Spending time offline can help you foster better relationships IRL.
Most of us spend more time than we'd like to admit glued to our phones. In fact, nearly half of smartphone users in the US say they can't imagine life without their phones. But, how is the use of technology affecting our mental health? And what can we do to offset that dependency?
Many have turned to digital detoxes as a way to disconnect from technology. Research links digital detoxes to the improvement of depression symptoms, among other mental health benefits. Ready to try a digital detox? Here's what you need to know.
A digital detox is when you completely abstain or intentionally reduce your time using electronic devices like smartphones, computers, TVs and tablets. The idea of a digital detox is to disconnect from the online world to focus more on the present moment without distractions. The most common things people avoid during a digital detox include:
Like a digital detox, a social media detox is when someone refrains from engaging with or using social media for a period of time or indefinitely to improve their mental health and well-being. It's one of the most popular forms of digital detox.
A quantitative study conducted on college students who underwent social media detoxes that lasted from one to seven days found that most students reported positive changes in mood, better productivity, improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
Another study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that limiting social media to 30 minutes a day can significantly improve one's overall well-being.
There's no denying we benefit a lot from social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok keep us connected to friends and family while also serving as an outlet to find inspiring people. However, the constant comparison, fear of missing out and highly curated content we're exposed to on social media can come with some drawbacks.
A 2020 systematic review linked social media to detrimental effects on the mental health of its users. The same study found that those people's levels of anxiety and depression are affected by social media envy -- being envious of someone else's life as perceived on social media.
"Time spent scrolling through social media has the potential to promote unreasonable expectations as we see influencers posting an often filtered and edited version of their seemingly perfect lives. This can trigger feelings that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are, potentially causing a negative impact on your mental health. The increasing popularity of photo filters has also been linked to poor self-esteem and self-image as we manipulate our photos to change our reality online," says Myra Altman, who holds a PhD and is VP of Clinical Care at Modern Health.
There may be personal reasons to consider a digital detox. It could be that you feel like technology is a distraction, or you just need some time away from the stressors of the online world. Whatever the reason may be, you are sure to see many benefits from taking a break from technology.
Here are some of the most common benefits of a digital detox.
According to a recent study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, a social media break of just a week can reduce anxiety and depression. The same study found causal evidence that even short breaks from social media can positively impact a person's overall well-being, life satisfaction and emotions.
This one should come as no surprise. When we are free from distractions, we allow ourselves to be more present. Mindless scrolling on social media, checking notifications on your phone and feeling the urge to reply immediately to emails are time consumers. When we set aside distractions, we allow more time to focus on our responsibilities.
Disconnecting from electronic devices a few hours before going to sleep can significantly improve our quality of sleep. One study found that people who used social media before bed were more likely to have anxiety, insomnia and short sleep duration on weeknights.
Avoiding screen time before bed also reduces our exposure to blue light, which has been associated with disrupted sleep.
Think about the last time you were anywhere alone at the doctor's office, standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for your friend at a table in a restaurant. How much of that time was spent glued to your phone? The answer is probably a lot.
A small 2019 study found that smartphones alter the fabric of social interactions. In the experiment, a group of strangers was put in a waiting room with or without their phones. The study found that those who had their phones present were less likely to smile at someone compared to those without a phone.
Setting your phone aside can help you stay engaged with those around you.
Have you ever thought about how many times a day you pick up your phone to check your emails, respond to messages and check social media? According to a survey conducted by Asurion, a global tech care company, respondents checked their phones on average 96 times a day. To put that in perspective, that's once every 10 minutes.
"One reason to consider a social media detox is to regain authority in your life and time. Many people find themselves scrolling for hours a day and then feel unproductive, leading to anxiety and depression. A detox can help put a pause on social media consumption and allow you to regain interest in other hobbies that bring happiness. The detox can also allow you the time you need to be with those you love in real life," says Raghu Kiran Appasani, MD Psychiatry and Founder and CEO of The MINDS Foundation.
If you made your way to this page, chances are you are already considering a digital detox -- which is a sign itself that you might need a break from your electronic devices. The best way to know you need a digital detox is to check in with yourself and see how interacting with social media and technology makes you feel.
If you're ready for a digital detox challenge but aren't sure where to start, we got you. It's important to remember why you're detoxing from your digital devices in the first place. The goal is to create boundaries that ensure you're using technology in a way that benefits and works for you. Ultimately, you want to feel good about the time you are dedicating online.
A digital detox can be anything you want it to be. It can be refraining from using any type of technology, disconnecting from social media or just limiting daily screen time. The most important thing to keep in mind is that whatever you want to achieve has to be realistic. For example, if your work requires you to be in front of a computer all day, it may not be wise to set a goal that won't allow you access to your computer. Instead, you can opt to set screen time limits on your free time.
Sometimes disconnecting completely from electronic devices isn't possible, but setting boundaries is a great way to limit how much time we spend on electronic devices.
Here are some ideas of other times you can create limits for:
You've decided to do a digital detox, you put away your phone, now what? It's easy to give in to checking your phone if you are bored, so you'll want to fill in this extra time with things that make you feel good.
If you are having a hard time figuring out what to do with your extra time, here are some ideas.
It's easier to stay motivated when looking forward to something, so take this opportunity to celebrate your wins by rewarding yourself. It doesn't have to be something grand (though it can be if you want); it can be as simple as cooking your favorite meal or taking yourself out to the movies. Whatever you decide your reward should be, make sure it's something that excites you.
Some people will find it fairly easy to disconnect from digital devices, while others may find it more challenging. Luckily, there are some things you can do before you go off the grid to ensure that you have a successful digital detox.
Deciding to disconnect from the digital world can make you feel anxious or even scared of missing out on important things, and it's okay to feel that way. As the days go by, you'll start to feel better about yourself and have a deeper understanding of your relationship with technology. Take the time to enjoy being present and do things that bring you happiness.