The average American adult spends 11 hours each day interacting with digital media. Some of that time may be fun interaction, like playing games or chatting with friends, while other times may be more serious, like working or completing school assignments. But regardless of how that time is spent, living in an ever-connected world causes our bodies stress.
Our bodies experience this stress in a number of ways. For instance, using digital devices shortly before bed can cause us to sleep less, sleep poorly, and feel more anxious. Hunching over computers or smartphones can affect our posture, which can cause back and hip pain, disrupt digestion, induce tension headaches, and even make our spines more vulnerable to injury. Too much time on devices can affect our eyes, resulting in dryness, strain, and double vision, among other more serious issues. From our physical bodies to our inner selves, the digital lifestyle leaves its mark.
This is not to say that using digital devices is bad. These devices have many wonderful benefits! However, it’s important to take time away from them so our bodies and minds have time to rest. And that’s the main principle behind digital detox.
What’s A Digital Detox?
A digital detox is a conscious choice to use digital technology less in your everyday life. Some people choose to go cold turkey and remove all devices and social media from their lives. While there are definite benefits to doing that for a set period of time, many people use computers and phones for work or need to communicate with people who depend on them. For this reason, a digital detox often is about setting limits on device usage instead of throwing out devices altogether.
What Are The Benefits Of Digital Detox?
There are many benefits of taking a break from devices, and some research suggests you might feel these benefits in as little as three days. Common benefits for a digital detox include feeling:
- Less depressed or anxious. Many studies show heavy internet usage is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Heavy users are also more likely to suffer from internet addiction.
- Less lonely. Some internet users, especially those who become part of active online communities, may find genuine connection online. However, many heavy internet users report higher levels of loneliness, especially those who are heavy social media users.
- More rested. Studies from Harvard Medical School show that the blue light produced by smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs can interfere with melatonin, a hormone in our bodies that controls sleep. This interference can lead to insomnia, poorer quality sleep, and less time asleep overall.
- Better able to concentrate. The internet changes the way we focus. For one thing, FOMO (fear of missing out) drives many users to constantly check their devices for alerts or updates. No one wants to miss that next great thing everyone will be talking about. But this change goes deeper. Some studies by neuroscientists show that heavy internet usage actually rewires our brains. The internet encourages multitasking and distracted behavior. Ads, pop-ups, notifications, IMs, videos that auto-play—all of these features grab and redirect our attention. Continual exposure to constant distractions actually makes it much harder for us to really concentrate for longer periods of time.
- Healthier overall. Besides experiencing less depression and anxiety, getting better sleep, and feeling less lonely, some people who practice digital detox also feel generally healthier. They tend to sit less, move more, engage with people face-to-face more often, and have more social connections, all of which is associated with living a longer, healthier life.
Do I Need A Digital Detox?
So how much device use is too much? Although many experts are studying this, there’s no real consensus yet. And that’s because calculating that number depends on a lot of things like your age and overall lifestyle. Other factors like your personality and your predisposition to things like addiction and depression may affect this, too.
Although there’s no magic number to determine whether you need a digital detox, there are some symptoms you can look for to help decide whether it’s time to take a break. It might be time for a digital detox if you:
- Feel guilt or worry. Do you feel guilt or worry after using the internet? Do you miss out on important things like conversations or real-world activities because you’re prioritizing your online life? If so, this might be a sign you know deep down that your life is out of balance.
- Lose track of time. Do you frequently lose track of time while online, or spend considerably more time online than you intended? This could be a sign that your internet usage is out of control. If you’re not sure how much time you spend online, many phones offer tools like Android’s Digital Wellbeing or Apple’s Screen Time that can show you.
- Feel dissatisfied. If you get offline feeling dissatisfied with how you spent your time, or feeling like some kind of need was not met, then you might need to limit internet usage and spend more of your time in other, more fulfilling ways.
- Feel irritable or anxious. If you feel irritable or anxious when not checking your phone frequently, this might be a sign of over-dependence. If checking your phone takes priority over face-to-face conversations and activities with friends, family, or coworkers, then it’s definitely time to detox and reconnect with the people who matter.
- React strongly to engagement. If you experience very strong emotional reactions to the number of likes, shares, retweets, and so on that your posts receive on social platforms, then it might be beneficial to take a break. For some people, this kind of engagement can start to affect how they see themselves and their relationships with other people. The reality is, much of this is driven by algorithms and doesn’t have significant meaning offline.
How To Do A Digital Detox
The most important factor in a digital detox is to set boundaries and stick to them. And the more realistic your boundaries are for your lifestyle, the more likely you will be successful. Here are some of the most common steps people follow for a digital detox. Of course, every detox is unique, so you can add or eliminate steps depending on your situation.
Step 1: Evaluate your current habits.
The first step is to consider your current habits and set goals for changes you want to see. If, for instance, you know that you tend to feel down about your life after going on Facebook, then it’s ok to detox from that specific platform. If your problem is wider than just Facebook, then your goals will need to be wider, too.
Step 2: Set new rules.
Next, decide what (if any) internet usage is ok. For example, you might want to avoid social media during the week, but allow yourself a set amount of time to use it on weekends. The more specific your rules (such as “one hour on Saturday morning” or “three cumulative hours on the weekend”), the less likely you are to relapse into bad habits.
Step 3: Turn off notifications.
Turning off notifications is an important step in successfully detoxing. Notifications are designed to excite us and pull our attention. Leaving notifications on will only invite temptation. If you are truly concerned about missing something, revisit step 2 and establish a specific time to check notifications and reply to messages. Then, make sure you only check notifications during that time.
Not sure how to turn off notifications on your phone? We’ve got an Android tutorial here.
Step 4: Create new habits.
Removing something from your life creates a hole. For instance, many people who try to quit smoking miss having something in their hands or mouth. It’s a big enough issue that there are websites and articles that suggest ways to cope with this problem. Removing digital habits can create the same problem.
During a digital detox, you are making a focused effort to be a happier, healthier person, so take this time to incorporate something new and positive. For instance, instead of spending two hours scrolling Twitter, why not spend an hour walking in your neighborhood? Or instead of looking at craft projects on Pinterest, why not pick up that hobby yourself? Filling your life with good things will not only give you something to focus on instead of technology, but may also help counteract some of the problems like loneliness or anxiety that you experienced from technology overuse.
If you need some fun ideas for how to fill your time, check out our post on Great Boredom Busters.
Start Your Journey To A Happier, Healthier, More Fulfilled You
At TracSoft, we’re huge fans of tech. That’s why we’re in the tech biz! But we’re also huge fans of healthy, balanced lifestyles. As a business that prides itself on developing meaningful, personal relationships with our clients, we understand how important it is to live life offline, too.
Until then, the TracSoft team wishes you a happy 2021! 🥳