Addicted to screen time? Try the digital diet

Published with permission from issuesiface.com: /magazine/addicted-to-screen-time-try-the-digital-diet

Chances are you don’t think you have a problem. All your friends are just as obsessed with their devices as you are. Everyone you know checks their Instagram feed constantly, keeps 50 Snapchat stories alive every day, and watches YouTube and Netflix for hours on end. You are just like everyone else.

There isn’t necessarily a specific amount of time spent online that determines if you have a problem. It’s more about how the time you spend online impacts you and your life.

I am not anti-technology, anti-smartphone or anti-social media. It just concerns me when any online-related, compulsive behavior begins to interfere with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, and one’s work environment.

Here is the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire developed by Dr. Kimberly Young. If you answer “yes” to 5 out of the 8 questions, it means you have a digital addiction:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate your next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than you originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

If after answering these questions you realize you may actually be addicted to the Internet, perhaps you might be wondering, “Well, what can I do about it? It’s not like I can just give up my phone.”

Don’t lose heart. You can break this addiction. And you don’t need to quit cold turkey to do it.

Still resistant to the idea of a digital diet? Do you think, “Well, really, what’s the big deal? I’m not hurting myself or anyone else”? The truth is, you could very likely be hurting yourself and your relationships with others.

Research shows that Internet/screen addiction can damage your brain. Overstimulation can impair brain structure and function, especially when a person’s brain is not fully developed — which doesn’t happen until our mid-20s. The effects are vast. Here are some examples:

  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Effects ability to develop empathy and compassion for others
  • Can cause cravings similar to drug cravings
  • Poor impulse control
  • Cause anxiety or stress in small things

Here are some additional pitfalls of a screen addiction:

  • Superficial Relationships — With a social media addiction, your superficial online relationships can start to take the place of real personal relationships.
  • Irresponsibility — You can waste so much time staring at a screen that, without even realizing it, you were sucked in for hours. During this time perhaps you should have been studying, sleeping, or doing tasks around your home. Perhaps your screen addiction is even affecting your career. If you feel the need to check your phone at work all the time to keep up on social media, you will be less productive. Period.
  • Missing Out — You can be so engaged in the online world that you ignore the life that is happening around you. Did your parent, sibling, spouse try to have a conversation with you, but you ignored them to stare at your phone? Did someone ask you to go out, but you declined?
  • Trapped Inside — You can forget that there is an outside world with adventures awaiting because your screen has become too tempting and you just can’t leave it.
  • Boredom — You simply don’t know how to create any fun or excitement in your life anymore. You can’t think creatively and discover things to do. Unless you are looking at a screen, you find life to be boring.

This doesn’t have to happen to you. Go on a digital diet today!

THE DIGITAL DIET

Think of a digital diet like a food diet. There comes a time when you just need to make healthier choices to get to a healthier place. A digital diet is about being mindful of what you are doing online and how much time you spend there. It’s about embracing the good it brings such as using it for work, school, and fun without over-consuming. It’s about moderating yourself. So what might a digital diet look like?

Try these five things:

  1. Schedule no-device times in your day. For example, always put your phone away at meal times. Or establish a boundary for yourself to not look at your device past 10 p.m. Or perhaps you get an hour of screen time after school or work and then you put it away for two hours. Figure out what works for you and then stick to it. It will be tempting to pick it up — but like a diet — you’ll need a little will-power and in the long run you will be happier.
  2. Don’t charge your phone/devices in your room at night. Is your phone the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed? Give your brain and eyes a rest. Plug your phone in somewhere else during the night to decrease the temptation. But you say, “It’s my alarm clock.” You know what? They do still make good old-fashioned alarm clocks for very little cost.
  3. Avoid notifications. If you have notifications turned on for everything, your phone will never stop binging. Ask yourself if you really need to know every time someone updates their post or likes a picture or sends an e-mail. What notifications could you turn off so that you are not inundated by bells and whistles? You can still find every new post and update when you choose to go look at them. You just don’t need to be interrupted every time one comes in.
  4. Limit the number episodes or videos you watch. Do you find yourself binge watching a show on Netflix? Or going from one YouTube video to the next? Set a limit for yourself. (You do tell yourself you can’t eat the whole package of Oreos don’t you?) Tell yourself you will watch no more than two shows in one sitting.
  5. Take a social media break. How often do you check your feeds or look at Snapchat stories? Have you ever actually counted how many times you click on that little icon to see if there is anything new out there? I promise it won’t kill you to take a break. Give up social media for a week — or at least one bit of your social media. See how much more time you have. You might even find you are less stressed when you don’t have to try to stay on top of every feed. And when you start using it again, don’t go back to where you left off and try to get all the way through. Trust me, you will live without seeing what your acquaintance ate for supper.

As with any diet, you often need accountability to succeed. Someone to encourage you and help you stay on track. If you would like help, message us!

Erica Jones