Health & Wellness

Switch Out the Screen: Why it might be time to cut ties with your device

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In photo: Richelle Richards 


Technology has changed the way we live, but as our dependence on devices grows, so do our stress levels, and while many of us rely on screens to relax, it may come as a shock to learn the practice has the opposite effect. As a result, those looking to find a little peace will need to commit to pulling the plug. 

In early 2022, a study by UK-based firm App Annie discovered that, on average, people spend at least a third of their time glued to their screens. This trend makes sense in the context of the pandemic, but the more we connect online, the more distracted we become. 

“More and more, we’re craving a stable mind, and that is about attention,” said Kim Rego, owner and instructor at Mindful Bermuda, a practice dedicated to helping Bermudians find personal awareness. 

Here, Kim points to a 2019 Harvard study that concluded adults spend around 47 percent of every waking hour “mind-wandering”. Better known as daydreaming, mind-wandering is a natural state, further compounded by screens, which eliminate the need to be fully present in the moment. Another phenomenon, spotlighting – where we switch focus between activities, such as switching between a text message and a work email – can reduce the time we are productive. 

“In the background, there’s this constant chatter,” said Ms Rego. Computers, TVs, phone calls, emails, children. Unless we’re training our mind, it won’t have the capacity for attention.” 


Stress is a complex state of being. 

“A little stress is normal for the body. It’s what keeps us alive; it’s why our body has thrived,” explained Richelle Richards of C.A.F. Bermuda. Centuries ago, the little “voice inside our head” fuelled the fight or flight response – see a sabre-toothed tiger? Run the other way. 

In the absence of such clear and present danger, our most common stressors are internalised, often centring around money, work, relationships, or child-rearing. 

“What happens with stress, or any type of trauma that is left untreated, we become stuck in a cycle,” Ms Richards explained. “It can show up as headaches, you end up feeling tired, or even develop chronic illnesses.” Children are not immune and will present symptoms like headaches, restlessness, an inability to sleep, or night terrors. 

We live in a state of being where stressful situations constantly bombard us. So, it seems reasonable that we would seek escape in the form of a screen. Extra likes on your photo, a good TV show, the rush you feel from snagging a good deal on a pair of sneakers. All of these actions can trigger a release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. Much like Pavlov’s dogs, your brain soon starts to associate the screen with dopamine – happiness. 

As Ms Richards explained: “We use [screens] as a distraction from what we’re feeling, but it’s covering up what’s going on. It’s just like any other addiction”. 

What’s going on, exactly? We’re uncomfortable. “There are always going to be unpleasant feelings,” Ms Rego said, “and we’ve lost the capacity to be able to allow that.” 

It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. We’re running from feeling uncomfortable, but we won’t stop feeling uncomfortable until we build the capacity to handle the range of human feelings, “and they’re intense,” she admitted. 

However, there is hope, and it comes in the form of mindfulness, a practice that strengthens our capacity to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 


If you’ve ever been mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or TikTok and had the thought, “I don’t even want to be doing this,” you might be ready to bring a little mindfulness into your life. 

“Step one is to become more aware of how [screen time] is impacting you,” said Ms Rego. 

Let’s use smoking as an example. We are aware of the dangers of smoking, but mindful smoking doesn’t suggest quitting cold turkey, rather, that you be fully present each time, from the first puff to the last. What physical sensations do you have? The highs? The lows? Dr. Judson Brewer, a decorated psychologist and mindfulness expert, champions this philosophy and claims that when life-long smokers make mindfulness part of their quitting strategy, it takes little more than 12 days before the body starts to say, ‘Ok, this is not good for me.’ 

Ms Rego invited everyone to take this on as a personal challenge: “Start noticing how you felt when you were watching TV or just before you reached for your phone. ‘What am I feeling? Am I just reaching for something that has likes?’ You start becoming aware of all this physically, and then it’s easier to change habits.” 

For Ms Richards, the process is similar. In her work, she and her colleagues employ creative pursuits like art, dance, and music to help patients connect feelings with words so they can unpack the childhood trauma that subconsciously informs their behaviours as adults. 

“We start by having people simply hold a position because we hold stress in different areas of our body and don’t realise it,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, when you have that feeling, breathe and then ask yourself, why am I feeling this?” 

Once you’ve discovered these patterns in your own body, the next step is to bypass the device and reach for something else, like a colouring book and crayons. She mused that when they first pick up a crayon or paintbrush in their office, the most common comment is, “I haven’t done this since primary school!” That feeling is profoundly freeing. 

Although meditation apps like Headspace and Calm can help guide your focus and meditation when you can’t squeeze in a bit of finger painting, getting control of your stress may start with something as simple as powering down the devices, at least for the night. 

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