- Isabelle Morley, PsyD
5 Ways to Set Boundaries with Technology
The pandemic can be an opportunity for you to unplug from your phone and set better better boundaries with technology. Learn more about 5 simple ways to reset your relationship with your screens.
It's easy to develop bad habits, and quarantine has made it even easier. With previous routines shattered by the pandemic, many people are finding that they replaced exercise, socializing, and perusing stores with television, social media, and video games. Although fun in moderation, too much of a good thing can cause more stress rather than reduce it.
Have you noticed your screen time increasing during quarantine? Now is a perfect time to pause, reassess your relationship with your tech, and set new boundaries.
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1. No Screens in Bed
Time and time again, research shows that looking at screens before bed negatively impacts your sleep. The blue light, the mental activation, the endless scrolling on Instagram- all of these things can keep you up instead of help you transition from being awake to asleep. Despite this, a study from 2013 showed that most Americans end their day by looking at a screen, and it's unlikely that trend has changed in the last seven years.
Looking at your phone, tv or iPad in bed also creates a bad association with sleeping and screens, where you feel you have to look at them since they have become part of your bedtime routine. A good general rule for maintaining good sleep habits is that your bed is for sleeping, and that's it. No binge watching your favorite show, no playing Candy Crush for a few hours before sleep, and no reading the news on your tablet.
Enjoy your screens before bed, and make your bedroom a haven from technology. Leave your phone in another room if you can (unless you use it for an alarm). Remove the TV from your bedroom so you won't be tempted to turn it on.
2. Take Your Work Email off our Phone
Unless your job truly requires you to be accessible 24/7, it's time to take your work email off your personal phone. Most work problems aren't actually emergencies and don't require your immediate attention to resolve. With laptops and tablets, it's not like we're ever far from our work email as it is, but when it's at your fingertips all day long it's near impossible to not check it constantly. But this comes at a cost- your time, your mood, your relationships, and your ability to be present.
Checking your email might feel like it takes two seconds and has no impact on your day, but it requires a shift in focus that takes up precious time. You have to switch from one activity (eating, talking with a friend, etc.) to looking at your emails, and then another shift back to the present moment, which can actually take minutes for you to do and those minutes add up. The truth is, humans are bad multitaskers. We aren't able to do two (or three, or four) things at once, even though we might feel like we can.
Have you ever looked at your email right before dinner only to find an angry message from someone or a panicked subject line because there's an issue that needs to be resolved? If you have, chances are your mood plummeted or your anxiety spiked in response, and it probably made it difficult to actually enjoy your dinner.
Focusing on your screen instead of the person right in front of you damages relationships. It doesn't feel good when your partner, friend or family member is willing to pause your conversation or ignore you when you're talking in order to flip through their email. It sends a clear message that your inbox is more important than your relationship.
Your Ability to be Present
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the current moment. Checking your email pulls you away from that moment and distracts you from enjoying the small moments that make life meaningful.
Technology has expanded our lives in amazing ways, but it needs to be used in moderation. Staring at a screen all day comes at a large cost, although we might not realize it in the moment.
3. TV with Intention
If you want to watch some television to unwind at night, do it with intention. Instead of putting on a show for background noise while you scroll through social media or answer work emails after hours (see number 2), pick a show you're excited to watch and give it your undivided attention. Don't let your phone distract you! Grab some popcorn and a blanket, dim the lights, and enjoy the show or movie you selected.
Don't let one episode roll into the next without taking a moment to consider if you actually want to keep watching. And be mindful of the time; it's easy to stay up too late when Netflix autoplays the next episode, but sleep is more important than rewatching a favorite show.
4. Hide your Phone
When you wake up, don't look at your phone for at least an hour. During a break, have lunch or go for a walk phone-free. After work, hide your phone in a drawer and don't look at it unless you're expecting to hear from someone. Give yourself a break from your phone. Even though it may feel like you need to have it and be checking it, you'll be surprised how easy it is to detach from the little rectangle we usually have glued to our hands.
5. Set Limits
Humans do well with boundaries and structure. We like to have our time defined yet we often struggle to set those healthy limits. Make an effort to put boundaries around your screen time. Set a timer when you start looking at social media, have a technology "bedtime" when screens are turned off for the night, or pick only a few times each day when you'll check and respond to emails.
Don't miss out on life because you were mindlessly sitting on your phone. Take a moment and think about how you feel after 15 minutes of looking at someone's Facebook page compared to 15 minutes of walking outside or spending time with someone you love.
By confining technology and restricting how often it consumes your attention, you'll make time for other parts of your life that are just (if not more!) meaningful. Focusing on the important relationships in your life, spending time with pets, being outdoors or picking up new hobbies, reading, savoring an afternoon cup of tea- the world is full of small moments that add up to a meaningful life, make sure that your screen isn't preventing you from seeing them.