On some level, many people know their relationship with technology took an unhealthy turn in recent years. In fact, research shows a link between social media users and narcissism as well as high rates of technology use contributing to decreased empathy among children. Studies also link smartphone use to insomnia and screen time exposure among adolescents to obesity later in life.
Even without research pointing to a problem, most people can feel a growing disconnect. It’s harder to focus on things without picking up your phone for a distraction — even while hanging out with people you care about. Taking a digital detox can help you redefine your relationship with technology in a healthier way.
What’s a Digital Detox?
A digital detox is an intentional break from daily digital interactions. It means stepping back from your phone, computer, and television to allow yourself to breathe without looming distractions and notifications. Conducting a digital detox is simple. You just designate a certain amount of time in which you will cut everything out and instead focus on reconnecting with yourself and those around you.
Digital Detox Health Benefits
Stepping back from the constant input of the digital world can help reduce stress levels associated with 24/7 connectivity, according to a 2014 study from the United Kingdom. It also can help you improve your physical health in several ways. Once you move past the initial hurdle of feeling anxious as you disconnect, you’ll find your stress diminishes as you focus on the activities (or people) in front of you.
Here are the key health benefits a digital detox can provide:
- Increased Physical Movement: Research associates extended screen time with a sedentary lifestyle that can lead to obesity — a condition found to contribute to a variety of serious health problems. Stepping away from screens tends to keep you more active and can even reduce the amount of junk food you consume without really paying attention.
- Improved Sleep: If you have trouble sleeping, your screen time may play a role. Taking a break from technology can help you reset your body’s natural rhythms, which the blue light emitted by your phone or tablet can disrupt. Your body produces and secretes melatonin to help you fall asleep, but exposure to blue light in the evening can hinder that process. By reducing the amount of time you spend on devices, you allow your body to realign itself with the natural world.
- Enhanced Focus: Because cell phones now play a central role in our lives, this increased use of technology reduced the average human attention span from 12 minutes to five minutes. People no longer need to focus on puzzling solutions to problems when they have all the answers within reach. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter design user feeds for absent scrolling and quick dopamine hits. Take away the digital sphere and you can start paying more attention to individual tasks with fewer distractions.
- Increased Connections With Others: A study of more than 1,700 U.S. adults found a high level of social media use not only reduces the quality of time spent with friends, but also fosters perceived feelings of isolation. When you leave your phone behind, you open yourself up to more interactions with people than you might otherwise experience.
Think You Don’t Need a Digital Detox?
You may need to think again. On average, Americans spend 4.7 hours on their phones per day. That 4.7 hours a day for 365 days a year totals a whopping 1,715.5 hours — equivalent to more than two months worth of time.
Still skeptical? Try one of the many apps, or the feature built into newer iPhones, that help track daily screen time. The results may surprise (or even horrify) you.
Planning Your Digital Detox
Disconnecting from the digital world can present a major challenge. Many people now experience an unprecedented level of interconnectivity in a way that impacts both their personal and professional lives. If you work with a computer, you may find it even harder to make time for a digital detox. As a result, one popular option involves planning a digital detox over a weekend or during a vacation when you can really “switch off.”
Digital detox holidays — a growing sector in the tourism industry — also can make a great option. While not the most cost-effective method of detoxing, these holidays do provide a strong accountability factor. Moreover, do you really need your phone as you relax on a beach or hike in the mountains? Instead, focus on the moment and the people around you.
If you lack the budget or vacation days for a digital detox holiday — or if you’d simply rather reshape your relationship with technology with minimal fuss — that’s just fine. You don’t need to visit an isolated island in the Caribbean to successfully redefine technology’s role in your life. Here are three tips to help you set yourself up for a successful digital detox:
- Choose a Specific Amount of Time to Disconnect. Whether you plan to detox for an hour or a week, decide exactly how much time you want to spend away from the digital world to encourage success.
- Schedule Time With Friends and Family. Initially, disconnecting from the digital world may feel jarring and lonely. Counteract this by making plans for some face-to-face time with your favorite people.
- Wear a Watch. Seriously, how many times a day do you glance down at your phone to check the time and end up checking your email or Facebook account instead?
If you’re not ready to commit to a full digital detox, consider starting with a digital diet. Instead of dramatically cutting ties with technology for a set amount of time, a digital diet encourages you to start filtering out digital clutter. By cutting down on apps and screen time, digital diets and detoxes can, ultimately, help you make a long-term change to your relationship with technology.