Is screen time taking over our free time?

Credit to Irish Life Health

In this busy digital era, we’re constantly bombarded with all kinds of online content. Email, social media and news sites all vye for our attention, which can result in an overload of screen time. And though it’s great to be so connected, for Deirdre Cronnelly from Afresh, it’s all about striking a balance. “I’m a lover of tech”, she begins. “It helps us share precious moments through the likes of voice recordings and photos. It can make life more flexible too, but that’s only if we manage technology, and it doesn’t manage us.”


For Deirdre, there’s a great irony in our addiction to technology. “On the one hand, we’ve never been more connected”, she explains, “but at the same time, as a society we’ve also never been so lonely.” This is because the relationships we form through social media don’t involve physical contact; hugs, eye contact, face-to-face conversation. “There’s actually a word in German for the relationships we form online”, says Deirdre. “They’re called ‘ersatz’ connections, meaning ‘substitutes’. Not only are they not real, they’re damaging us too. We tend to feel more anxious and inadequate.”

Not Fully Present

Even when we are spending time with our friends, Deirdre points out that we may not always be completely present. “We’ve all experienced being with somebody who answers their phone or checks messages when they’re with you. You feel second best.”This behaviour, she says, has a detrimental effect on our friendships. “Though we’re spending free time in one of the ways that’s supposed to be most meaningful for us – building relationships – we’re negating the benefits by not being fully present. By letting the screen interrupt, it’s taking away from our ability to truly live a mindful life.”

The Importance of Daydreaming

Being constantly glued to our screens means we rarely switch off completely. This is of particular concern to Deirdre, especially when it comes to younger generations. “Some social psychologists say we’re running one of the greatest experiments in humankind”, she notes, referring to children’s access to phones and tablets. “It’s very rare to see kids doing nothing. Their little minds never get the opportunity to just daydream; that’s when most of our creativity happens. We need to make more effort to let the mind be idle. This is equally applicable to adults as well as children. It’s when the mind’s idle we tend to have our ‘Eureka’ moments. Creativity strikes as the subconscious mind works while left in peace.”

How to Limit Your Screen Time

Luckily there are lots of ways to ensure we stay on top of our tech usage, and Deirdre has some tips for those who’d like to limit theirs (or their family’s) screen time.

1. PTO

“During ‘predictable time out’, you have defined time during the week or weekend where you say there’s no screen time allowed. Instead, you chat as a family and enjoy proper interaction.”

2. Manage Notifications

“Not just for emails, but all social media. Your phone doesn’t have to beep every time something comes in. Give yourself defined times in the day to check it.”

3. Embrace ‘Unitasking’

“You can’t do two things effectively with your brain at the same time – it actually takes 30% longer. So, if you’re going to do something, just do it! Don’t be trying to complete another task at the same time.”

4. Phone Stacking

“When you’re heading out for dinner or drinks, suggest the phones go on the table. Whoever reaches for theirs first pays the bill!”

5. Breathe

“A lot of people tend to hold their breath when they’re looking at a screen. Breathing shallowly exacerbates any stress conditions you might have, and your adrenaline rises. Be conscious of your breathing when you’re on and offline – take long deep breaths.”