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This post was updated Nov. 9, 2023.

It’s 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning and I am firing up my iPhone for the busy day ahead. A notification appears on my screen:

“SCREEN TIME Your screen time was down 12% from last week with a daily average of 2h 18m.”

Suddenly, I feel like I just received an important test result from my doctor. Should I be worried? Do I have an unhealthy relationship with my phone?

In real estate, it’s inevitable that we are tied to our devices. We are in the business of relationships, and relationships are built upon communication. Devices, especially our phones, make communication efficient and convenient. Technology can promote healthy connection, but our dependence on technology can be a slippery slope.

Gut check: What’s too much screen time?

How do we know when we are spending too much time on a screen and in our heads and not enough time outside of the digital world and in our bodies?

In a recent Time magazine article, Yalda T. Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor of psychology at UCLA and former movie executive who studies the health effects of screen time, says “That’s the wrong question. The content you’re consuming actually matters more than the overall time you spend on your phone. Watching a documentary on your phone, for instance, doesn’t have the same impact as mindlessly scrolling Instagram.”

That’s why you shouldn’t necessarily freak out if your weekly iPhone screen-time report pings you with a high number, says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who has studied screen time in all age groups. The total amount of screen time isn’t as important as the breakdown of how you spent it, he says. Many experts have found that time spent on social media apps is most concerning.

If you feel as though your screen time has become excessive, Uhls recommends asking yourself five important questions:

  1.   Are you sleeping well?
  2.   Are you eating well?
  3.   Are you leaving the house and being social?
  4.   Is your work going well?
  5.   Are you physically active?

“If all of these things are happening, then I wouldn’t worry about your screen time,” Uhls says.

Even if the answer to all of these questions are “Yes,” we can still be experiencing some physical, negative effects of excessive screen time or phone use.

3 red flags of too much phone use

Here are a few hazards of overusing your phone:

  • Digital eye strain: Studies show that we blink 50 percent less when looking at a screen, causing dry eyes and eye strain.
  • Texting claw: Soreness and cramping felt in the fingers, wrist and forearm after heavy smartphone use.
  • Text neck: Tension or soreness in your neck. Your head can weigh 27 to 60 pounds, so your neck muscles will get a real workout if you angle your face down for multiple hours daily to look at your phone or computer.

If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, it’s definitely time to create a game plan to come back into balance. Thankfully there are many mindful practices that, if put in place, can promote our overall wellbeing moving forward.

9 mindful tips for a healthy relationship with your devices

Here are nine ways to maintain a non-toxic relationship with your phone:

1. Designate phone-free zones

Keep phones out of the bedroom and put them away during meals, if at all possible, to avoid sleep interruption and promote better digestion.

2. Use Do Not Disturb and silence notifications

Even when we do step away from our devices, they can literally lure us back through the bells and whistles of notifications. Silence notifications, and implement the Do Not Disturb feature of your phone throughout the day.

3. Time block for email

Choose two to four times a day to check email, and stick to it.

4. Schedule mindfully

Schedule 20- to 30-minute breaks between tasks and appointments that require screen time to avoid back-to-back scheduling.

5. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule

 “Every 20 minutes spent using a screen, you should try to look at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds,” according to Set a timed reminder on an app like Eye Care 20 20 20 or on your Apple Watch to take a visual break.   

6. Limit social media use to 30-60 minutes a day

In the Time article, Melissa Hunt, associate director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that 30-60 minutes a day is the sweet spot for mental health.

7. Meditate before bed

Swipe the slate clean with a five-minute, before-bed meditation, setting an intention for sound rest and letting go of the day.

8. Walk away regularly

Take physical breaks from technology throughout the day and especially before bedtime. Engage in activities that do not involve screen time like reading, being outdoors, art and cooking.

9. Take a digital sabbatical

Dare to take a longer break where you leave your phone at home. You will return feeling refreshed, with a different perspective on your digital use.

We are social beings and devices are powerful vehicles to communicate and connect on both a personal and professional level. Learning how to utilize them in a way that promotes health and balance in our lives is key to happiness, prosperity and longevity.

Pam Blair is the broker-owner of YogaBug Real Estate in Portland, Oregon. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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