Whether you’re hunched at your laptop or cradling a smartphone in your hand, there’s little doubt that your screen has become the center of your attention. In a recent survey of more than 1,300 members of the meQuilibrium community, we found that screen time isn’t just taking up more of our work day, but changing and affecting our behavior in ways that aren’t exactly neutral. Here’s what we discovered—and what to do about it.
1. It’s deleting your downtime.
Remember when you could sit around and…relax? Read? Rather than feel you’re always catching up on something? Fifty percent of survey respondents told us they check their work email outside of work hours, including weekends and vacations. And get this: three out of five admitted they spend more free time on their computer than they do with their significant other
TRY IT: Use your tools to limit your screen time. You set an alarm on your phone to wake you up, why not use that same alert system to tell you when to log off? Give yourself a hard stop (to head out for a run at 5 p.m., call a friend at 8 p.m., etc.), and let the phone or laptop remind you that it’s time to exit the virtual world.
2. It’s controlling your day—and upping your stress.
Phones, tablets and laptops are sophisticated tools—and yet, it can seem as if we’re more in their employ than they are in ours. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents told us that they can’t ignore their electronic devices, checking them often within the hour of getting an email or text. And 73 percent believe their use of electronic devices has contributed to stress in their lives. Tools? Maybe in theory. But when was the last time a hammer told you to build something?
TRY IT: Question the source. Despite its incessant beeps, rings and buzzes, a phone in and of itself can’t “make” you stressed—your stress level is dictated by the way in which you respond to external stimuli. So next time you hear it go off, recognize that unless you’re waiting for urgent info, it more than likely can wait. Remind yourself that you’re the boss in this relationship. (Find out four more ways to zap stress.)
3. It’s killing your mood.
Smartphones are designed to be fun to use, but real fun should leave you feeling better – not worse. Sixty-one percent of respondents told us they felt jealous, depressed or annoyed after checking their social media updates. Between Facebook envy and Twitter wars – not to mention the late-night emails – your need to stay on top of things could be having a negative effect. Especially if you let it interrupt the good stuff. Eighty-one percent of respondents admitted to interrupting conversation, mealtime or playtime with family and friends to check their social media, text messages or e-mail.
TRY IT: Flip your thoughts. It’s not just work that has you stressed—it’s that voice in your head, telling you what you should be doing. Thoughts like, “Why can’t I get anything done?” or, “Everyone’s got their lives together but me!” do nothing but make things worse.
“We call these thinking traps,” said Andrew Shatte, meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer. “Until you can identify the trap, you will remain snagged in it, making it harder for you to perceive situations clearly.” Is what you’re thinking true? Shake yourself out of the social media trance, and remind yourself that a single snapshot or 140 characters is not an accurate representation of someone’s life. Put down the phone—and get back to what you were doing. You’ll be a lot happier if you stay focused on the here and now.
Terri Trespicio is the editor of meQuilibrium, the first-ever online stress management program. Follow her on Twitter @TerriT. Take the Stress Less Challenge—and make a dramatic change in your stress levels starting today.