If you find yourself scrolling through your phone for several minutes, or even hours, and staring at a computer or tablet for the majority of the day, you’re in good company. According to a Pew Research survey, Americans are online, whether it’s on their phone, computer or tablet, 31 percent of the time, a measurement that’s risen from 21 percent in 2015. Due to the over saturation of screens and scrolling, more and more people are opting to take a digital detox.
What is a digital detox?
It’s an altogether break from technological devices, i.e. not using phones, tablets, or watching television, except when necessary for work or school. Psychologist Emily Guarnotta, Psy.D., blogger at The Mindful Mommy and co-founder of Phoenix Health, refers to a digital detox as “fast” for your mind. “A digital detox can last a few days, weeks, or even longer, or you could also implement a digital detox during certain times each day, like staying off of devices for at least two hours before bed so you can detox before sleep,” she says.
Anyone can benefit from doing a digital detox—even for a short period of time—but those who may stand to benefit the most are busy professionals whose jobs require them to be constantly online or accessible by phone, notes licensed therapist Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles. “Working parents, too, who want to maximize their limited free time with their families will also likely benefit from a digital detox, as will teens who spend countless hours on social media and communicating virtually, socializing less in person and spending less time engaging in hobbies that don’t involve technology,” she says.
If you do decide to do a digital detox, here are some of the impressive health benefits you can expect.
If you’re one of the 50 to 70 million of Americans who struggle to get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis, you’ll be glad to know that taking a break for your digital devices may be just the ticket. Research has shown that exposure to the blue light emitted from LED screens can actually disrupt your circadian rhythm, the process in our body that induces feelings of sleepiness. Also, Lurie highlights that the addictive nature of social media, coupled with the constant urge to check notifications, can contribute to heightened levels of stress and insomnia. “By shutting off devices an hour or two before bedtime so that your nighttime routine contains no screens, your brain will have the time to unwind and relax enough to get deeper, more restful sleep,” she says.
Reduced anxiety and stress
There’s no denying we’re living in incredibly stressful times. In fact, in a ValuePenguin survey as many as 84 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed on a weekly basis. Research has found that social media may be one of the biggest culprits of causing stress in America, and across the world. “Excessive digital exposure can lead to stress and anxiety because endless texts, calls, and notifications create a false sense of urgency and perpetual busyness,” says Lurie. “A digital detox will allow your overstimulated brain to rest and relieve any pressure you feel from the need to be constantly responsive.” Even if you’re not able to do a complete days-long detox from technology, she recommends at the very least giving yourself little rest breaks. When you silence your devices and turn off your screens at various intervals throughout the day to help reduce some of that stress and anxiety.
Increased connection with others
One major consequence of being glued to our phones is taking us out of our present situation and even inhibiting our willingness to communicate with those around us. “While many feel connected to their online relationships, this is only a substitute for personal, engaged, vulnerability and connection,” says Karen Whitehead, MS, LCSW, CCH, clinical social worker in private practice in Georgia and Florida. “Turning off our phones or notifications can help us to stay in the moment with people right in front of us.”
A boost in happiness and contentment
Depression affects more than 21 million Americans each year. Digital devices may be exacerbating this mental health epidemic we’re living in. “By using devices and digital information and media with intention, we can be mindful of the ways it helps or hurts us,” says Whitehead. She recommends trying your best to stay present and aware in the moment. “Also, when we diversify how we spend our time, increasing connections and relationships, being more mindful, and lowering anxiety, we feel better,” she adds.
Research, including one study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, has shown that social media can be a catalyst for low self-esteem, especially for adolescents. “Taking breaks from social media stops the comparison and allows you to focus on and enjoy your own life,” says Lianna Nielsen, an integrative nutrition health coach. “Cultivating a gratitude practice where you take time to check in daily with the things that are going well, moments you enjoy, people you love, etc. will start to train you to look for what’s positive in your life versus what is lacking.”
A better understanding of how you are feeling
“So many of us use our devices and social media to avoid what is happening in our lives or numb how we feel about it, since scrolling can often provide hits of dopamine to our brain, which momentarily makes us feel good,” explains Nielsen. “When you don’t have a phone to distract you every time you feel anxious, bored, sad, etc. you have the opportunity to check in with what is actually going on internally and deal with it accordingly.” To create this awareness in your daily life, she recommends paying close attention to how you are feeling in the moments that you reach for your phone for no reason at all.