We live in a digital world. Whether it’s for news, entertainment, work, or communication, chances are a digital device is involved. Few places are without access, and we are never more than a click away from being in touch with family, friends, or work. 

We’ve grown accustomed to this unnatural state of constant connectivity. We reach for our phones when we wake up and do a last check of things before bed. In fact, we even have new terms like “FOMO” – the fear of missing out – to describe what some individuals experience when they are away from their devices or social networks even for a short time. 

It’s hard to remember what we did before our phones and laptops felt like an extension of ourselves and we shared our lives so publicly through social networks. So, it’s easy to lose sight of the negative impact of all this technology. That’s why a digital detox may be just what you need.

What is a digital detox?

The term “detoxification” is defined as the process of removing toxic substances or qualities. In the case of a digital detox, it refers to a set period of time for an individual to stay away from the devices and social media sites that have become such an integral part of life -- smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions. 

The purpose of a digital detox is to allow ourselves time to experience real life without distractions. It’s a way to reconnect with individuals personally rather than through a screen and take time to de-stress and step away from all that connectedness. 

The dark side of our digital world 

There are clear advantages to our new age of technology. Never have we had such instantaneous communication abilities, or access to terabytes of information at our fingertips. The digital age has changed jobs, increased productivity, improved transparency, and made our lives easier. 

But all those benefits come at a cost. We are quickly learning there are negatives to our digital world. 

  • Information overload. This state of being overwhelmed by a never-ending stream of news and communication can cause anxiety, poor decision making, loss of focus, reduced productivity, and more.
  • Jobs at stake. As technology continues to evolve, more jobs are becoming redundant. 
  • Increased multitasking. Technology encourages multitasking, but it may not be what our brains were designed to do.
  • Shorter attention spans. Our attention spans are growing shorter as we try to consume all this information, resulting in less focus and reduced productivity. 
  • Privacy issues. With so many aspects of our lives now online, technology threatens our privacy—from targeted marketing to the nightmare of a stolen identity.

Is a digital detox right for you?

If you are feeling any of the following, you might want to consider a break from your devices. 

  • You feel the need to check your phone constantly; you can’t concentrate unless you check your device often. 
  • You feel that you are missing out on something if you are not checking your phone for notifications and social posts regularly.
  • After spending time on social media, you feel sad, angry, or anxious.
  • If you can’t find your phone, it triggers stress and anxiety.
  • Your devices disrupt your sleep.
  • You begin comparing yourself to others on social media.
  • You’d rather interact with individuals virtually than in person.
  • Your device is causing work-life balance issues, with work creeping into your personal time because your device is always on.

Benefits of a digital detox

When you step away from your devices and focus on the real world, you'll experience several benefits, including: 

  • Less stress
  • Improved focus
  • Better sleep
  • Enhanced relationships
  • More time to do things you enjoy

How to do a digital detox

If your relationship with your devices is interfering with other priorities, it may be time to think about cutting back on your digital life and focusing more on the real world. 

For some individuals, a full detox may be an option. But for most, cutting yourself off completely from all things digital may not be realistic. So rather than going “cold turkey” you can take small steps and still reap the benefits. 

  • Make a plan. The first step is to decide what is negatively impacting you and take steps to change that. If you’re on your phone too often, try setting certain times during the day to check your email, messages, and notifications rather than constantly having your phone in hand. If it’s your social media activity that is causing stress, perhaps take a break from those sites for a day or a week and see how you feel.
  • Set specific goals. Once you’ve determined your plan, make it specific. For instance, you can choose to have device-free meals with family. You might opt to take a break from Instagram or Snapchat for a week, or maybe just set a daily time limit for your social media usage. Turning off notifications is another option, and a great way to minimize that urge to constantly check your device. Or monitor and limit your usage with settings and tools easily available on your device or through an app. Whatever you choose, it’s important to commit to it, be specific, and give yourself time to break your old habits. 
  • Tell family and friends. This is an important aspect to your detox. Let your family and friends know you are taking a break from your device(s) or online activity and not to expect immediate responses from you. This support can be a great help as you try to live a less-connected life. 
  • Evaluate your results and make your changes permanent. Once you’ve given your detox the time and commitment needed, step back and assess how you’re feeling. Do you feel less stressed? Has it improved your productivity or sleep? Do you feel more focused, or seem to have more time on your hands? Once you’ve figured out the benefits, it will be easier to continue to practice what makes you feel better! 

There’s a great article from CNN Health on how to get started with a digital detox. But remember: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider or a mental health provider for help. 

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.