Arianna Huffington is already a well-known sleep evangelist, and now she's turning her attention to our unhealthy obsession with screens. The Huffington Post founder's latest effort, Thrive Global, is aimed at ending the "stress and burnout epidemic" many of us know all too well. And, we're excited to share, she'll be giving a talk on just that — "Digital Detox" — at POPSUGAR Play/Ground in NYC on June 10. Get your tickets now!
Huffington's quest for saner screen habits helped spark Thrive Global's new partnership with pharmaceutical company Shire Plc. They're joining forces to raise awareness about how gazing endlessly into the glow of our smartphones can impact our eye health. As part of the Screen Responsibly campaign, Shire and Thrive conducted a study that revealed some concerning truths about our reliance on screens: nearly one in three adults said they use screens more than 10 hours a day, and 3 in 4 eye doctors surveyed said they are diagnosing more patients with dry eye than they were five years ago. Eighty-eight percent of eye doctors said they believe the increase in diagnoses can be linked to smartphone use. You can take a screen personality quiz on the site to get a sense of your own habits — and, as Huffington urges, be sure to consult a doctor if you think you might be exhibiting dry-eye symptoms yourself.
In the lead-up to Huffington's Play/Ground appearance, we talked with the media mogul about how she curbs her own screen time, why women end up bearing the brunt of burnout culture, and how she's made her phone-free bedroom her happy place.
POPSUGAR: Obviously, you had a very personal and specific experience that prompted you to focus on our lack of sleep. I'm wondering if you had a similar moment or realisation that kick-started your interest in limiting screen time.
Arianna Huffington: Well, actually, the relationship that we have with technology has been a big issue for me and for Thrive for many years. Going back to the Huffington Post: we launched a section called "Screen Sense," which was really about using things responsibly. And this is a big part of what we're doing here [at Thrive], both in terms of our corporate offerings and in terms of our media platform. I think there's been a whole new awakening about our use of screens.
"We are recommending these daily pauses in our day, whether it's to breathe consciously, or to look far away from your screen, or to remember what you are grateful for."
Thrive launched an app called the The Thrive app that puts your phone in "Thrive mode" if you're having a meal with your family, or doing paperwork, and if you want to be able to be un-distracted. And we have seen amazing data about the connection between our use of screens and mental health — also, the connection between our use of screens and how we're protecting our first line of defence, our eyes. And for somebody who has been wearing glasses or contact lenses ever since I was a little girl, I've definitely noticed — when I'm on my screen for very long periods of time without any breaks — how this affects my eyes.
PS: I think people often think about screen time impacting our quality of life, but it also can actually damage our health.
AH: Oh, yes. In many ways. Especially when it's continued screen time. And listen: of course we love our screens. We love what the technology makes possible in our lives. All we are talking about here is making sure that we use screens intentionally and don't lose ourselves scrolling down rabbit holes. There are sort of simple guidelines. After a period of time on screen, 20 minutes, for example, look up. Look away from the screen. Take a few seconds. And that makes a big difference. We're learning that in so many ways. We are recommending these daily pauses in our day, whether it's to breathe consciously, or to look far away from your screen, or to remember what you are grateful for.
PS: Some of the stats that Shire provided revealed the fact that there was so much shame associated with it. People were more likely to reveal how much they weigh than how much screen time they log!
AH: I know. It's amazing.
PS: Why is there so much guilt?
AH: I think probably, because 71 percent — according to the survey — said that they felt torn between the amount of time they want to spend using screens and the amount of time they think they should be using screens. So there's really this contrast between what we know is best for us and what we actually do. I think often people in meetings are very tempted to multitask; to be in a meeting but also be looking at their screen. And especially now that the weather is so much better — we are in SoHo in New York and, right now, it's just absolutely blissful to be out walking and talking rather than being in your office, trying to multitask, and looking at screens. We are just asking people to screen responsibly, and this is just incorporating healthy screen-use habits into our daily routine. It's every little microstep. It's not like an overwhelming shift from one day to the next.
