of restorative sleep (which is key for someone who struggles with sleep). I also have Do Not Disturb on between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and most people know that if they reach out after 7 p.m., I won't answer until the next morning."
Know Your Digital Habits
Maggie Stanphill is the UX Director of Digital Wellbeing at Google and suggests becoming very familiar with your digital habits in order to get a better handle on them. "Awareness is key. On some phones, you can get info about how you spend time on your phone, like how often you unlock it and how long you use each app. You can use that info to improve your digital wellbeing," Stanphill. "For example, you can set app timers that schedule changes to how the app works (such as changing the screen color to black and white on grayscale); these visual indicators help you pay closer attention to how much time you’ve been online. You can also see how many notifications you’ve gotten and from which apps."
Focus On Sleep Quality
Stanphill also suggests prioritizing sleep quality to make sure you are as well-rested as possible and not spending all night on your phone. "Android’s Bedtime mode allows you to turn your screen to grayscale and even has a Night light setting," Stanphill suggests. "It’s important to program your phone to help you sleep (because Words With Friends can wait until the morning)."
Create Device-Free Zones
Designating device-free zones means dedicated, agreed-upon time without screentime in a household. This helps with accountability and solidarity. "Some people use ‘cell phone jails,’ but you can make a simple playpen by storing phones in a central place in the home and then designating phone-free zones and times," Stanphill suggests.
Get Off Your Computer Whenever Possible
Molly Sonsteng is co-founder of Caveday (“the world’s most focused community”), which facilitates deep focus sessions via Zoom. Sonsteng suggests making sure that any non-computer work is done off the computer. "Any work that doesn't require a computer should not be in front of a computer, from brainstorming to outlining a presentation. Get off your computer, get on paper, and work away from your standard workspace," Sonsteng suggests. "Do this work in a different spot from your house, like the kitchen or on a walk. From a research perspective, there's a phenomenon called ‘state-dependent behavior,’ and it means that we're used to associating certain behaviors with certain places, such as when we sit at our desk, we naturally jump on our laptops or when we lay down for bed, we scroll through content on our phones. So changing the location will help remove the associations with screens."
Try A Deep Focus Session
If you can’t get yourself to focus and find yourself mindlessly scrolling all day, Sonsteng suggests trying one of the deep focus sessions that Caveday facilitates. "It might sound counterintuitive, but jump on Caveday for a three-hour Cave on Zoom, so you can be more productive and get your work done," Sonsteng says. "That way, you can free up your afternoon away from your computer or screen."
Keep Fewer Windows Open
Dr. Rebecca Mannis is a Learning Specialist who consults to adults, startups, and corporations, and suggests keeping fewer windows open as a way to help you process information better. "Our brains weren’t designed to switch gears and multitask to the level that screens afford. But, as we are mindful, we can take control of tech instead of tech controlling us," Dr. Mannis says.”
Put Your Tech In Another Room At Certain Times A Day
Echoing some of the advice already mentioned, Dr. Mannis suggests putting your tech in different rooms at different parts of the day. "This way, you will be less likely to gravitate toward it as a procrastination tool and will develop a ‘habit of mind’ that lets you be more effective and efficient. That way, you will have time to binge-watch Queen’s Gambit or really enjoy watching that YouTube [video] of Bruce Springsteen’s SNL performance."
Avoid Doom Scrolling Triggers
Finally, Dr. Mannis suggests being aware of which sites and apps trigger doom scrolling and avoiding them completely, or using a site that blocks them. "[The pandemic] is already draining our thinking resources in so many ways," Dr. Mannis says, explaining that by avoiding these sites and triggers "you won’t be stuck in that doom-scrolling negativity bias mindset, which can impact resilience, sleep cycle, and focusing on the many positives in your life. Bark, the Apple Screen Time Settings, and apps such as Streaks are all ways to set specific goals and limit access."