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7 ways to reduce screen time during the pandemic

Reducing digital eye strain during the COVID-19 pandemic

Periods of quarantine, isolation and lockdown can lead to more time looking at digital screens. Hours that were formerly spent outdoors are now spent indoors staring at TVs, computers and smartphones.

More screen time can lead to digital eye strain, and various discomforts come along with it:

  • Headaches

  • Tired eyes

  • Blurry vision

  • Dry eyes

  • Difficulty focusing

  • In some cases, neck and shoulder pain

Finding creative ways to reduce your screen time can provide eye relief now and in the years ahead.

1. Limit screen time on your phone

Most modern smartphones come with software that makes it easy to monitor how much time you spend on your device.

On iOS devices, this is called Screen Usage. Android calls it Digital Wellbeing.

When activated, these free, built-in features will monitor how much time you’re spending on your device. This includes overall usage and time spent within individual apps.

You can go a step further and set time limits for different apps. If you’re spending two hours a day on one app, try limiting it to an hour and a half to start, lessening your time over the coming days and weeks.

How much time you spend on your phone every day might be a shock at first. But you may be surprised at how much free time you have for other activities once you limit screen usage.

TIP FOR PARENTS: These same tools can enable you to track and limit your child's screen time on their phone. You can even lock your child's phone or set it to power down when a preset screen time limit has been reached.

SEE RELATED: Can computer glasses reduce eye strain?

2. Take frequent breaks from mobile devices

If you aren’t ready to cut down on overall screen usage, try spacing out longer periods of screen time with short breaks.

Take a short break every half-hour to one hour of screen use. Step outside if possible, or jog in place for a few minutes.

The whole exercise can lead to greater focus overall. It can also be addictive; stepping away from the television for five minutes can turn into 10 or 15 minutes — a well-deserved break for your eyes.

TIP FOR PARENTS: Encourage your children to give their digital devices a rest too. If possible, play with them on your balcony or terrace, or indulge with them in board games or other indoor games—without their phones or other screened devices— as stepping out during the pandemic isn’t advisable. Research suggests that sunshine helps reduce the risk that your child will develop myopia (shortsightedness). If you think your child could be myopic, find an eye doctor near you and schedule an eye exam.

SEE RELATED: Opticians in India use infection control measures to cut Covid-19 risk

3. Make more phone calls

Replacing a text or email with a phone call provides social interaction without the screen time.

There’s also a psychological benefit to direct voice communication that’s hard to match with words on a screen. According to the publication Psychology Today, replacing texting with talking can benefit personal relationships, too.

These mental benefits are even more important during times of social isolation.

TIP FOR PARENTS: Have your kids call their grandparents or other family members. Whether they live hours away or just around the corner, this is a great way to reconnect when you can’t physically be together. Hearing each other’s voices will make everyone’s day brighter.

4. Enjoy your meals without a screen

Eating meals in front of a TV, computer or cell phone not only adds to your screen time; it can also result in a distracted mind that can’t savour each bite.

Next time you sit down for a meal, try turning off the TV and placing your phone out of sight. Try to pay close attention as you eat: Are there any new flavours or textures in your food that you hadn’t noticed before?

If you live with someone, meals also present a good opportunity for screen-free social interaction. 

TIP FOR PARENTS: Make mealtime family time. Tell your children to leave their devices in the living room or their bedroom. Set an example: Let your phone ring or buzz in the other room. With the digital devices away from the table, you and your children can talk and appreciate time together.

5. Trade TV time for a podcast

The modern world of podcasts is immense — there are now podcasts for almost every interest, hobby and movement.

Trading an hour-long TV show for a one-hour episode of a podcast can feel more relaxing and rewarding. It also allows you to accomplish household tasks while you listen.

It’s hard to get much done while your attention is fixed on a TV. Engaging in a podcast leaves your eyes free to prepare a new dinner recipe at the same time.

TIP FOR PARENTS: Podcasts for children entertain and inform, often at no cost. The Indian Express lists 7 popular podcasts for kids, including StoryNory and But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids.

6. Read one chapter of a book

The idea of reading an entire book can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t read one in a while. Reading the first chapter requires a much smaller time investment and gives the story a chance to catch your interest.

If a book isn’t interesting after a chapter or two, don’t be afraid to change it out for a new one.

And yes, an audiobook counts as a book!

TIP FOR PARENTS: Read a bedtime story to your son or daughter. Or you could take turns reading a few pages (with youngsters) or a chapter (with slightly older children). Isolation time can still be quality time.

7. Start a new hobby

Have you always wanted to learn how to play piano or sketch a nature scene? Almost everyone can name at least one thing they’d like to learn.

For some, isolation can be just the opening they need to get started.

Try devoting five or 10 minutes to a new hobby. Read a manual or watch a tutorial video and practice your craft — it might just catch on.

TIP FOR PARENTS: Puzzles can be a great way to create something with your son or daughter. Bonus: Putting a puzzle together requires visual skills to match shapes and colours and put the pieces in the right places. If you aren’t a fan of puzzles, try bird-watching with your little one.

READ MORE: Screen time for kids: How much is too much?

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