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How Can I Decrease My Screen Time? Part 1

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

Phones, TVs, and computers are a large part of your life, and that’s unlikely to change. Yet, spending too much time on these devices can have a negative impact on your mental health. They may cause anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, insomnia, and stress. Screen time is defined as any activity that involves a screen, such as watching TV/movies, playing video games, searching the internet/scrolling, or connecting with social media. 

Do you need to decrease your screen time? If so, try these methods. 

Identify Your Needs

Consider needs as anything that you get out of your screen time, good or bad. It’s important to honestly identify the needs that you’re getting met so that you can manage them effectively. Here are examples of common needs that our screen technologies help us satisfy:

  • Avoidance
    • You use screen time to avoid thinking, feeling, or completing a task. 
  • Zoning Out
    • You use screen time in order to relax, disengage, or re-set. 
  • Entertainment.  
    • You benefit from the entertainment value of screen time as you are focused, engaged, and experience pleasant emotions. 
  • Socialization
    • You utilize screen time to establish and/or maintain connections with others.
  • Isolation 
    • You use screen time to feel connected with others while also limiting your active engagement with them. For example, you consistently review your friends’ social media posts, but rarely actively engage with them. 
  • Work/School Obligations 
    • You need screen time to complete work or school tasks. 

This is not a complete list of the needs that you may be getting met. Take some time and identify your needs. Think of it this way: if all of your screens were broken and could not be fixed, what would you miss? How would you act or feel? These answers may help you identify your needs. 

Embrace Your Needs 

Does it make sense to embrace your needs? You might want to embrace the need to relax or zone out after work. You may not want to embrace your need for isolation or avoidance. With respect to any needs that you do not want to embrace, you should focus on the core issues that are creating them.  For example, if you watch TV to isolate yourself and you do not wish to continue doing so, then you should focus on the core issues behind your need for isolation (as opposed to merely trying to watch less TV). 

If you choose to embrace your needs, try to reframe them rather than shaming/criticizing the actions that you take to meet them. 

Consider this reframing: 

  • “I watch too much TV.“………………………”I use TV to zone out.”
  • “I’m constantly on my phone.”……………“I used my phone to keep me entertained.” 
  • “I play too many video games.”………….“I use video games to calm my racing thoughts.”
  • “I’m always on my phone at night.”…….”I’m on my phone to help me to fall asleep.” 

This reframing can help you embrace your needs, which in turn can make it easier to meet them in ways that decrease your screen time. 

Implement Replacement Behaviors 

What if you can meet your needs associated with screen time without the use of screens? It’s possible. Try using replacement behaviors as alternative ways to meet your needs. 

Here are a few replacement behaviors:

  • Need Replacement Behaviors 
  • Zoning Out/Relaxing Meditation/Mindfulness, Exercise, Time in Nature
  • Entertainment Socializing, Engaging in Art/Creativity, Reading, Hobbies  
  • Manage Racing Thoughts Meditation/Mindfulness, Writing, Exercise
  • To Fall Asleep Sleep Hygiene, Cognitive/Somatic Exercises, Medication 

When you are tempted to engage in screen time, try a replacement behavior to see if it meets your needs. These new behaviors will seem odd or uncomfortable at first because you are not used to them. Try these replacement behaviors multiple times to see if you notice a decrease in your screen time. 

If you need help to decrease your screen time, consider participating in individual therapy. Symmetry Counseling provides individual therapy which can help you to achieve your goals. For additional ideas, check out Part 2 of this blog.

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