Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Screen Time during Strange Times

Blog written by Frances Kinloch. Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels
By this point in our new pandemic life our lifestyle and academic circumstances have changed whereby our screen time has exploded and whole days can be spent on screens.

Work, social and play time!

Everything from grocery ordering, classwork, homeschooling kids, work meetings and socializing is now occurring in the virtual world.

It’s a good time to look for clarity surrounding needs and intentions in an attempt to find a healthy way forward balancing everything that now needs to get done online with our happiness and health.

Some of the tips below come from Catherine Price (2018), author of a book called “Break Up with Your Phone”. Price’s work asks us interesting questions about how we manage our time with technology and attempts to help us strike a healthy balance with our screens.

Try not to start and end your day with screens

Turning to screens first thing in the morning is likely to get your day off to a distracted start. Staring at them at night exposes you to bright light (and stimulating content) just at the moment when it’s time to be calming your mind before sleep.

Recognize that just as there are different types of food, there are different types of screen time
Some time on the screen feels more “nutritious” than other moments, and these take effect on our mood and mental health depending on the content, context and dose. Reading a book on an e-reader probably feels different from scrolling through your social media feeds. A live Zumba class or Couch concert from your favourite musician is going to add self-care points but ‘doomsurfing’ the news media might subtract points.

Determine which uses of your screens are essential, and in what amount

Do what needs to be done and then go do something else off the screen. Since so many tasks and people are requiring screen time from us currently the best plan of action is to book time away from the screen when you see an opportunity.

Once you’ve identified your screen time “essentials,” it’s time to think about your down time.

Price asks us to think of our “free” time as being classified into three categories: consumption, creation and connection. When we identify which of these “C”s feels good to us, and in what amount, we can then brainstorm ways to do each both on and off screen.

Monitor your own mood on the screen

The more moment-to-moment awareness you can cultivate about the mental effects of your screen time, the more in control you will be. Another helpful tip, perhaps adding and “C” to think about is “curation”. It is possible now to curate who you see on my social media and who gets to take up space in your email inbox. Don’t be shy about pressing the snooze button on people or accounts that are causing you more stress than usual. Take a tea break and unsubscribe from any newsletters or emailers that are cluttering up your time.

Recognize the signs of “stress-scrolling and doomsurfing”

Many of us are ‘doomsurfin’ these days. “Doomsurfing” is a term to describe what avenues and how deep we tap into the news cycle. Many of us are hungry for the latest developments and this makes us feel secure and in control. But make sure you do not overdose.
I will admit to a once a day Covid-19 Worldmeter check in and I enjoy hearing from the ever assured Dr. Henry but I now really limit my news after a couple of weeks of wasting time and energy following too many sources.

Stress-scrolling is the digital equivalent of stress-eating, and its origins are the same. When we’re stressed out, the part of our brain responsible for rational decision making (the prefrontal cortex) goes offline, and it becomes much harder to resist our impulses. It doesn’t matter if we objectively know that eating an entire bag of potato chips or spending an hour on Instagram is going to make us feel disgusted with ourselves. It’s easy, and it feels good in the moment, and so we do it.

The solution is to train yourself to recognize this behavior in real time, acknowledge what’s happening without beating yourself up for it, and have a list of alternative activities at the ready so that the list of available “quick fixes” available to your brain includes more than just numbing yourself with a screen. To make this easier…

Create a list of off-screen and activities that make you feel goood when it’s time to turn away from the essential screen activities you have decided on and try to be intentional about planning them into your day.

A lot of this is easier said than done for all of us but even a tiny change to our habits can add up exponentially for our wellbeing. If you are feeling screen time strain these days see if you can commit to one of your screen behaviours and notice if this makes for healthy change in your week.


Price, C. (2018). How to break up with your phone. Ten Speed Press.

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