Have you ever felt slightly panicked when you’re separated from your phone? Do you know how many hours a day you spend on your digital devices? Do you feel your online activities have a positive effect on your overall well being?
Those are all important questions. And another to consider: Does doing a digital detox feel like a good idea for your health? Or does it simply sound impossible?
The truth is that we could all benefit from a more mindful approach to our digital lives. And for many of us, a short “detox” period can help us put the role of technology into perspective.
If you’re wondering about cutting back on your screen time, check out these potential benefits.
Do you ever feel like your life isn’t quite measuring up after logging in to your social media accounts? Many of us end up wondering why everyone else takes such great vacations, looks so good, and has such perfect children.
The old adage “don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides” certainly applies to social media. However, the cumulative effect of “comparisonitis” can take a significant toll on our mental health. Many studies confirm a link between Internet use and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Of course, this relationship may work both ways. For example, have you ever looked down at your cell phone to avoid social interactions? Sometimes we see our phones as “security blankets.” Unfortunately, however, these kinds of habits can only reinforce anxiety. In other words, in addition to triggering anxiety and depression, we may be more likely to turn to the online world when we’re anxious or depressed.
Excessive time on digital devices can also lead to habits that can harm our mental and physical health. One study found that people who are on their phones a lot are less likely to eat regular meals, follow a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep. That all adds up to an increased risk of depression and other health issues.
Even more alarming is the physical effect of screen time on our brain. It’s true: Screen time can actually change the structure of our brain. The results include impaired processing, reduced ability to focus, and “dopamine loops” in which we become addicted to the hit from the feel-good chemical dopamine. After all, who doesn’t get a small thrill of satisfaction when someone likes their Instagram post? That kind of instant gratification is often missing from our offline lives. In fact, researchers have found that the dopamine cycle connected to Internet use and video games is similar to that experienced with drug addiction.
The blue light from our digital devices affects melatonin production. The result? Difficulty falling and staying asleep. Even more troubling are possible links between blue light exposure at night and an increased risk of diabetes, cancer, and depression.
You may have experienced “tech neck” or a sore thumb after spending a long time on your phone. As well, researchers note that the slumping posture that develops while using digital devices can also affect your breathing. One study found that 83 percent of people with neck pain have altered breathing patterns.
One researcher found that people tend to hold their breath when checking their devices. This habit can trigger the “flight or fight “response, in which the body becomes primed for flight. That process served us well in the past, when our body’s response helped us escape predators, but if you’re checking a social media status while sitting down, you can just end up with a lot of extra glucose, adrenalin, and cortisol in your system.
As well, our increased reliance on technology has led to high levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation in our bodies. Although the long-term effects need to be studied further, some evidence links this exposure to an increased risk of neurological disease.
So, what exactly is a digital detox? Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you’re inspired by the list of possible benefits above, you may be ready to implement your own detox from technology. However, as with many behavior modifications, a slow and realistic approach is often more successful. Your long-term goal could be a weekend (or even a week) without any devices.
Digital-detox retreats are a growing trend in the travel business, and provide opportunities to be pampered in spa-like conditions, or to pursue recreation adventures, all without a digital device. There are alternative free options too, of course, such as implementing your own retreat! Examples can be planning a weekend hike in a local area and connecting with nature, or spending time indoors with your kids, a book or your journal. Be creative!
Before starting a cold-turkey detox, it’s a good idea to simply be more mindful of your device use. Pay attention to when and why you pick up your phone. Make it a habit to put it away if you don’t need it. Make it a habit to put away any digital devices at least an hour before bedtime.
As you adjust to having reduced online time in your life, try going an entire day without checking a device. This might be uncomfortable at first. Recognize your FOMO (fear of missing out) feelings and acknowledge that really, if something urgent happened, you would hear about it. Remind yourself that don’t really need to know every detail of your friends’ lives, or every piece of celebrity (or political) gossip in real time. In other words, the urgency the Internet can create is not real.
Here are some tips that can help you set up your own digital detox retreat, on a level that works for you.
If you don’t have a landline and you’re worried that your loved ones won’t be able to contact you in an emergency (for example, if you have teenage kids who work late at night), simply put it on the other side of the room, with the volume turned up high enough so that you can hear it. And put it face down so other notifications won’t disturb your sleep.
Even in today’s wired world, you can find places where cell phones can’t be used. If you’re swimming, hiking, practicing yoga, or watching a movie, you can’t check your Facebook updates. And you might end up having more fun.
We think of our phones as indispensable, but for centuries, people survived without them just fine. And fortunately, many “real-life” tools exist that can do the tasks we rely on our phones for. If you’re worried about losing the functions on your phone, consider a few alternatives:
A paper calendar or day planner to book appointments
An alarm clock to wake up
Books - read them in yellow or natural light.
Letters or cards sent through the post office. (Who doesn’t love receiving an old-fashioned, hand-written letter?)
A classic watch
A landline phone. We tend to think of the landline as unnecessary, but just over 40 percent of households still have one, and they provide a reliable back-up for getting in touch.
Many busy executives try to put aside specific times of the day for checking email That means they’re not looking for new messages every 30 seconds, or reading every notification. If this makes you feel anxious, remind yourself that in most instances, emails don’t need an immediate response. Try using an out-of-office response letting people know how to contact you in an emergency.
Yes, the idea that technology can help reduce your tech use is ironic. However many apps and programs can measure the time you spend on your phone. If you don’t do this already, try monitoring it for a few days to get a baseline of your usage.
If you have contacts who expect an immediate response to every text, let them know you’re dialing back on screen time.
Similarly, if you’re out at a social event like a restaurant dinner, suggest everyone put their phones away. Perhaps the first person to check their device pays for dinner!
How do you feel after a few hours without technology? Get in touch with any anxiety you feel that needs to be addressed. And it’s also important to note the positives. Do you notice more of the world around you?
If you’re worried about your digital media use and you’re not sure where to get help, or if you’re wondering if you’re actually addicted to technology, help is available! Give our office a call if you’d like to talk about switching to a healthier, more conscious path.