We’re all spending a lot (and we mean, a LOT) of time at home, and that inevitably means more minutes and hours spent on our phones and computers. We’re keeping up with the latest news updates, catching up with friends and family, and scrolling more on social media.
We’re in a tough spot. Our phones are both a lifeline and an anchor that if we’re not careful, can quickly start affecting our mental and physical health in negative ways.
The question is: How can we strike a healthy balance with technology during this time? Here’s what two top Parsley Health experts had to say about how to break up with your phone and have healthy boundaries with technology during the coronavirus lockdown.
“When the world feels chaotic, compulsively checking the news can provide the illusion of power or control. But checking headlines throughout the day won’t stop bad things from happening and it won’t make them feel any less scary when they do happen,” says Erica Zellner , a health coach at Parsley Health Los Angeles.
Checking the news can be particularly damaging during this time for a few reasons. “I believe it may have negative effects on our nervous systems which are already often in fight or flight mode. Without the ability to truly relax, our bodies don’t have the opportunity to fully heal which may lead to an increase in inflammation , suppression of our immune system , or weight gain from persistently elevated cortisol ,” says Dr. Tiffany Lester , board-certified integrative medicine physician at Parsley Health San Francisco.
As a general rule, we should aim to strike a balance between having the latest information—especially the information that directly affects us— without letting it interfere with our daily life or get in the way of our responsibilities.
Recent research shows that as little as two hours of screen time can lower a person’s psychological well-being . And according to Dr. Lester “on average Americans spend about 3.5 hours on their phone which has likely risen in the past few weeks as more of our country is self-quarantined for COVID-19.”
That said, during these unprecedented times, our phone is often the only connection we have to our social circle; therefore, it depends more on what we’re using our phone for than how often we’re using it. As Dr. Lester explains it: “If it’s to spend time FaceTiming with your friends and family that is actually a boost to our mental health in the need to stay connected.”
However, if you find yourself checking the news every few minutes, picking up your phone at every buzz or ring, or going down a social media rabbit role that negatively affects your sleep and work routine, Lester says it’s time to re-examine how much time you’re spending on your devices.
To set healthy boundaries, “I recommend choosing 1 to 2 preferred news sources and checking in each morning and night to stay informed. Most of the information is recycled so you aren’t missing anything!” says Dr. Lester. Zellner also recommends “making your smartphone dumb,” which means turning off all push notifications and burying the icons of your most-used apps in folders or on the back pages of your phone screen. “You can also use the Screen Time function to set time limits on certain apps. Intentionally decide to spend 30 minutes on Instagram and 15 minutes on Twitter each day,” says Zellner.
If you’re really having trouble putting your phone down or find yourself passively checking it every few minutes, “then you need to make it harder to check!” says Zellner. She recommends keeping your phone in a different room during working hours so you have to get up to check or keep it away from arm’s reach. “Think of ways to make passive checking more difficult, and you’ll naturally reduce how often you’re doing it,” she says.
Sometimes a simple pause and a self-check where you ask yourself if it’s a good time to pick up your device is enough. If you decide the answer is “no,” Dr. Lester recommends practicing the 4-7-8 breath for a minute or two instead.
In addition to how you’re using your phone, you should also be paying close attention to when you’re using it. As Zellner explains: “I would encourage limiting your connection to the digital world in the first and last hours of your day. It’s important to ensure that you have time away from all the noise and stimulation that these outlets can cause.”
Instead of spending the time before bed on your phone, try establishing a phone-free bedtime ritual instead. Dr. Lester’s go-to routine includes changing into designated pajama clothes, making a cup of tea, and crawling into bed with a warm herbal neck wrap to read a few chapters of a book before falling asleep.
Zellner also recommends making your bedroom a completely phone-free zone. “These intentional breaks give our brains time to come down from the overstimulation of technology,” she explains.
As Zellner explains it: “This is a time to recognize that we’re going to be using technology more often.” Since there’s no escaping that fact, it’s important to focus on how we can use technology to feel better and be more connected to others. “There are many tools at our disposal right now, from FaceTime to Zoom video calls, playing games together online, and you can even watch movies together through Netflix Party,” says Zellner.
If you’re lucky enough to be working from home but you’re missing your coworkers, Zellner suggests hosting virtual coworking sessions with dedicated focused time and interaction time. “At Parsley Health, we’re hosting virtual ‘wine downs’ and other gatherings to stay connected with our coworkers outside of the day to day activities,” she says. “The key is to get creative with your connection,” she continues.
During this unprecedented time, it’s important to focus on how to use our phones to feel better and keep us informed but not bombard us with information that prevents us from maintaining our daily routine and optimizing mental health.
Gretchen Lidicker is a writer, researcher, and author of the book CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide To Hemp-Derived Health & Wellness. She has a masters degree in physiology and complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University and is the former health editor at mindbodygreen. She's been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Forbes, SELF, The Times, Huffington Post, and Travel + Leisure.