Have you checked your phone in the past five minutes? (You’re reaching for it now, aren’t you?) You’re not alone—according to market-research group Nielson, the average adult spends more than 11 hours staring at some kind of screen every day and a poll by Forum Research found more than 48 percent of Canadians respond to text and email messages within 10 minutes. We don’t even unplug on vacation: A 2018 study found people check their phones every 12 minutes during holidays. One in four of those surveyed said they’ve climbed a tree, hiked up a hill, or canoed to the middle of a lake just to get a better signal. But constantly being connected comes at a cost, says Hiroko Demichelis, a registered clinical counsellor and founder of the Vancouver Brain Lab. Studies link smartphone addiction to increased stress, anxiety, depression and learning problems.
Using a smartphone is a little like eating brownies, Demichelis says. “I’m not against eating a brownie, but when you eat the whole pan without thinking, it’s not going to be a good experience.” Here’s how to enjoy your screen time in more measured doses.
Luckily, your phone can tell you when you have overindulged. Demichelis suggests installing an app to monitor your screen time, so you can decide if the hours you devote to social media is time that could be better spent.
Make it a habit
“Create a new routine around your phone use. I’ve started keeping mine in my living room and when I leave the room, it stays behind,” she says. “It’s helped me feel more present and less distracted.”
If you anticipate trouble withstanding the lure of the screen, lock your phone in a box. “You can buy what’s called a ‘kitchen safe’ (you can find them online). These safes have a timer in the lid if you need extra help establishing a more disciplined routine,” Demichelis says.
Plant a seed
To help you stay focused, try the Forest app. Once installed, a tree begins to grow on your screen, but withers if you check your phone before your pre-programmed break is up. (As a bonus, the company supports an IRL tree-planting organization.)
This article was originally published in 2019.