Spending a lot of time in front of a screen, are you? Well, you are not the only one. There are at least 10 ways to avoid screen addiction. There are many intended and unintended consequences related to being in front of one screen or another for hours on end. In fact, being in front of 2 or even 3 devices at once is becoming more common. There is recent research that shows that some people are on screens up to 10 hours a day. This is concerning.
Recently, I was nearly walked into by several people so mesmerized by their screen that they had no idea where they were going. I attended a wedding and many people in the crowd witnessed the wedding through their screen, not with their eyes directly. They did not fully experience the power of the ceremony, rather they were one step removed. Sadly, if I had asked, they probably didn’t notice their disconnection from the power of the event because they were most likely already numbed by the screen. What about texting? Texting is deadly and we all would agree. The need (compulsion) to text while operating machinery like a vehicle can easily be seen as an addiction. An addiction in simple terms is when you continue to engage in behaviors or thinking even following negative consequences. It can be said that an addiction is when you cannot get enough of what you don’t want.
In addition to the obvious addiction component, people are losing their connection to others and themselves. I once had a bright woman I was working with share that the more she texts the more difficult it is for her to relate interpersonally with others. She also shared that after having her child, she was so busy sharing pictures of her child playing on social media that she wasn’t playing with her child in a fully present manner. Imagine the impact on our young people when they are raised by adults who are not actually connecting with them and are so distracted and de-focused that the bond is compromised.
As an expert in the field of addiction for over 25 years, I work with people who are plagued by media or screen addiction. They show the classic signs of being addicted, including agitation followed by a numbing of the senses. Initially, things seem good, even helpful and gratifying. The insidious nature of addiction is in how it can take hold of your thinking and actions so slowly that you and those around you may not understand the gravity of the situation until it is too late. Little by little, day by day, you spend more time with a screen between you and the real world around you, often believing you are connecting with others when in fact you are in a sort of electronic induced trance. It seems like no big deal at first.
Next comes thinking about your screen time even when you are not on the screen. There are people who go to dinner together and place their phones on the table face down. The first one to reach for their phone pays for dinner for everyone. Even with financial consequences there is always someone who reaches for the phone. The others are secretly relieved because they wanted to and could hold on longer then the first person. What has happened to our culture that we are so addicted to our screens that we miss the authentic live interactions sitting with us in the moment?
If allowed to progress, any delay or thwarting of screen time is met with irritation, frustration, anger and in some cases rage. After the intense emotional reaction to the delay, when the screen time is available there is a numbing or relaxing effect. This could be likened to someone becoming irritated because they have to work longer than expected and they were planning for happy hour drinks and when they finally get to the happy hour, they are zealous and focused on the reward, the drink. The same holds true with screen addiction, I see people from irritated or frustrated to numb in minutes. Scrolling or skimming without any idea of the consequences they are facing. They are creating patterns on a biological level that can create compulsion.
Screen addiction, if left unchecked or without parameters, can cause significant damage. Texting has killed many people yet still, people text and email while driving. Other known consequences of screen addiction include: relationship problems, work performance problems, physical health problems from injury or lack of movement, disconnection from a personal live social network, isolation from friends or other supportive people and mental numbing. There is plenty of research that clearly asserts the damage of screen addiction and the prevalence of this in our culture. For me, I am most impacted by the everyday numbing and disconnection that is slowly eroding human connection and real involvement. Our brains require human connection in order to thrive. It seems our society in some ways is suffering from failure to thrive syndrome. What is presented as advancement may actually be a cause of some real challenges.
Too much time apart from others while using the screen as your view of reality can cause many challenges. Hours upon hours are wasted daily by many bright, talented and amazing people in front of a screen or two. Without some real parameters, you could waste countless hours on mindless numbing, shortening your attention span, cheating yourself in any life area, taxing your eyes and nervous system while creating addicting neuro nets that make your freedom from the screen more elusive.
What to do to stop the madness:
- Silence all notifications that are truly non-essential.
- Give your mind and eyes a 5 minute break every hour.
- Allow at least one hour first thing in the morning for nourishment, hydration and authentic connection.
- Turn off devices, including television, one hour before sleep. This will allow the stimulation of your brain to lessen so your sleep will be more restful.
- Be sure that all devices are out of arms reach while sleeping.
- Determine required versus optional screen time. Many of us work on screens as part of our occupation or other required daily activities. We also have optional screen time that could be engaged in in leisure time.
- Decrease time on the screen while other humans are around to engage with personally.
- Tell the truth to yourself about the impact of screen addiction on your life. Ask several people close to you and document their feedback.
- Take a break for an entire day, a Sabbath, to decompress from the onslaught of media and sensory input.
- Schedule at least one in-person human with human interaction every week. Leave any and all devices out of the equations. Honor the relationship.
Allowing screen addiction to continue gives you a false sense of being productive. Never confuse being busy for being productive. Polyphasia (multi-tasking) can give you the illusion of progress when in actuality you could be going in circles. In these times, nothing gets done well.
Screen addiction steals your joy for life. It makes you numb to everyday experiences. It gives the illusion of connection when it is a form of media, not a real connection. It is time that screen addiction and other numbing agents be addressed so you and your families and friends can wake up and enjoy life again. After all, this is why I wrote How to Quit Anything in 5 Simple Steps. Addiction impacts all of us. Screen addiction does not have to rule you and rob you of your true richness of life experiences.
Your device does not own you. Do not willingly place yourself in bondage to any device. This bondage is addictive in itself and has consequences all their own. More on this later.