Q&A: Turn off screens and tune in to life

Tips for reducing your screen time

By Prasanna Chandran, M.D., family medicine, The Portland Clinic

Q: Is screen time really so bad?

As The Portland Clinic’s chief medical information officer, I recognize how useful, entertaining and educational our computers, phones and TVs can be. But as a family doctor and a mother, I also see how they drain our time, leaving us with little left for the more important things in life.

Reducing screen time can open up time for physical activity; improve focus, attention and mental health; and help us reconnect with our families, our friends and ourselves. Experts disagree about how much screen time is too much, but we all can agree that clawing back even one hour a day for more valuable pursuits could make a meaningful difference in our lives.

Q: What could you do with an extra hour a day?
  • Go for a walk. Get outside, breathe deeply, tune out your devices and tune in to the world around you.
  • Move your body. In five minutes, you can stretch all of your major muscles or treat your heart to some stair-climbing. With an hour, you could go for a bike ride or play tennis. Movement is life.
  • Look up. We spend so much time looking down at our phones. Gazing up at birds, trees, clouds or stars can refresh your soul, not to mention your neck.
  • Play old-school games. Board games, cards and jigzaw puzzles aren’t as fast or flashy as video games — and that’s their appeal. They make space for laughter and connection, face-to-face.
  • Get musical. Take out your earbuds and make music a shared experience. In the evenings, my family enjoys playing our current favorite songs for each other, talking about them, and expanding our musical horizons together.
  • Get creative. Draw, color, paint, knit, sew, play an instrument, build a birdhouse, write your life story or make one up. Creativity stimulates the imagination and nourishes the spirit.
  • Cook. If you have kids, getting them involved in meal prep helps build life skills, confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Plus — dinner’s ready.
  • Pack tomorrow’s lunch. It’s one of the easiest ways to eat healthier, reduce calories and save money.
  • Read a book. Delving into a real book, on paper, engages your mind and concentration in a way that watching TV or videos can’t.
  • Cross something off your to-do list. So much to do, so little time? With a free hour, you can pick one to-do and do it. Clean out a drawer, write in a journal, snail-mail a thank-you note. Getting things done feels so good.
Q: How can you cut back?

Start by scheduling device-free time zones on your calendar each day, and write down what you’ll do with that time instead. As with exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

TVs and phones don’t feed our spirits the way that connecting with nature, family, friends, or our own creativity can. Screens are so small, but the world is so big and beautiful. You deserve to get out in it.

Dr. Chandran sees patients at The Portland Clinic’s Beaverton office.