9 Ways To Reduce Screen Time & Fight The Urge To Check Your Phone

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In 2019, just about everyone you know probably has a smartphone. You can't go outside without seeing at least one person looking down at it as they walk, texting while they wait for the subway, or FaceTiming in line for their coffee order. It's easy to watch all of this happen around you — but it's much harder to keep track of how long you actually spend on your phone, or realize when you need to reduce your overall screen time.

In recent years, the body of research around how screen time affects mental and physical health has started to grow. People have studied the connection between social media use and rates of loneliness and depression, as well as the higher rates of stress associated with people's phones being constantly "on" and around them.

For example, one such study published by psychologist Melissa Hunt in The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology showed a connection between the use of certain social media apps and "decreased well-being." “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness," Hunt said to Penn Today about her study. "These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

Though not all screen time is spent on social media, gaming, or interactive apps, it's these styles of app that tend to be the most dangerous, according to Harvard Health. “Virtually all games and social media work on what’s called a variable reward system, which is exactly what you get when you go to Mohegan Sun and pull a lever on a slot machine," Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, told the Harvard Health blog. "It balances the hope that you’re going to make it big with a little bit of frustration, and unlike the slot machine, a sense of skill needed to improve.”

Your phone contains the capacity to help you in so many facets of your life, but it can also be detrimental to your health. And yet, even with all of this new information about how smart phone usage can hurt you, it can still feel really hard to limit or even keep track of how much time you spend looking at a screen.

Here are a few tips on how you can best curb your screen time usage, or keep track of it at the very least:

Think Twice Before Checking Your Phone

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According to research by Statista, a German online statistics database, the average person in 2019 spends an estimated 153 minutes a day on social media apps — and that amount of time is growing every year.

If you're not even sure how often you use your phone, or where all that screen time usage is spent each day, try to start being more conscious of how often you pull it out to check on something. You might be spending time looking at your phone without even realizing it. This is especially true during the moments when you're trying to kill time: like in the bathroom, or while you're commuting. In addition to the Screen Time app that's available in your control center, some other apps that help you control your screen time include Moment, App Detox, and Our Pact.

Set Limits Through Your Screen Time Settings

Caroline Burke

The screen time function on your iPhone is one of the most useful improvements in recent iOS upgrades. It allows you to see where you're spending time each day, in terms of phone apps, and even lets you set limits on your screen time. For example, you can set your phone to shut off Instagram access after you've gone through two hours of screen time for the day.

According to Apple, if you have a child whose screen time you want to monitor, you can set those limits though Family Sharing options.

Delete The Apps That Take Up The Most Screen Time For You

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According to a 2018 study by Apptopia, an app analytics site, people spend the most time on the following apps: What's App, WeChat, Facebook, Messenger, Pandora, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

It just might be that some of the apps you don't even realize you're using every day are taking up a big chunk of your screen time. Even if you don't set limits for screen time on your phone, you should check in on the function once in a while, because you might be surprised.

Stop Taking Your Technology To Bed With You

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One of the biggest tech no-no's that people commonly commit is bringing phones, computers, and more into bed with them. According to a study by Harvard Health, the artificial light from our phones and laptops (often called "blue light) is actively detrimental to our sleep quality, and can lead to other health concerns, too.

If you have a habit of watching television or checking up on Instagram stories before bed, it's time to replace that habit with a good old fashioned paperback book. It'll help you fall asleep better, per Harvard Health; ideally, you should avoid screens at least two hours before bedtime, the study says.

Switch Your Phone To Grayscale

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Switching your phone from a color screen to grayscale is a great way to discourage yourself from staring at it. According to Vice, many people are reporting decreased feelings of addiction to their phones once they switch the screen visuals so that it's in shades of gray, rather than color. Specifically, the site is referencing a "Go Gray" Movement that aims to help people curb their iPhone usage by switching to grayscale.

The number of people who have participated in the movement isn't clear, but there are testimonials available to read. What's more, several app developers like Tristan Harris have spoken out about the addictive nature of phones, as well; per Lifehacker, he too suggests switching your phone to grayscale.

If you want to try switching the visuals on your screen to grayscale as a means to decrease screen time, you go to "Settings," then "Accessibility," then "Display & Text Size." From there, you can scroll down to the "Color Filters" option and select the toggle for grayscale.

Turn Off The Unnecessary App Notifications

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You're likely getting a whole load of push notifications which you never click on, for apps whose role in your life require no level of urgency. For example, you might be getting push notifications for apps you haven't logged on to in a while, which are literally just saying some version of "We miss you!"

If you want to turn off your app notifications, change how often you receive certain notifications, or change the type of notification you receive (like a banner versus an actual alert), you can go to "Notifications," which is found in your settings app. From there, you can look into what types of notification settings you have set up for all of your apps

Set Parameters With Your Coworkers About "Online Time"

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There's nothing more stressful than feeling like you need to be accessible at all hours of the day, just in case you get a random work email. Even worse, if you constantly receive Slack or email notifications from a group thread that aren't even important for you to know. So maybe it's time to tell your coworkers that you're officially off the clock come a certain hour of the day, every day.

Tell Your Friends To Call You Instead Of Texting

There's a pretty high chance that all the texting you're doing in a given day isn't all on a need-to-know basis. So ask your friends to help you decrease your screen time by calling you once a week, for example, instead of texting you randomly throughout the day. This is a great way to decrease the amount of little buzzes you get from your phone.

Designate Screen-Free Areas With Your Partner Or Roommate

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If you live with someone else, you can try to take on your screen time together. Establish certain areas in your home, or time periods in the day, where you both agree to stay off of your phone. During that time, you can enjoy some face-to-face interaction instead. Consider doing some hobbies together, like cooking dinner or playing a board game.

And if you're not sure whether or not you have a healthy relationship with your phone, it might be time to start looking out for signs that you're using your phone too much.

Studies Referenced:

Hughes, N. (2018) Sleeping with the frenemy: How restricting ‘bedroom use’ of smartphones impacts happiness and wellbeing. Computers in Human Behavior. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218301523?via%3Dihub

Hunt, M. (2018) No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751?journalCode=jscp