Do You Need a Digital Detox?
Today’s day and age is digital. On average, people spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones. Americans spend even more on their phones — around 5.4 hours a day. (1)
Phones make everyday tasks easier, more convenient, and oftentimes, more exciting. Any downtime you have, you probably are checking your phone, texting a friend, or watching funny videos on social media. More and more, phones have become indispensable — something we simply can’t do without.
But over the last decade, we’ve also noticed the negatives of all that digital consumption. Phones and other technology can be addictive and damaging to relationships, not to mention its impact on physical or mental health. If you are experiencing certain symptoms or negative effects from too much time scrolling or on social media, it may be time for a digital detox.
What Is a Digital Detox?
A digital detox is when you take a voluntary break from electronic devices, including computers, phones, and social media platforms.
This type of detox is growing in popularity. Just as more and more people spend time on their phones, the flip side is true — more and more people need time to unplug to reconnect with themselves, others, nature, and so on.
Digital detoxes are one avenue to find your own personal balance so you may enjoy technology without being hit by all the negative effects.
Signs You May Need a Digital Detox
How do you know it’s time to take a break from your phone? It’s important to be intuitive and listen to your body. It will give you signs that it’s time to press the pause button. Some of the major symptoms of too much digital consumption include: (2)
- Low self-esteem
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Poor time management
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Weight gain
- Work ethic problems
There are other major indications you are becoming too dependent on your devices. If you find yourself doing any of the following, you may want to take a closer look:
- You can’t remember the last time your phone wasn’t right next to you
- Any downtime (in line at the store, waiting for an appointment, after ordering a meal at a restaurant, etc.) you find yourself reaching for your phone to entertain yourself
- You prefer communicating with people — including friends, family, and significant others — digitally vs. face-to-face
- You find yourself comparing yourself to others on social media and obsessively checking in to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out)
All of us are guilty of spending too much time on our phones to some extent. So, don’t feel bad if any of these above examples sound like you. The first step is to recognize how much time you spend in the digital world — and how that affects you personally and those around you. Then you can go from there to make the adjustments that work best for you.
7 Reasons to Do a Digital Detox
Why do a digital detox? Let’s take a look at 7 major reasons why unplugging can work in your favor for both short and long-term well-being.
In one survey, 61% of people reported being addicted to their phones and technology. Addiction can have a significant impact on your brain chemistry. The brain changes are actually similar to those produced by alcohol and cocaine addiction. Digital addiction shrinks the brain’s gray and white matter fibers. This alters emotional processing and brain functioning. This is why someone addicted to technology might display more aggressive behavior, or have a harder time concentrating. (3, 4, 5)
2) Eye Strain
Do you ever find yourself rubbing your eyes or squinting at the screen after a long day at work or too much time watching Netflix? Eye strain is a common side effect of too much screen time. It primarily causes blurred vision and headaches. Typically, eye strain will go away naturally after giving your eyes a rest. However, it’s also been linked as a possible factor in developing myopia, or nearsightedness, in your 20s and 30s, when otherwise your eyes would be healthy. Too much technology may be hard on your eyes in the long run. (6, 7)
3) Fitness and Physical Health
Besides affecting your eyes and posture, digital overconsumption can indirectly hurt your overall physical fitness. Spending all your time on technology usually means a sedentary lifestyle. Too many hours scrolling through Instagram on your couch vs. getting outside or active. A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and more. (8)
4) Mental Health
Various research has found that people who spend a significant amount of time online or on social media experience poorer mental health. In fact, about 1 in 5 Americans reported using technology caused them great stress. Digital overconsumption may cause individuals to develop self-worth and self-esteem issues, increase social comparison, and lessen meaningful face-to-face social interactions. All of this combined makes technology a potential factor in mental health conditions. (2)
5) Sleep Quality
One of the leading reasons for sleeping difficulty and insomnia is technology use right before bed. Blue light exposure emitted from cell phones and other devices disrupts your circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock. Insufficient sleep has serious health consequences, physically and mentally. So disconnecting from your technology a few hours before bed can significantly improve the quality of your sleep. (9, 10)
6) Social Life and Relationships
Your social life and relationships can take a serious hit once technology is introduced. How often do you see couples or friends sitting across from each other at dinner both on their phones? One survey found that 55% feel like their spouse/partner spends too much time on their cell phone, and 48% wish their significant other would spend less time on their cell phone and more time with their children. While technology can be a great tool for long distance relationships, it can also drive people further away from each other. (11)
7) Time Management
We’ve all been there — scrolling on social media or YouTube for a few minutes that turns into a few hours. Technology can consume your time. Think how much time you dedicate to technology a day, and what hobbies you can develop or relationships you can build instead. Technology can be a great pastime, but it can also get in the way of being productive if checking it is compulsive.
Tips to Help with Digital Detox
- Allot no tech time: One of the best ways to detox from technology is to allot a technology-free time. This could be for the last two hours before bed, or at the kitchen table during meals, or maybe even a specific day of the week, like Sundays. This will help you unplug and stick to a set schedule. This is especially helpful for families and couples to coordinate time together, without any distractions.
- Get outside or active: What’s one of the best ways to get away from screens? Get outside! The outdoors can boost your mood and health, and give you a much needed break from technology. In the colder months, you can still get active indoors. Physical exercise is critical to your overall well-being, especially when you spend a majority of your time on your phone or computer. (12, 13)
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness — including journaling, meditation, and yoga — can help you unplug and reconnect with yourself. Mindfulness practices have been found to help reduce stress and support mental health. Substituting some digital time for mindfulness can be a great daily habit to support these areas. (14)
- Retreats: Often, you need an excuse to unplug. In this case, you may consider a vacation, but roughly 60 percent of people say a traditional vacation does not relieve their stress. This is where retreats come in. Not only can retreats be a scheduled break from technology, but they often teach valuable skills, such as burnout and stress management. Retreats also can help you relax and reset without the distraction or overwhelm of technology. (15)
Sometimes technology is like that saying, “Too much of a good thing.” Excessive digital consumption can lead to poor mental and physical health, and even turn into a serious addiction. That’s why so many people are trying to implement digital detox into their daily lives. A digital detox can help you practice better time management, sleep better, strengthen relationships, and overall experience a healthier body and mind.
While unplugging from the digital world is easier said than done, it can be a major positive change in your life. You may want to find ways to be more intentional in your digital consumption. For example, you could set a technology-free time, get outside in nature, practice mindfulness, or attend a retreat. Any combination of these may help you step away from the negatives of technology and move towards a more balanced lifestyle.