If your screen time is making you anxious, this is what you need to do

Do you cringe over your weekly screen time reports but rely on your phone for every aspect of your life? Understanding how you use your phone could be key to improving your tech wellbeing.

“My weekly screen time report makes me feel physically sick… it’s often 12 hours a day,” admits digital creator and influencer Elise Loubatieres. “That feels like a totally unreasonable amount of time to be glued to a device, but it’s my job. I put pressure on myself to be present on my socials, sharing my daily life. I’d love to take breaks or have a job that allows me to switch off, but that would negatively impact my livelihood.” 

Loubatieres isn’t alone. According to chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey, the pandemic marked a seismic shift in the way we use our phones.

“During 2020, our tech usage boundaries dissolved – working from home meant more of us used our phones for our jobs, social lives and leisure time, and that blended usage is here to stay,” she tells Stylist. “We’re often told to simply ‘limit’ screen time, but this might now feel impossible –sparking feelings of guilt and shame that we’re on our phones too much.”

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Taislany Gomes, lifestyle and beauty content creator, admits her screen time usage sometimes causes anxiety. “My report varies from eight to 12 hours a day and it’s always a huge shock,” she says. “It makes me feel anxious and guilty that I should be more present in my personal life, but my job means I’m under pressure to be connected to my followers. 

“Even when I try to have downtime, I jump back on my phone whenever I get a social media notification to make sure I’m not missing anything. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Obviously, it’s a difficult balance to tread when social media is how you make your living. But even those of us who have more traditional jobs might struggle with excessive screen time.

But according to Hallissey, instead of obsessing over screen time usage, we should shift our focus onto how productively we are actually using our screen time.

“We need to stop demonising screen time and start developing techniques to encourage intentional screen use, so we don’t feel we are powerless or just mindlessly scrolling. That way, you’re able to choose how and when to use your phone to be most productive.”

Loubatieres admits that even when she’s not working, she’s gripped to her phone. “I’m a serial scroller, especially on TikTok. On Instagram, I scroll in work-mode, scouting product launches and reviews but on TikTok, I’ll happily scroll through random videos.”

And that’s the point: some apps are designed to keep us hooked on searching for a stronger dopamine hit. The result? Before we know it, we’re well into our third hour of watching 12-second videos that we don’t really care about. If you’re using social media for a specific purpose, however, that time might feel well-spent. Perhaps you’re researching for a project, replying to messages, getting inspiration or actively seeking out entertaining content.

That’s why it’s important to put those weekly screen time reports into context.

“Screen time reports are a double-edged sword because they don’t distinguish between productive screen time and scrolling,” explains Hallissey. “They certainly don’t help you see whether your screen time usage was intentional – for example, work related – or just for fun.”

How to make sense of your screen time

Note how long you spend on your phone for work vs pleasure

To get a clearer picture, she recommends jotting down roughly how long you’ve spent on your phone for work emails and projects, on social media and how much of that time is work-related every day for a week. 

Keep a track of phone checking

“Also note how often you reach for your phone to check social media: every hour? Every five minutes? This will give an idea of how much time you spend on content creation (work or sharing updates) versus content consumption (scrolling for pleasure). This allows you to develop a truer picture of what your screen usage is really like.”

Once you have a better idea of how you’re using your phone, it’s easier to develop healthier screen habits to suit your lifestyle.

Try to only check emails on your laptop

“When my clients are concerned about screen time, I encourage them to have one device for one job, so they aren’t doing everything on their phone,” says Hallissey. 

She suggests working on a laptop as much as possible – using it for emails and projects so that you’re less tempted to continuously check your phone.

Set aside specific time windows for phone-based social media

Try setting a dedicated time each day to reply to DMs or comments. That’ll also help to enforce spending time on social media as a pleasurable hobby, rather than an uncontrollable habit.

Let go of guilt

Above all, Hallissey recommends not punishing yourself if you do disappear down a TikTok rabbit hole. “Many of us find scrolling relaxing and entertaining, so do this without feeling guilty by allowing yourself some time each day to scroll – set a timer if it helps. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 30 minutes, enjoy it, and then when the time is up, that’s it.”

Gomes agrees that small steps like this have helped her: “At one point, I’d be scrolling on my phone in bed for up to two hours a night. But when my fiancé and I tried a ‘no phones in the bedroom’ rule, my screen time dropped dramatically and I felt better about it.”

Turn off notifications

Turning off notifications for social media apps is an important step too. “This stops you feeling constantly distracted or interrupted, allowing you to focus on the task in hand,” says Hallissey.  

Most importantly, acknowledge that you’re not powerless

Above all, it’s important to recognise that just because the tech is here to stay doesn’t mean we’re powerless to develop healthier screen habits.

“When we’re stressed or busy, our screen time is likely to be higher, and that’s OK,’ says Hallissey. “Regaining control is all about baby steps. I recommend doing a screen time audit every few months – think about how you are using your phone and how this might make you feel. 

“If this throws up feelings of guilt, don’t run from these feelings, accept them, then try to work out what you could change, even just a little, to feel more in control.”

Images: Getty

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