My Screen Time Is Up By 246%
Back in March, and a week and a half into quarantine, I received a notification on my laptop:
SCREEN TIME: Weekly Report Available: Your Screen Time is up by 246 percent
And I was capital S, Shocked. And it didn’t matter that it was related to COVID lockdown. I was still shocked and I headed straight for denial: “246%?!?!? I am not a person that consumes that much screen time!”
This past Winter, I told myself that I didn’t have a problem with screen time anymore. Screen time reduction has been a long-term project for me: I’d even written about some of my strides in this area, particularly when it comes to sleep.
Before COVID, I was scheduled to write another article about another screen time win, which never materialized. But if it had, it would have been all bells and whistles-y because I was pretty darn proud of a strategy that I had developed—A strategy that all went out the window when COVID lockdown became a reality. If I get back to that, I’ll let you know, but it might not be until COVID is over.
Adapting to COVID
I want to be straight up and tell you that this is not going to be an article about reducing screen time. And I’m sorry if I’ve offended any counselling colleagues who have taken on the noble task of decreasing their use, and helping clients do the same. It’s a worthy cause that I intend on going back to in future.
But, unlike many of us, I have never been through a plague before and frankly, surviving it is my main priority—not making significant gains in spending less time on my computer. In fact, I now offer video counselling as a new service in my counselling practice and, because it’s going well, it’s here to stay. And I haven’t watched this much TV since my adolescence and yes, I really like it. Going forward, my screen time will be more than it used to be.
Most people I know have seen an uptick in their screen time. And I know you know the reasons, many of which centre around the fact that collectively, we have been observing physical distancing. And, yes, physical distancing with friends, loved ones and colleagues still may be a heck of a lot better than not doing this at all and people have come up with some very creative strategies to facilitate this. But it’s not always practical, so we’re turned to screens as a viable alternative.
Making Use of Screens
We have used screens to:
- Do paid work, if we’re fortunate enough to have employment
- Get updates about the pandemic
- Connect with people through video calls
- Conduct extracurricular group activities over video (choir, anyone?)
- Play games with loved ones
- Take online courses
- Watch endless Netflix
- YouTube some new skills
- Research homesteading activities
- Do exercise routines
And I have to say, as a society I think we’re getting an A+ for ingenuity and adaptability. I am, frankly, amazed.
And at the risk of being a wet blanket, there have been some significant drawbacks to screen time such as:
- Screen headaches and eye strain
- Sleep disruptions
- Being taunted by images of people you can’t hug
- A weird sense of reality
- Flashbacks to times before COVID (as exemplified in TV shows, for example)
- Boredom and restlessness
- Increased reluctance to leave our homes
- Fear of missing out (i.e. FOMO)
- Increased anxiety and mood changes from exposure to COVID news and media
Let’s Be Kind
And I want to say that whatever your relationship is with screens right now, it’s valid. This is not the time for self-judgement. It’s the time to become kinder to yourself than you ever thought possible. If we can’t do this in a pandemic, when can we do this?!
We can reflect on the reasons for why we are using screens. We can validate these reasons or challenge ourselves to find alternatives if screens aren’t cutting it for our mental health.
Finding Alternatives When Need Be
Let’s look at an example of how we might find an alternative coping strategy to screen time:
Reason – loneliness
Method – video call
Result – increased loneliness since call didn’t go well
Change of plan – journalling
Result – improved mood but still sad
Additional plan – cuddle with cat
Result – slightly better mood
Additional plan – read trashy novel
Result – feeling calm enough to go to bed
When we are seeking a break from screens there are alternatives that might be worth considering:
- Get outside, even for 5-10 minutes (many of us are finding that the air is fresher than it has been for years)
- Reduce news consumption
- Talk to someone live or switch to an old-school phone call
- Do a low- or no-tech activity
- Calm your body (self massage, hot bath, aromatherapy, tea, etc., whatever works)
- Assess if you’re hungry or hangry and eat if needed, particularly if screen time has distracted you from attending to hunger cues
- Assess whether you are tired and need rest or sleep
- Give yourself the permission to not accomplish anything
- Connect with nature or a spiritual pursuit
- Hug something (pillow, stuffed animal, real animal or someone you live with—if it’s appropriate)
- Dust off an old home-based hobby or learn something new
- Do something you can’t or wouldn’t normally post online so there’s zero pressure or expectation attached
- Change your clothes, make your bed, brush your hair or teeth
- Remind yourself that you are coping in the very best way you can
I love hearing how you are coping through this pandemic. Never hesitate to drop me a line. Please take care, everyone.
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