PS: I think that's one thing people really appreciate about your take on this topic. You're not suggesting that we all go live off the grid and smash our smartphones. But how do remind yourself, "It's time for me to look away from the screen. Let's maybe take this meeting outside versus being in a conference room"?
AH: I think the goal here is to add microsteps every day and not to judge ourselves when we fall off the wagon and we don't do everything perfectly. I think what helps right now is that our relationship with technology has become one of the big conversations we are all having in one way or another. We're talking about how it affects our mental health. We've been talking about how it affects our physical health, because it makes it harder for people to disconnect from their phones and have a good night's sleep. We're not talking about how it affects our eye health. So there are many, many different angles. And for me, I know that I do need the regular eye breaks — even with my glasses.
"Check your intentions for the day before you go to your screen."
PS: I've got to say, I loved the article that you really recently wrote on Thrive about why selecting a hotel that charges a lot for WiFi or doesn't have it at all could actually be viewed as a perk these days.
AH: Yeah. It's amazing how things are changing. People used to prefer hotels with free, good WiFi, and now a lot of people, especially on holiday, are looking for hotels where there is terrible and expensive WiFi because it helps them disconnect [laughs]. Which is kind of a growing kind of understanding and acknowledgment about addiction to our screens.
PS: You are really clear about the fact that, when it comes to burnout — from trying to stay hyperconnected at all times to sacrificing sleep — women are particularly at risk. I wonder if you can speak to why you think that is.
AH: I think we've all been talking about how we can help women get to the top of the company, and we haven't made big progress recently. And I think one of the reasons is that some of the companies are fuelled by stress and burnout. And when companies are fuelled by stress and burnout, it's really much harder for women. And I think for two reasons: one is we have a harder time dealing with stress [because] we're all perfectionists . . . We kind of internalize stress more; and the other reason is that cultural environments, which are fuelled by stress, tend to bring the worst out in people. And so there's less collaborative team-building, and all these things make it harder for women to stay and to do well. And that's why this is so important to change how we run our companies and how we run our lives.
PS: You're speaking on Digital Detox at PopSugar Play/Ground this month, which we're very excited about. Can you give people a little bit of a preview or maybe one piece of advice from the speech you have planned?
AH: Why don't I give you a small piece of my talk that has to do with microsteps? We believe that how you start your day and how you end your day makes a big difference in the quality of your day. So here are a couple of microsteps for ending the day: it's picking a time when you turn off all your screens and gently escort them out of your bedroom. And I think that makes a huge difference to how fully you'll recharge. And in the morning, don't rush to your screen first thing. Take a minute to remember what you're grateful for. Check your intentions for the day before you go to your screen. And then the microstep for the whole day: take little, few-second pauses from your screen, which are also little pauses from the constant kind of onslaught of activities, and meetings, and manageing your to-do list, which actually makes us more productive.
PS: Now I have a few rapid-fire questions for you. One: what is your happy place?
AH: My happy place is my bedroom. I love an uncluttered bedroom. My nightstand is like my little altar, with a picture of my daughters, and candles, and favourite books, and a really old-fashioned alarm clock.
PS: What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
AH: I make a gratitude list, remembering three things I'm grateful for from the day. And they can be very tiny things. They don't have to be big things. They can be my Cadillac, or my walk around SoHo, or my call with my daughter.
PS: And what's the very first thing you do when you wake up?
AH: I actually like to start my day meditating, partly because if I don't do it first thing in the morning, I end up not doing it [laughs].
PS: And what is a song that always makes you happy? Do you have a song that you play when you want to get amped up?
AH: Oh, I'm actually a big country music fan, and my favourite changes because I have a terrible habit of putting it on endless repeat until I'm sick of it. Right now, as we are moving to beach weather, I love Zac Brown's "Toes."