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Most of us are more addicted to our phones than we’d like to admit. In fact, nearly half of smartphone users in the United States say they can’t envision their lives without their devices. But, how does technology affect our mental health? And what can we do to reduce our reliance?

Many people have turned to digital detoxes to get away from technology. According to research, digital detoxes can help with depressive symptoms, among other mental health benefits. Are you ready to undergo a digital detox? Here’s what you should know.

A digital detox is a period of time during which a person refrains from using technological gadgets such as smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets, and social media sites. “Detoxing” from digital gadgets is frequently viewed as a means of focusing on real-life social interactions without distractions. People can relieve stress caused by constant connectivity by avoiding digital devices, at least temporarily.

Consider some of the potential benefits and techniques of conducting a digital detox before deciding if it is suitable for you.

For many people, being connected and immersed in the digital world is just a part of everyday life. According to research from the Nielsen Company, the average U.S. adult spends around 11 hours each day listening to, watching, reading, or interacting with media.

There are many reasons why you might want to give up your mobile phone and other devices for a brief time. You might want to enjoy time to yourself without the interference that your phone and other devices create. In other cases, you might feel like your device use has become excessive and is adding too much stress to your life. 

In some situations, you might even feel like you are addicted to your devices. While technology addiction is not formally recognized as a disorder in the DSM-5, many experts believe that tech and device overuse represents a very real behavioral addiction that can lead to physical, psychological, and social problems.

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: 

  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Video games
  • Watching TV
  • Smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers

What is a social media detox?

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.

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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.

How social media affects mental health

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. 

Benefits of a Digital Detox

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.

Reduced anxiety and depression

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.

Enhanced focus and increased productivity

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. 

Improved sleep

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.

Meaningful connections in real life

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.

More time for things that bring you joy

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. 

How to do a Digital Detox

Some might suggest that a true digital detox would involve predefined abstinence from any and all digital devices and social media connections, but it is important to make your device usage work for your own life and demands. 

Detaching from your devices can benefit your mental well-being, but doing a digital detox does not have to involve a complete separation from your phone and other tech connections. The process is often more about setting boundaries and making sure that you are using your devices in a way that benefits, rather than harm, your emotional and physical health.

Be Realistic

If you can do a complete digital detox for a certain amount of time, it might be something you want to try. Being completely disconnected can feel liberating and refreshing for some people. For a lot of people, completely forgoing all forms of digital communication might not be possible, particularly if you really do rely on staying connected for work, school, or other obligations. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the benefits of a digital detox; the key is to make disconnecting something that works for your schedule and your life. 

If you need your devices during the day for your job, try doing a mini-detox at the end of the workday. Pick a time when you want to turn off your devices, and then focus on spending an evening completely free of things like social media, texting, online videos, and other electronic distractions. 

Set Limits

While it isn’t always possible or even preferable to completely disconnect, setting limits on when these digital connections are allowed to intrude on your time can be good for your mental well-being. 

For example, you might want to use your phone to play your Spotify or Apple Music playlist while you are working out, but setting it to airplane mode will make sure that you aren’t distracted by phone calls, texts, other messages, or app notifications during your workout. 

Setting boundaries on the type and timing of connections you’ll attend to helps ensure that you can enjoy real-world activities completely free of digital diversions. 

Other times when you might want to limit your digital device usage include:

  • When you are eating meals, particularly when dining with other people
  • When you are waking up or going to bed
  • When you are working on a project or hobby
  • When you are spending time with friends or family
  • Before you go to sleep each night

Restricting your mobile device usage immediately before you go to sleep may also be helpful. One review of the research found that using media devices was linked to poor sleep quality, inadequate sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Skip laying in bed playing on your phone and instead try reading a book or magazine for a few minutes before you go to sleep.

Remove Distractions

Another way to start your digital detox is to turn off push notifications on your phone. Many social media apps including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and news websites send alerts every single time you get a message, mention, or new post.

Rather than checking certain apps or websites every time a new story or post hits, set aside a specific time each day when you’ll check your messages or mentions. Then set aside a certain amount of time, around 20 or 30 minutes, to devote to catching up and sending responses.

So the next time you are having dinner with a group of friends, try leaving your phone at home.

A digital detox can be whatever you want it to be and can take many forms. You might want to try giving up all digital devices for a time, including television, mobile phones, and social media. In other cases, you might want to focus on restricting your use of just one type of digital device such as your phone or your gaming console.

Some ideas that you might consider trying:

  • A digital fast:Try giving up all digital devices for a short period of time, such as a day or up to a week
  • Recurrent digital abstinence: Pick one day of the week to go device-free
  • A specific detox: If one app, site, game, or digital tool is taking up too much of your time, focus on restricting your use of that problematic item
  • A social media detox: Focus on restricting or even completely eliminating your social media use for a specific period of time

Some people find giving up their devices fairly easy. Others will find it much more difficult and even anxiety-provoking at times.

There are some things that you can do to ensure that your digital detox is more successful:

  • Let your friends and family know that you are on a digital detox and ask for their help and support
  • Find ways to stay distracted and keep other activities on hand
  • Delete social media apps from your phone to reduce temptation and easy access
  • Try getting out of the house; go to dinner with friends or go for a walk when you are tempted to use your device
  • Keep a journal to track your progress and write down your thoughts about the experience

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