Let's talk about our modern world's big catch: we're hyper-connected yet somehow more disconnected than ever, especially from ourselves. There is a digital paradox, where our screens have become windows to other worlds and at the same time prisons. If that doesn’t urge you towards a much-needed escape I don’t what will. Enter digital detox, a concept I didn't just read about but decided to live out.
Personal Revelation: A Reality Check
Just before Christmas, a reality check made me hit pause. My phone usage was averaging 4.5 hours a day – and that was just the tip of the iceberg. PC, TV... my life was wrapped in screens.
Social Media Distress
But it wasn't just about the screen hours (which alone is pretty serious), social media, once my go-to for relaxation, has for a while now served up a daily diet of distress. Violent images and sad news that for some reason everyone has to repost, possibly out of a hidden fear of coming across as totally superficial, like’ yeah I'm having a good time but I'm not insensitive to the pain that exists in the world’. So here are some animals running to escape wildfires, right after a sunset photo, and here are some children in war zones between a brunch photo and an empowerment quote, and here's the new femicide in between beauty tutorials. All of this caught me completely off guard, not coming with a trigger warning - as they- should - and left me feeling sad, angry, helpless and emotionally exhausted. All that on a casual morning. Not good.
Decision to Detox
You know what? I never signed up for that nor I believe it serves me. So I decided to break this vicious cycle. I had already thought about taking a few days to rest between the holidays because I'd been on the verge of a burn out over the past few months with the whole Wellmedy 're-branding' and journal creation, so I was going to take it a step further and uninstall all social media from my mobile. I would focus on what really matters. I would spend the holiday like the early 00s.
Navigating the Detox: Challenges and Discoveries
The initial days of detox were marked by some startling revelations. If you have quitted smoking or break any other habit, the following will seem very familiar. Struggling to focus on things I love doing (and no I was not always like that), restlessness almost fidgety and a feeling as if my brain was craving a fix.
On the first day I couldn't stand it and entered insta from my PC. Sound like an addiction to you? Me too! To these I want to add the countless times throughout the day I caught myself reaching for the phone and having to mentally repeat "there's nothing there for you to see". It was obvious, I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
So, I leaned into the discomfort, shifted my focus and embraced what I could do (instead of what I thought I would be doing). Nature walks, journaling, playing with my dog, cooking, catching up with friends, and yes, even taking naps became my new normal. Generally, I stayed active because as soon as I sat I was missing something. Unless I was sleeping. Gradually though, I felt my energy returning and my mind decluttering.
The Science Behind Screen Time and Mental Health
Turns out, there's a ton of science backing up what I was feeling.
Effects on Attention Span
Excessive screen time can mess with your attention span, mood, and overall mental health. Studies, like the one from Stanford University, have shown that constant digital stimulation can fragment our attention span and impede our ability to focus.
Limiting Social Media Use
On the other hand, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day leads to significant improvements in well-being, and decreased feelings of loneliness and depression. Now isn't that interesting?
The Benefits of Digital Detox: A Personal Transformation
By the second week of my detox, the clouds started to lift.
Improved Mood and Stress Reduction
My mood improved drastically, and I felt less stressed. I was in control of the news I consumed, choosing to stay informed on my terms.
Reclaimed Focus and Creativity
Mornings began with journaling, not Instagram. My ability to focus made a comeback, allowing me to dive into movies and books without the itch to check my phone. I was creating more, feeling more, living more. It felt like I'd cleared some mental clutter and reconnected with what mattered most.
Practical Digital Detox Tips
If you have reached this point of the article I am going to go ahead and assume that you find the idea of a digital detox at least intriguing.
Small Changes, Big Impact
Embarking on a digital detox doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach to reap the benefits or start improving your well-being. It’s all about small changes that fit your lifestyle. In fact the smaller and easier the change the better the chances to succeed and last longer. So start small and choose what works for you.
Manage Notifications and Screen Time
Turn off non-essential notifications. This simple step reduces the constant urge to check your phone. Start by silencing social media alerts, leaving only crucial communications like calls or texts.
Take Social Media Breaks
If uninstalling apps feels too drastic, try logging out after each use. The extra step to log in can deter mindless scrolling.
Rearrange Your Apps
Move addictive apps away from your home screen. This out-of-sight approach can lessen the temptation to open them automatically.
Screen Time Tracking
Both iOS and Android have built-in tools to track app usage. Set daily limits for apps you tend to overuse.
Use Blocking Tools
Use apps like #blockit (only for iOS),Stay Focused: Site & App Focused (Android), SelfControl (for MAC) and StayFocused Google Chrome extension for PC to limit access to distracting sites. These tools can help you stay focused, especially during work hours.
Turn Your Screen To Greyscale Mode
Turning your screen greyscale makes it much less appealing, almost boring. This can significantly reduce the time spent on activities like browsing social media or playing games. You can find instructions for iOS here and for Android here.
Establish Phone-Free Zones and Boundaries
Establish areas in your home where phones are not allowed, like the bedroom or dining table. This encourages more present and mindful interactions. Alternatively you can establish phone free activities, like lunch, dinner, the hour before you go to sleep or wake. Whatever works for you
Challenges and Overcoming Them
Reducing screen time is challenging, especially when our work and personal lives are so intertwined with digital devices. To overcome these challenges:
- Establish Clear Boundaries: Separate work from personal life by setting clear time frames for using digital devices for each.
- Set Specific Times for Digital Consumption: Allocate certain times of the day for checking emails, social media, or news. This helps prevent the constant influx of information from overwhelming you.
- Find Non-Digital Hobbies: Engage in activities that don't involve screens, like reading a physical book, gardening, or crafting.
- Mindfulness Practices: Incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine to enhance focus and reduce the urge to constantly check digital devices.
- Mindful Scrolling: Be conscious of why you're on your device. If you're scrolling out of habit, take a moment to pause and ask if this is the best use of your time.
My New Approach to Social Media and Technology
Upon returning to the digital world, my perspective had shifted.
This break served as the perfect reminder that these platforms are supposed to be just fun tools to promote my work, create, and engage with purpose and mindfully, and have realized that I don't need more than an hour daily to do so. I also don’t need more than an hour daily to learn the news. For me that’s enough and guess what, I don't even want to be amongst the first to learn something. Especially if it is completely out of my control and there is nothing I can do.
Focus on Creation and Connection
My real job and passion is to create, write, and connect with people and ideas. Allocating specific tech time allows for mental space to pursue my true passions. As for my personal connections inspired by a Tom Holland interview, I adopted a new mantra: if you need to reach out to me, call. If you don't have my number, then perhaps our connection can wait until my designated tech time.
This digital detox 'journey' was ultimately a bit of a revelation for me. It reminded me of how I want to live, and where I want to spend my time, energy and attention. It's not about cutting out technology completely, but about using it in a way that adds to my life, not takes away from it. If, like myself, you catch yourself feeling often overwhelmed by the digital world, maybe this article will act as a reminder or the boost you’ve been waiting for to take a step back and try one of the smallest possible changes. Trust me, it can be a real game-changer and the reset you need to improve your mental health and overall well-being.