How often do you spend using whatever digital device you are reading this on? How about other devices? The amount of time we spend with a smartphone in our hands or looking at a computer screen, tablet or television is at an all-time high. The way we work, learn and play has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. It isn’t always a bad thing; the advance of the internet and affordable devices has delivered all kinds of content and opportunities to millions of people all over the world. The benefits are many, and as technology develops, we all hold great hopes for how the world can further benefit from the digital revolution. However, there are unwanted side effects. Too much time spent on digital devices can begin to have a negative impact. And this is where the digital detox comes in.
How do Devices Affect Us?
Using devices for prolonged periods, for example working at a computer or spending a lot of time on a smartphone, can have a number of unwanted effects. Physically, it affects your brain and disrupts the circadian rhythms that help us balance our sleep and awake time. Blue light, emitted by screens, disrupts the body’s ability to know when it is nighttime, and thus when we should be winding down to sleep. This can result in insomnia, sleep disturbance, less sleep duration and anxiety. Eye strain is another very common physical consequence of too much screen time. Looking at screens as we scroll puts a lot of demand on the eyes, and this can cause headaches, eye pain and vision problems. A regular digital detox can help manage these issues. See Psychology Today for more information.
Digital Detox for Mental Health
Heavy use of digital devices also has an impact on mental health. Whether it is constant access to the rolling news which can deliver upsetting information or controversial and argumentative content on social media, it is easy to get sucked into consuming content that causes anxiety or negatively impacts our mood. However, it is not just the nature of the content that impacts our mental health; it is the quantity. Fast flowing, endless scrolling content competing for your ‘clicks’ means that it is easy to pick up a device to check one thing and find that an hour has passed. Our minds simply aren’t used to this massive amount of information. Think about it; we can read something upsetting one moment then the next moment, a dancing dog, then public information that we want to remember, then a puzzle to solve, then a serious news item, then an appeal from a charity, then a message from a friend, then a coworker… Our brains are bound to struggle to sort through these vast amounts of very different types of content. This can result in anxiety and mental fatigue. Research by the University of Pennsylvania notes a correlation between social media use and decreased wellbeing.
How to Digital Detox
- Log your Time
Identify how much time you spend using digital devices – use a tracker or make a note of how much time you really spend using devices. You will probably be surprised! Many of your devices, especially smartphones may have inbuilt time management functions which can warn you if you go over a set amount of time. Internet apps for your laptop or desktop computer can do the same.
- Reclaim your Sleep
Cut out the time spent on digital devices that has the most negative impact, evening use. Evening usage of digital devices has the biggest impact on sleep. Try to avoid watching television, browsing social media, or playing computer games after your evening meal, and instead listen to music, go for a walk, or take up another hobby that doesn’t require a screen! If you absolutely must use tech in the evening, for work etc. then use a blue light filter. This will help eliminate the blue light that causes the most disruption to the circadian rhythms.
- Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is important. Nobody is suggesting that a digital detox has to mean getting rid of all screens, all devices, and all technology. Many of us would find that our work lives and our social lives would come to a stop. But it is so important to have times and places when digital devices are not used. Digital detox means setting good boundaries; no devices during mealtimes, no television in the bedroom, no computer games in the mornings… you find boundaries that work for you, that you know you will be able to keep to.
- Leave it Behind
If you won’t need it, leave it behind. Do you really need your smartphone at the gym? Do you have to have your laptop with you when you go for a coffee in a café? Could you find another way to pass the time when waiting for an appointment other than browsing social media?
- Boost Face-to-Face Contact
Spend more quality time with the people you care about. Move your socializing out of the virtual world and into the real world, and you will find that you feel more secure about your relationships. Online contact is hard to judge, hard to read and hard to sustain. In reality, you will find that the people who really care are the ones who make an effort to actually spend time with you. And time spent together is worth far more than pixels on a screen.
- Do Real Things
Take up a new off-screen hobby or reignite your interest in an old hobby. These activities will give you measurable benefits in a way that many screen-based activities don’t. We don’t have much to show for an hour spent on social media, but an hour spent with a musical instrument can pay off massively.
- Monitor your Usage
A good digital detox will enable you to make healthier choices about when to use devices and when not to, but usage can creep up over time. Monitor your usage and implement these steps to cut back when you need to, especially if you are experiencing stress, eye strain, headaches, or mood changes. Be honest with yourself about your usage and be quick to adjust and set new boundaries when you need to; this is the best way to digital detox.