Kelty August 13, 2019

If you’re reading this post (probably on your phone, am I right?), we probably don’t have to tell you that nature is basically AWESOME. But for those of us who live in a city and work indoors, staring at some kind of screen all day long (not to mention the “downtime” we spend scrolling through stuff on our phones) it never hurts to have a reminder. If the average American kid logs 5–8 hours a day of screen time, how much of YOUR life is spent online…rather than outside? And at what cost? 

Listen, we’re not here to harsh your buzz with a bunch of depressing statistics on smartphone addiction. But if you’re looking for some legitimate reasons to limit screen time, we’ve got three for you to think about—along with three healthier, happier things to do instead. 

  1. Your Phone Makes You Dumb. Even if you don’t really believe in smartphone addiction, you’ve got to admit that this device can be very distracting. So much so, that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that merely having one’s phone close at hand (versus in another room) dramatically reduced scores on cognitive capacity tests. When your phone is within reach, part of your brain is actively working to stop you from picking it up. GROSS.

INSTEAD: Learn a New Thing, Outside. Brains are rad. Proponents of the “nature prescription” are working to validate theories that spending time in nature improves cognition and relieves anxiety. Also: when you’re in the process of learning something new, and you practice that skill, you actually change the chemistry of your brain—so you can do other things better, too! So this summer, feed two birds with one seed: take a class outside. 

Whether you’re learning plein air painting, photography or trying your hand at whitewater kayaking, you’ll be exercising your noggin and beating smartphone addiction in one fell swoop.

  1. Your Phone Keeps You Awake. Here’s a sobering fact: 71% of people sleep with their phone on their nightstand or IN THEIR ACTUAL HAND. Sure, some of those peeps are just using it for the alarm, but smartphone addiction is sneaky, y’all. When your phone is at your fingertips, the temptation to check the news, your email or social media can be great—and suddenly it’s 2AM and you’re wide awake. What’s worse, the blue light that keeps your screen bright is interpreted by your brain as daylight, which jacks up the body’s natural sleep cycles. 

INSTEAD: Read a book! Lots of people need time to wind down before being able to fall asleep, and reading a real book—you know, with pages and stuff—is still the healthiest way to do this. Reading is clinically proven to reduce stress and improve memory; some studies suggest that reading literary fiction can boost your ability to empathize. And non-fiction books help you learn something, like how important it is to spend time in nature. The books Your Brain on Nature, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle are a great start. 

  1. You’re Losing Something Important. Still looking for reasons to limit screen time? Think about the main “non-calling things” for which you use your smartphones—like texting, social interaction and navigation. We already know that texting dramatically increases the chances of miscommunication, and that using Facebook actually makes you feel worse about yourself. 

Now think about trying to get somewhere without Waze or Google Maps. Do you feel anxious? This is the insidious effect of smartphone addiction: you’ve lived MOST of your life without this stuff, and yet you think you NEED it in order to live your best life! Well, NEWS FLASH: your best life is actually outside, someplace where the last few miles don’t even show up on a map…face-to-face with your favorite humans…and nary a smartphone in sight. 

INSTEAD: Take an Old-School Road Trip! However reliant most of us have become on our map apps, backcountry enthusiasts have never lost their love of paper maps. So let’s all take a cue from our tree-huggingest friends and leverage a long-forgotten FREE benefit of that AAA membership your mom still signs up up for every year: The TripTik

If you’re not old enough to remember these delightfully old-school personalized vacay planners, they’re basically the coolest: you map out your entire journey (either online or with the help of a travel planner), including how many hours per day you want to be on the road, and AAA will compile the relevant paper maps into a nifty little bound book. Kids love to follow along, and adults will enjoy having a real-world relic of every stop along the way.

The best part, though? Unlike your favorite GPS app, which puts you at the center of the universe, a paper map is ALL about the big picture. In fact, in order to see where you’re going, you first have to find yourself—and there’s a lesson in that for all of us. 

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Photo Credit: Ben Wronkoski @bigbenbenbenbenben