Have you ever felt stressed or panicked when you misplace your phone or leave it at home? Do you scroll aimlessly on social media for hours at a time or pick up your smartphone as a reflex when you’re bored? Is your phone the first thing you grab when you wake up and the last thing you look at before bed? Is technology controlling your life? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time for a digital detox.
In this modern age, escaping the continuous flow of information can seem impossible. Most of us are joined at the hip with our cell phones, never letting them get more than an arm’s reach away. Text, emails, and news notifications are constantly pulling our attention from the current moment, and quick, attention-grabbing videos have become the way we communicate.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. It allows you access to premier health care through virtual doctor visits, enables you to stay in touch with friends and family throughout the globe, and connects you to like-minded people who share your goals and passions.
However, when internet use becomes addictive, when you notice yourself unable to function without your phone or start experiencing physical symptoms like eyestrain and neck pain, you know that it’s time to take a break. Read on as we delve into the incredible, life-giving benefits of a digital detox and how to do it.
Technology and your brain
Technology addiction isn’t something to laugh at. Like other pleasurable activities, surfing the internet and scrolling social media activate the pleasure centers in the brain. Specifically, it releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, called the “pleasure chemical.”
Dopamine is also released into the body when you have sex, exercise, or eat particularly yummy food — behaviors that can all become addictive. We love the feeling of using technology (specifically social media) because it delivers that chemical response through successful social interactions.
Whenever we get a “like” or comment on a social media post, our brain lights up with dopamine. Our body starts to associate scrolling through social media with that pleasurable reaction — creating neurological patterns and pathways that are difficult to break.
What is a digital detox?
We live in a digital world. That much is obvious. From QR code menus at restaurants to GPS maps and digital “events,” our lives are more online than ever. Technology surrounds us, and we digest new information every second, which isn’t always a good thing.
Taking the time to unplug from all of the electronic devices in your life can be incredibly therapeutic. This might look different for everyone. For some people, an afternoon or a single day is enough. Others prefer a week-long vacation or camping trip to get away from it all.
A digital detox is simply any time you set aside to limit or eliminate all technology (or just your smartphone or social media) use.
Signs you need a digital detox
You might need a digital detox if you…
- Feel anxiety when separated from your phone.
- Regularly check your phone during in-person conversations.
- Feel bored or lost without a screen in front of you.
- Spend two hours or more per day on your phone (use a screen time tracker to check this).
- Can’t remember the last time you went somewhere without your phone.
- Ignore responsibilities at home or work to spend time on your electronics.
- Are scared of missing something when you go for long periods without checking your phone.
The benefits of unplugging
Allows you to reconnect with your family
How many times have you been to a restaurant only see a group of friends or family glued to their screens while waiting for a meal? Or maybe this has been you. Face-to-face conversations are becoming rare as people retreat into their screens and digital relationships. Use this detox time to ask questions, have meaningful moments, and find joy in the people in your physical life.
Helps you find a new hobby
Imagine all of the things you could do if you didn’t spend three hours a day scrolling through your phone. Try cooking, woodworking, or gardening to help get your mind engaged in what you’re doing and have something to show for your time.
Benefits your sleep
We all know that sleep is imperative for heart health. Quality sleep allows your brain to detox and gives your heart a chance to catch up. Chronic lack of sleep is linked to hypertension and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
One of the biggest disruptors of that oh-so-essential shut-eye could be that glowing rectangle in your pocket. The blue light emanating from your phone screen interferes with your melatonin production and tricks your body into staying awake longer. This can lead to insomnia, sleep disturbances, and circadian rhythm disruptions.
Taking a technology time-out could be the key to resetting your biological clock and restoring a natural sleep pattern. Even when you’re not doing a technology detox, avoid using your phone at least a few hours before bed and use blue-light-blocking software and protective glasses.
Increases gratitude and improves mental health
Constantly comparing yourself to others on social media can contribute to feelings of envy, jealousy, and comparison and can leave you feeling like your life just doesn’t add up.
This leads to discontentment, negativity, and ingratitude for all of the wonderful things in your life. Some evidence suggests that the internet could be to blame for the rise of depression and anxiety among adolescents.
