How to Break Your Screen Addiction: Strategies for Health and Happiness
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How to Break Your Screen Addiction: Strategies for Health and Happiness

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How to Break Your Screen Addiction: Strategies for Health and Happiness

Posted a month ago

Brian Stanton

Brian Stanton

Author

Are you happy with how you're spending your time? When you reach the end of a day, month, or year, do you look back with satisfaction or regret?

Probably a bit of both. You don’t regret some things, like time with friends, progress at work, or watching the winter sun sink below the horizon. But others, you might. 

You might take back some of the screentime. You might spend less time with your phone and more time on things that matter to you. 

This article will show you how to develop a more intentional relationship with technology. The goal isn't to eliminate screens but to manage them in pursuit of a healthier, more meaningful life. 

Let's lay some foundations first, and then we'll move to practical advice.  

Are Screens Evil?

Screens aren't always the best use of your time, but they're not inherently bad. Consider these positive examples:

  • Earning a living by working remotely on a laptop screen
  • Watching a captivating film on a TV screen 
  • Facetiming a loved one on a smartphone screen (usually positive)

Other uses are less (ahem) productive but still not evil. Watching a guy peel a Watermelon on TikTok won't advance your career, but it's harmless entertainment. 

This isn't to say all social media is harmless. Airbrushed images and like-button angst drive significant mental health issues—especially in kids.[*

But what about the artist using Instagram to showcase her work? Or the cancer survivor who finds a community on Facebook? It's not black and white. 

Screens aren't evil, but they can be addictive. Brilliant, well-compensated people design smartphone apps to hack your dopamine reward system with tricks we learned in rat studies decades ago.[*

They capture your attention with a tractor beam. The real tragedy, then, isn't watching amusing reels but not watching your kid finally master the monkey bars.  

Health Consequences of Too Much Screen Time

According to one survey, over 50% of Americans say they're addicted to their phone.[*] (The other half may be in denial.) Beyond the time suck, this addiction has health consequences. 

Let's break them into two parts:

  1. Physical consequences
  2. Mental consequences

How does screen time affect physical health?

Too much PM screen time can disrupt sleep. Blue light from screens disrupts the circadian rhythm, blocking melatonin secretion and increasing arousal.[*]

And short sleep torpedos every aspect of health, including weight regulation. Fat burning goes down; hunger hormones go up. It doesn't help that screen time equals sedentary time. 

Finally, excessive screen time can cause digital eye strain.[*] We didn't evolve to stare at a glowing rectangle held 12 inches away. 

How does screen time affect mental health?

Constant connectivity scratches the social itch without fulfilling the need, leading to feelings of loneliness. Online communities can be highly beneficial but are no substitute for real interactions. 

As you'll recall, researchers have linked social media use to stress, anxiety, and depression.[*] The more people use it, the worse they feel on average. 

3 Tactics to Decrease Phone Addiction

You want to feel better on average by reducing your screen time. Here are some practical "hacks" to get you started.   

#1: Leave the phone behind

Don't bring your phone everywhere. An easy place to start is walks, which can feel meditative without your shiny digital friend. 

The same principle applies to home usage. Plug in the phone somewhere, and visit the plug-in station as needed. If you eat every meal at the plug-in station, choose a new plug-in station. 

#2: Disable notifications 

Your phone is addictive enough without notifications cascading in. Turn them off and give your willpower a fighting chance.

This includes core functions like text messaging. You don't need to see every text the moment it arrives. Take a few hours between checks and enjoy the freedom of attention humans enjoyed for 99.9% of our evolutionary history.

After a week or two, your friends and family will adapt to your slower responses. Safelist their phone calls to come through your firewall (for emergencies, real or imaginary), and you should be golden. 

#3: Remove addictive apps

You know your problem apps. The ones you open without thinking.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you need three separate dating apps, or will one suffice?
  • Can you check your favorite IG artists or Facebook groups from your less-compelling laptop instead? 
  • Can you delete the email app? (You can use the browser to check in a pinch.)

If you want to break a bad habit, increase the friction needed to perform the behavior. Deleting apps helps. 

The Best Strategy for Reducing Screen Time

Those tactics will get you started. But if you don't fix the root problem, your screen addiction will 

fester like an old tomato in the back of your fridge. 

This brings us to the paramount strategy for reducing screen time: Have better things to do. 

You won't have time for smartphone shenanigans if you fill your days with meaningful work, hobbies, and personal connections. You'll be too busy living a rich life.

How do you get there if you're not living this life yet? The first step is a technology-elimination diet. 

A Technology Elimination Diet

Take 2-4 weeks to go analog in your personal life. Don't worry about work-related screens right now. (That's another topic.)

The tech diet isn't so much a "detox" as an exploration of your deeper interests. Use your newfound free time to pursue pastimes like:

  • Rediscovering the joy of reading
  • Exercising
  • Learning a new sport (like golf)
  • Honing a skill (like playing guitar)
  • Enjoying time in nature
  • Complimenting strangers (people like compliments)
  • Meditation

You don't have to live in a cave chanting all month. A high-quality series or film is fine occasionally, and certain apps (messaging, diet tracking, meditation) can also stay if they clearly improve your life. 

Use your judgment for which tech to eliminate. Eighty percent analog is a good target. 

Bring Back Only What You Need

Once your 2-4 weeks are up, take stock of your situation. You've broken the addiction, so now you can make rational decisions about which tech to keep in your life. 

Maybe you bring back:

  • Watching pickleball instructional videos on YouTube 
  • Checking your favorite chefs 2–3 times weekly on Instagram
  • Reading horticulture threads for 30 minutes daily on Redditt

And you stay off the rest. You continue the screen reduction tactics while enjoying the habits cultivated during your tech elimination diet.

The goal is to look back at your days with quiet satisfaction. You missed a few notifications, but you gained a better life.