On Your Phone Too Much? Here’s How to Set Realistic Tech Limits  

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Couple looking at their phones in bed
On average, Americans check their phones close to 100 times per day – about once every 10 minutes. Too much time spent scrolling through status updates on your favorite social media apps has been shown to have a negative effect on mental health, especially for young people.
If one of your health goals for 2021 is to cut back on the amount of time you spend on your phone, having a concrete plan with achievable goals will help you succeed.

Why can’t I put my phone down?

First, why is it so hard to ignore your phone? Blame your brain and its reward-seeking tendencies. The apps you install on your phone are designed to be hard to ignore. Whenever you receive a text, hear the familiar notification from your favorite social media site or see an email pop up on the screen, your brain knows that it could be rewarded with dopamine, a feel-good chemical that can be activated by social interactions.
When you’re feeling bored or down, reaching for your smartphone can be a quick, reliable pick-me-up. And since new content from your friends and acquaintances is constantly popping up on social media apps, it makes sense that you’d want to check it frequently.

There are several ways you can interrupt this cycle:

  • Put your phone to work for you. Android and Apple products have features to help you manage your screen time. You can schedule downtime away from your screen, set time limits for apps you can’t stay away from and turn off notifications, so your phone isn’t constantly trying to get your attention. Make realistic goals to reduce your screen time – it might be cutting back by 5% a week or capping your time per day at a level that works for you.  
  • Find other ways to reward your brain. That feel-good dopamine we all like so much? There are other ways to get it. Examples include regular exercise, listening to music or meditating. Before you drastically reduce your screen time, make a list of activities or hobbies you’d like to pursue as you get used to not looking at your phone so much. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument or perfect your culinary techniques – now’s your chance! 
  • Create physical distance from your devices. Did you know there are people who don’t allow phones or tablets at the dinner table? It’s true. You can be one of those people. Establish a new normal with your family at dinner time by instituting a phone drop zone far away from the dining room or kitchen. If conversation seems hard to come by at first, try a fun game. Before you know it, putting the phones away when you eat will become second nature and you’ll build some lasting family memories in the process. That same drop zone can be used at bedtime, at agreed-upon windows of time on the weekend or whenever it makes sense for your family.
No matter how you decide to scale back your screen time, remember to start slow and give yourself grace when you accidentally lose an hour reading comments or checking out your friends’ posts. Set weekly goals and celebrate when you reach them. When you fall short, vow to get closer next week.
Keep track of how you feel on weeks you’re not absorbed in your screen as much. Noticing improvements in mood or an uptick in other activities you enjoy can motivate you to keep at it and make lasting changes when it comes to your tech habits. 
Photo credit: Ocus Focus

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