Take Your Life Back! Simple Ways to Break Free of Your Devices

By Deepi Brar and Melissa Pandika | September 26, 2016 | Rally Health

Woman texting

Do you feel like your devices are taking over your life? You’re not alone. Being online can be addictive, so the trick is to recognize this fact and train yourself to break away. There was life before cell phones, tablets, and streaming TV — you can do it!

Tips to keep your digital device use in check:

Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Suffering from a bout of computer vision syndrome? You’re probably familiar with the symptoms: strained, dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Poor posture can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Experts say for every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to focus on something 20 feet away. While you’re at it, stretch out your arms, legs, and neck.

Take standing breaks. Instead of emailing a question to your office mate, walk to her cubicle and ask her in person. Take the stairs when possible, or start an office lunchtime walking group. Consider a sit-stand desk if that’s an option. See more ways to work in more walking.

Adjust your station. If working on your computer is causing eye strain or neck pain, make sure it’s set up right. Your screen should be about an arm’s length away, and the top of the screen about 2 or 3 inches above eye level. Your arms should hang down from your shoulders and your elbows bend at about 100 degrees when your hands are on the keyboard. If you have an ergonomics expert at work, ask for a consult.

Break bad habits. Put away your phone when you’re walking — it’s not safe. If you can’t stop fiddling with your phone, put it out of reach for a while in your backpack or purse. Don’t stay signed into your go-to apps like Twitter or Facebook — if you have to sign in every time, you won’t check as often. If you tend to binge-watch TV shows, set a timer to interrupt yourself after a couple of shows. Behavioral expert Nir Ayal has more suggestions on his blog.

Don’t let yourself get distracted. Turn off the notifications on most of your apps — if you hear something ringing, it should be worthy of your attention (like a call or text), not just someone repinning your picture on Pinterest. At work, try to schedule uninterrupted time to think and plan — most emails can wait an hour.

Power down at night. Avoid tuning into digital devices for at least a half hour before bedtime, suggests the National Sleep Foundation. Bonus points for banning devices from the bedroom entirely so you’re not tempted to check them late at night or first thing when you wake up. If you can’t do that, at least silence your notifications.

For parents and kids

Set boundaries – and enforce them. Like Ruston in Screenagers, team up with your kids to write a contract that sets boundaries (like an hour a day after homework is done) and the consequences of breaking them. Stick to those limits. After a few times, child will learn that whether she pleads or throws a tantrum, no means no, Ruston says. With older kids, you could make a tech version of a “swear jar” — drop in a dollar every time someone breaks the rules and use the money for pizza, bowling, or other family fun.

Use tech to your advantage. Just like DVRs have parental control settings, most computers do too. Learn how to set them up for laptops with Mac OS X and Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). For Xbox and Windows PCs and mobile devices you’ll need to set up a Microsoft account and add family members. For Android devices, you can add restrictions through Google Play.

Schedule family screen-free time. Encourage conversation by making the dining table a screen-free zone. The last hour before bed could be a screen-free time when everyone reads a book. Do something together outside on weekends, like a bike ride or hike. (Pokemon Go might be a way to get the kids out walking, but try not to make a habit of using that particular carrot.)

Set a good example. Kids are less likely to take screen time boundaries seriously if they see their parents glued to their phones. Before you pick up your phone out of habit, ask yourself if you really need to check Facebook yet again. Turn off the notifications on most of your apps except for phone calls and texts — you probably don’t need to look at every alert.

Consider Tech Talks. It’s important for families to talk about how device use without getting defensive, says Victoria Dunckley, an integrative child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and author of Reset Your Child’s Brain. You might schedule a weekly family meeting to talk about what’s working and what's a problem. It's also a good way to explore the ever-changing rules of online behavior together. “Talk about…the reality of the seductiveness of these technological devices,” Ruston suggests. She says it’s important that “everyone feels like they’re safe to say what they want to say without negative consequences.” Take the Tech Talk Tuesday pledge, and find discussion topic ideas here.

Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms. It’s much easier to monitor computer use when it’s out in the living or family room, for one. Devices in the bedroom can be disruptive for children’s sleep as well — to keep your child from texting or playing games after lights out, remove the temptation altogether.

Selected references:

  • American Optometric Association. Computer Vision Syndrome. AOA.com.
  • National Sleep Foundation. Devices in the Bedroom. NSF website.


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