Trying to scale back on the screen time

When I was a kid, my parents bought me a 14-inch TV for my bedroom. I don’t remember exactly how I old I was, 9 or 10, probably. And since then, barring the occasional camping trip, I’ve not gone to sleep without watching something as I drift off.

In those days, it was usually Nick at Nite. Now, more than likely, it’s a documentary series. I mean, is there anything more soothing than David Attenborough’s voice?

Some of you, like more than one person I’ve dated, may prefer silence.

But I’ve recently realized how little of that I let into my life.

Not only do I constantly zonk out with a screen in front of my face — I work, cook, exercise and relax with one there too.

Just this week, I went to go heat up a burrito in the lunch room at work and realized I forgot my phone at my desk. It felt like the longest three minutes of my life. I spent it reading the nutrition facts on the box the burrito came in and practically ran back to my workspace when that puppy was finally hot enough to eat.

Clearly, this is not healthy behavior.

Even when I’m reading or taking a shower, I put on background music.

So, I’ve been researching ways to curb my addiction to constant stimulation. And I can’t imagine that I’m the only one with this issue. In fact, in a Forbes column titled “Are You a Stimulation Addict?” writer Sebastian Bailey cites research from a 2014 edition of Science that found 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women chose to give themselves a mild electric shock rather than entertain themselves with their thoughts for 15 minutes.

This same article suggests mindful meditation as a way to combat over-stimulation. This is the practice of focusing entirely on the present moment, which sounds simple. But as someone who is currently trying it, I now understand the desire of those study participants to give themselves a jolt. It’s getting easier, but it takes time to retrain your brain. For a how-to guide to get started, check out mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/.

Here are some other helpful bits of advice I’ve found to break my habit of zoning in and tuning out:

  • Track your screen time. The idea is that realizing how much of your life you’re spending looking at a TV, computer or phone will encourage you to disconnect and do something more productive.
  • Start small. I am the queen of deciding to make big life changes and trying to do everything at once. Unsurprisingly, this leaves me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. So this time around, I’m going to start with little changes to my daily routine. For instance, now when I go to the lunch room to heat up my food, I will intentionally not take my phone, even if it does make me want to jab a fork in my eye. Or, on my frequent walks downtown I’ll choose not to bring my ear buds — at least some of the time.
  • Understand it is going to be annoying. As with quitting any bad habit, there’s going to be some (or a lot of) irritability involved. Remember not to beat yourself up for it and remind yourself that it will get easier, even if it doesn’t feel like it at this very second. I also highly recommend cuddling with animals when you get too stressed. Nothing calms me down like my dogs’ fuzzy mugs and hot garbage breath in my face.
  • Create a space for solitude. This can be a cozy chair in your living room or your favorite spot in the woods. Wherever you decide, designate an area where you go to avoid the siren song of screens. And make this place as comfortable and inviting as possible. Again, I suggest animals (I guess that’s not technically solitude, but whatever). Candles, artwork and books don’t hurt either.

Lindsey Fleming is a writer/copy editor for The Dominion Post. Email her at lfleming@dominionpost.com.

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