Taking some time away from the fictionalized, white-washed fantasy of social media could be what you need to put your circumstances into perspective. Being more positive and grateful doesn’t just improve your mental health; it can protect your heart as well!
Improves brain function
As mentioned above, technology addiction rewires your brain to crave that dopamine release. It can also contribute to a shorter attention span, difficulty focusing, and even reduced brain processing capacity.
When you intentionally set aside time to clear your mind and focus, you’ll achieve a greater level of creativity, productivity, and motivation.
A single glance at the news these days would cause anyone’s heart rate to skyrocket. Researchers and psychologists have seen a direct connection between the increase in stress and anxiety disorders and the prevalence of internet addiction.
Texting leads to social stress, online gaming is linked to increased adrenal response, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) is a real danger. Technology contributes to the rise of chronic stress — limiting your use could be just what the doctor ordered.
Improves physical health
Electronic devices encourage poor posture. When you’re hunched over a tiny screen for hours, you can experience eye strain, back and neck pain, blurry vision, and headaches. Digitally detoxing helps you get in touch with your body and work out those aches and pains through physical activity.
Five simple steps to digitally detox
Digitally detoxing can be challenging if you are closely tied to your devices. But it can also be a great wake-up call, reminding you of the joy to be found outside of the internet. Follow these five steps to start your digital detox today:
Step 1: Cut out social media
Going cold turkey could work for some people, but eliminating social media is the easiest place to start. Delete the apps from your phone, log out, or allow a trusted friend or family member to create new passwords for your accounts if you’re tempted. Once you no longer have access to social media on your phone, you will find yourself picking it up much less frequently.
Step 2: Eliminate television
Instead of watching TV in the evenings to unwind, go for a walk, play a board game with your family, or read a book. It’s incredible how much time we waste watching movies and television that we don’t even remember the next day.
Step 3: Stop using electronics entirely
You might need your phone for directions or in case of an emergency, but with this step, stop using your phone for anything nonessential. If you use a smartwatch, take it off (this is a good idea anyway, as smartwatches emit EMF radiation right against your body), turn off notifications, and simply leave your phone in a drawer.
If you work on a computer, try limiting your online time to only work-related tasks.
Even if you only follow step three for a day or so, you’ll feel so much better and use your time much more effectively.
Step 4: Find new hobbies
What will you do with all of your extra time? Deep clean your house, pick up journaling, do yoga in the park, learn an instrument. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish without the constant ringing, vibrating, and advertisements assaulting your senses.
Step 5: Consider a detox vacation
Plan an electronic-free vacation or camping trip with yourself or family and friends, if possible. Instead of focusing on getting the perfect Instagram or Facebook photo or updating your status, take time to connect with nature and your loved ones. This is a significant final step, as it allows you to reap the benefits of genuinely unplugging.
Note: Purchase a pre-paid flip phone for emergencies, if needed.
Tips for a digital detox:
- Once you’ve completed your digital detox, consider doing it monthly or annually, whatever you need to protect your mental and physical health from the perils of technology.
- Set boundaries for yourself, such as creating time limits for apps, keeping your phone out of the bedroom, or not using your devices at meals.
- Continue to pursue electronic-free activities like hiking, swimming, yoga, or cooking.
- Replace your phone with other things. For instance, instead of bringing your phone to take pictures, use an actual camera. Instead of relying on your smartphone, use an alarm clock to wake you up. Read books, write letters, use a paper planner and to-do list.
- Your detox can be as long or as short as you would like — whatever you feel is best for you.
- If you find one particular app time-consuming, try just removing that app from your phone.
- Get your friends and family involved. Tell your loved ones about your digital detox and encourage them to join you and keep you accountable.
There is true power in embracing your present moment and disengaging from the technological world. The constant connection and pressure to stay up-to-date takes a toll on your mental and physical health.
Though it is impossible (or incredibly difficult) to cut yourself off forever, a temporary digital detox could help you find balance and peace in this fast-paced society. Take time to breathe in nature, be still with your thoughts, and pursue health and your 100 Year Heart.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD