Do you find yourself spending hours staring at a screen? Do you lose time scrolling through the endless social media feeds? Do you remember the last time your phone was not within your immediate reach? It may be time for a digital detox if you are like the millions of people who answered yes to these questions.
How Do We Spend Our Time?
Internet addiction, though not an officially recognized addiction, can have a significant impact on your well-being. On average, Americans spend nearly three and a half hours per day on their phone. People spend almost an hour a day on Facebook alone. Other social media apps were close behind, with Instagram users spending an average of 53 minutes per day and Snapchat users with 50 minutes per day.
With the rise of streaming services, “binge-watching” is an everyday activity in our lives. Americans spend over three hours a day watching television. However, screen time and internet use don’t equate to mindlessly staring at our phones. In fact, most Americans tend to multitask their screentime and watch television while still scrolling through their phones.
This constant social media use is no coincidence. Social media, for example, intentionally utilizes tools and techniques to keep your attention. The use of auto-play features and stories ensures a constant stream of information is reaching their users. Facebook uses a flood of notifications to keep users logged in and engaged. These tools are subtle yet effective.
How Does This Affect Us?
Studies show that prolonged and extensive use of the internet and social media has adverse effects on well-being and self-esteem. Meaningful social interactions and support contribute to a higher quality of life. We benefit from regularly experiencing significant connections and recreational activities. The overuse of the internet and reliance on social media for social relationships have diminished the quality of our social interactions and social supports. Moreover, it breeds a habit of constant comparison to others. Overuse of the internet, especially social media, can lead to self-esteem issues, increased anxiety, time management issues, sleep problems, and even depression.
COVID-19 and the Internet
These trends became even worse during the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown suddenly caused many to be isolated from their typical social interactions, and people turned to their screens for comfort and entertainment. Along with the isolation came the need to work and attend school from home. As a result, screens became an integral part of day-to-day life.
Benefits of a Digital Detox
We now know that excessive use of social media can negatively affect our mental health. So how to turn this around?
One of the best ways is to detox from our devices and the media. Though a complete elimination of your phone and computer may not be possible, there are a few positive steps you can take to help you properly detach and detox.
How to Do a Digital Detox
Step 1: Assess the Quality of Your Screen Time
Not all screen time is created equal. Evaluate how you spend your screen time and determine the quality of your use. Determine which elements of your screen time are negatively impacting your mental health. For example, during a digital detox, you may eliminate social media for a certain period of time but still allow a limited time on news sites. It’s up to your to determine what quality screen time is best for you.
Fortunately, most modern smartphones have made gauging how you’re spending your on-device time much simpler. On iPhones and other Apple-made mobile devices, there’s a feature called Screen Time, which breaks down time spent on Apple devices by category as well as by app. Android devices have a comparable featured called Digital Wellbeing, offering Android users a breadth of insights into how they’re using their devices.
Step 2: Turn Off Notifications
Understandably, it’s difficult to step away from our mobile devices when those devices are constantly beckoning us with notifications. Because if we don’t know the nature of the notification, then we’re left wondering if we’re missing something exciting or important. Fear of missing out – also known as FOMO – is the fuel that keeps us digitally tethered.
It may not be easy, but turning off your notifications, especially for social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, is essential for a successful digital detox.
Step 3: Structure Your Digital Time
A digital detox isn’t a complete digital cleanse. Rather, you simply want to restrict your time spent on digital devices. By limiting the time spent using your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or watching television, you’re forced to be more selective about what you’re actually doing on those devices. When your digital time is more purposeful – or, dare we say, even productive – the time you spend using your devices will have a much less negative effect on the rest of your life.
The best way to structure your digital time is to create a schedule: Set times to indulge in screen time as well as how you’ll be spending that time, whether that be reading or watching the news or checking emails.
Step 4: Put The Devices Away
Creating “device-free” zones is another step to an effective digital detox. Many people find themselves looking through their phones first thing in the morning. As soon as they wake up, they are checking social media and scrolling through the news. Making the bedroom or dining room a “phone-free zone” will help detox our constant need for digital interaction.
Another way to accomplish this is by removing phones from the bedroom. Place phones in a separate part of the house at night. This step will prevent the constant checking of social media throughout the day and night and eliminate distractions.
Bonus: No TV During Meals
It is common practice to watch television while enjoying a family meal. Make an effort to eliminate TV and phones from mealtime, and work on connecting with your family or friends. Moreover, limit daily and weekly TV time. Try planning a movie night, or a night to watch an episode or two of your favorite show.
It is time to clear your inner cache.
The excessive use of screens in our daily lives has proven to cause harmful effects on mental health and well-being. To combat these effects, a digital detox from our phones where you take active steps to reduce the use of digital devices and exposure to social media can improve well-being. But, first, take an inventory of your screen time and determine how it impacts your day. Next, take proactive steps to limit your screen time. Finally, make an effort to build meaningful relationships in person and engage in activities.
These steps may be challenging, but this detox could be a simple step to improving your mental health.