The Huffington Post and Thrive Global founder on her new ‘screen responsibly’ initiative.
The world is filled with screens, for better or worse. In most cases, it’s both. We love our technology, especially our phones and tablets and computers — they allow us to do amazing things. But at the same time, staring at screens all day isn’t good for us.
As someone who has founded an online news site and, most recently, a technology, media and behavior change company, I’m deeply familiar with both the benefits of unplugging and recharging, and the challenges. In fact, helping people create a healthy relationship with technology is one of the core missions of Thrive Global.
Much has been written in the past year about how screens cripple our ability to focus, hijack our attention and disconnect us from each other and ourselves. But less well known is the more immediate impact our screens are having on our eyes. That’s why Thrive Global is partnering with Shire on screen responsibly, an educational initiative that launched today about the intersection between screen use and eye health. I speak all the time about the importance of setting boundaries with technology, and one of the most frequent questions I get is about how we can actually do this in a screen-saturated world.
I tell people that it’s all about taking microsteps – for example: consciously looking away from your screen after a period of deep engagement; taking “blink breaks” or short walks to give your eyes a break; and visiting screenresponsibly.com for more tips on practicing responsible screen habits.
According to Nielsen, Americans on average spend more than 10 hours a day looking at screens. And according to a new Shire survey, 90% of adults said they can’t avoid using screens, even when they understand it’s negatively impacting their eyes.
And the consequences of too much screen use can be serious, causing eye strain, dry eyes and blurred vision. There’s even a term for it: “Computer Vision Syndrome.” What’s more, the blue light emitted from our screens disrupts our sleep by suppressing our production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our circadian rhythms and sleep. And disrupting our body clock and our sleep can, in turn, lead to a whole host of health problems.
In my own life, I’ve learned first-hand how costly burnout can be. In 2007, I collapsed from exhaustion, breaking my cheekbone on the way down. After that, I made a lot of changes in my life, which have included being much more deliberate about my use of screens, and taking time to unplug and recharge.
One of the best ways to do that is to both begin and end your day without screens. At night, our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our inboxes, the demands of the world. So putting your phone to bed outside of your bedroom as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.
And in the morning, instead of reaching for that screen, I try taking a few minutes to breathe or set my intention for the day. Creating this screen-free, human-focused time bookending the day is not only valuable, it can also reinforce our sense of being in control of our relationship with our screens for the rest of the day, and give our eyes a precious rest.
And remember, the impact of the time we spend on screens isn’t just about what it’s doing to our eyes, to our ability to focus and to the quality of our sleep. It’s also about what else we could be doing with that time – connecting with family, with friends and with ourselves. We need to think about our time away from screens not as time in which we’re going without or denying ourselves – it’s time in which we are able to add something incredibly valuable to our lives: the things that make us truly human.
Arianna Huffington is the founder of the Huffington Post, and founder and CEO of Thrive Global.
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