Does your screen time make you happier?

A few months ago I moved my phone charger out of the bedroom so the phone is not there when I wake up. I also deleted social media apps from my devices. As a family, we decided to create more screen-free time and space in our lives.

The wifi now switches off automatically at certain times during the day, for example when the kids come home from school, and during homework and meal times – which was really annoying until we got used to it.

The reason for the change was that being connected to the internet 24/7 did not make me happy. Looking at the behaviour of my children after they spent time on their devices confirmed that screen time and happiness don’t often go together.

My wife and I decided that more screen-free time should also be applicable to us. As Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”.

Taking this decision was difficult but it was nothing compared to implementing it. Not always having my smartphone nearby created all sorts of challenges, but it was also a new and positive experience.

It is interesting how much you see and hear when you’re not focussed on a screen (or thinking about what you have just read on your device). What is most important to me is that it feels so good. I hope my children will benefit from sitting less often behind screens and spending more time with family and friends.

If you want to learn more about this topic (even though you will have to use a screen to do so…), have a look at the Ted Talk below ‘Why our screens make us less happy’. Apparently, Steve Jobs’ children were not allowed to use an iPad.

In a thought-provoking Conversations podcast, Richard Fidler interviews social researcher David Gillespie about the addictive nature of social media and the teenage brain. Lastly, the website of the Australian eSafety Commissioner contains a wealth of information and tips about having safe and positive experiences online.

New skills, fewer scripts and less screen time: 3 resolutions for the new year

Richard Branson said we should put our resolutions in black and white, because that helps us stick to it. Just in case he is right, I wrote down 3 professional & personal resolutions for the new year.

1. Learn a new skill

Rightly or wrongly, one of my fears is deskilling – at a personal level, but also at a macro level as a profession. As Dr Margaret McCartney wrote in the BMJ, the enterprise to streamline medicine by outsourcing certain tasks to protocol-driven non-doctors, runs the risk of deskilling generalist doctors.

There are probably other reasons for losing our skills, such as policy changes and the costs of consumables and maintaining skills. But we can’t always blame others for everything, so I have decided to learn at least one new skill every year.

2. Change prescribing habits

I have made a conscious effort over the years to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. I am doing the same with opioid analgesics for chronic non-cancer pain, in line with new RACGP guidelines.

In the case of antibiotic prescribing I had to overcome a few hurdles, such as the fear of not meeting my patients’ expectations or leaving a serious infection untreated.

Talking to colleagues was helpful and I found that – after a careful history, examination and explanation – most patients accept a ‘watch & wait’ approach, with appropriate safety netting.

I feel better for practising less defensive, ‘play it safe’ medicine, which in the end may not be as safe as we’d like to think.

There are parallels when it comes to prescribing opiates. After the GP17 Conference in Sydney I took the RACGP’s 12-point challenge to GPs (see image) and found that I am now spending more time talking with patients about the pros and cons of opioids.

Yes, it is easy to slip up, especially under time pressure and just before lunch or closing time. However, by perseverance the snail reached the ark. I find every small successful dose reduction or non-pharmacological intervention satisfactory. I hope this will be a drive to continue the conversations with patients.

12 point challenge
Image: The 12 Point Challenge to GPs. Source: RACGP

3. Spend less time behind screens

Excessive screen time for children may be linked to several adverse health outcomes, so at home we use an app to limit the recreational time our children spend on their devices – making sure they have opportunities to learn, create and connect in the digital space. This sounds great but in reality it is a never-ending balancing act. It also made me realise that I may not be the best role model here.

It turns out most adults spend more time on their digital devices than they think, which was certainly true in my case. Some of the time behind screens, such as in the consulting room, is difficult to cut back but not all screen time is essential.

I took a social media ‘holiday’ during the month of December and it felt good. So this year I will unplug more often from the social media fire hose. I may even read a book.

This article was originally published in newsGP.