If I may paraphrase the words of Kim Possible, what's the sitch with digital detox?
Digital detox seems to be somewhat of a popular buzzword these days. For some reason, the term always invokes the image of a young millionaire entrepreneur leaving his digital devices behind as he goes to a faraway spiritual retreat where there’s no signal or Wi-Fi. In reality, digital detox isn’t so elitist. It just refers to consciously refraining from the use of digital devices or social media sites to focus instead on real-life social interactions without distractions. It can mean anything from taking a week-long trip to the countryside without your smartphone to keeping your phone on silent during dinner time with your family.
Why consider a digital detox
Technology has certainly improved our quality of life, no doubt. Smartphones allow us to look up useful information online, read e-books, listen to music or audiobooks, take pictures or videos to capture beautiful moments, and so much more. So much processing power concentrated into one small device! But, these digital devices can also be a source of stress for us.
Having your phone with you 24/7 creates this constant need to check what’s app messages, emails, and social media apps. As a result, it becomes harder and harder to ‘unplug’ from work, relax, and connect with others. Heavy use of digital devices, especially in terms of social media apps, can have adverse effects on our sleep and mental health.
Research shows that in-bed electronic social media use can negatively affect sleep and mood for adults. Many of us get into bed and stay on our phones for anywhere between 30 minutes to a few hours binging on videos on YouTube or scrolling through social media apps. The light emitted from our phone screens is said to suppress the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep. Hence, using our phones in bed can result in difficulties falling asleep and poor sleep quality.
Heavy use of social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook can also affect mental well-being. Excessive use of these apps can trigger frequent social comparisons that make users feel like they're inadequate compared to other people.
Based on my personal experience, I find these research findings to be rather accurate. When I lie in bed at night and scroll through Instagram for too long, my mind does tend to wander. “Oh wow, she just got promoted! What am I doing with my life…” or “She just posted an hour ago and already, she’s got so many likes and comments! Unlike me…” Late at night, I go down this dark rabbit hole and sleep becomes ever more elusive. However, I don’t think all digital device usage at night is self-destructive; I find reading e-books in bed with my blue light filter on quite relaxing and it helps to slowly put me to sleep.
Constant use of mobile devices can also affect our interactions with other people. Getting distracted by what’s app messages or social media notifications on the phone during a chat or some family time can reduce the overall quality of conversation. It makes it difficult to forge a sense of deep connection with those we interact with as well. As such, the pervasive nature of digital devices can hurt the health of our relationships.
How to do a digital detox
There are numerous ways to do a digital detox. A digital fast is perhaps one of the most popular. This is where one gives up all digital devices for a certain period of time, maybe a few days or a week. However, I find this approach rather concerning because once the fast comes to an end, we could very well slip back into old habits with excessive screen time taking a toll on our well-being once more.
Instead, we could incorporate ‘mini fasts’ into our everyday lives. This requires making a conscious effort to completely disconnect from digital devices and instead, connect with the people around us for an hour or two each day. After work perhaps, keep your phone aside and enjoy dinner with your family, catching up on the happenings of the day.
Social media detox is also becoming increasingly popular. Excessive social media use can lead to adverse effects on self-esteem and mental health, so the idea here is to cut back and focus on the now. Instead of avoiding social media platforms one day every week or one week every year, which runs the risk of us slipping back into old habits, I personally feel it might be more beneficial to limit our daily use of social media.
We can start out with simple steps:
Avoid checking social media first thing in the morning. Wake up, have breakfast while reading a book or chatting with your family to gear you up for the day before checking social media.
Okay, this might be a difficult one. If possible, avoid using social media during meal times with family or friends. It’s alright to take pictures of memorable moments, but you can post it later. Focus on being present in the conversation.
Lastly, avoid using social media in bed prior to sleep. Instead, read a book or chat with your partner.
If you’re finding it difficult to stay focused on work or other personal endeavours due to the distractions of social media, consider using apps that help you to limit your social media usage. Check out ‘10 apps that block social media so you can stay focused and be more productive' to learn more.
For example, Stay Focused helps to block certain apps and websites as per your instruction. You can choose to block selected apps and notifications for a certain duration (e.g. 1-hour during family time after work) or set a usage limit of say 1 to 2 hours per day. If you’re trying to adopt new habits such as reading every day, you can even block your social media apps until you spend a pre-set amount of time on other apps of your choice such as Amazon Kindle.
Interestingly, there are numerous such apps available online. If you feel addicted to your phone, know that you’re not alone. So many of us struggle with this that it has created a lucrative market for app developers to explore!
It’s unfortunate that the very devices that have made life so convenient for us also pose a threat to our well-being if not used properly. If you find yourself clocking in more screen time than face time, odds are it’s time to cut back.