Modern life involves processing a lot of information, and dealing with a lot of day-to-day pressure. Every now and again it can feel like it’s all getting too much. If you’re feeling stressed, strung out and overwhelmed, it might be worth considering whether your phone could be part of the problem…
Phones are great. Everyone loves feeling connected – and a good cat meme. But they also have their issues… Earlier this year, the BBC reported that people are now spending a third of their waking hours on mobile apps - averaging 4.8 hours a day. And increasingly, experts are recognising compulsive use of our phones for gaming, social media consumption and shopping as a behavioural addiction.
It's an addiction that can affect adults and young people, and which can increase anxiety, disrupt sleep patterns and impact mood, reduce impulse control, impair social interactions, and limit our ability to concentrate.
If you find yourself compulsively checking Facebook throughout the day, if picking up your phone and getting on an app is the first thing you do when you wake up, if you panic when you can’t find it, or find yourself staying up late idly scrolling – it could be time for a Digital Detox.
What is a Digital Detox?
A Digital Detox is a period of time where you deliberately choose to disconnect from your phone, apps, emails and other devices. It’s a chance to step away from all the noise and input and rest your mind for a bit.
How can I tell if I need a Digital Detox?
Here’s some key questions to ask yourself. If they ring a bell, it might be worth thinking about a Digital Detox.
- Can you remember the last time your phone wasn’t next to you?
- Is checking your phone or apps the first thing you do in the morning, and the last thing you do at night?
- Do you find yourself checking social media apps several times a day?
- Do you ever lose track of time when you’re on your phone?
- Are you looking for and reading specific information or scrolling randomly?
- Do you use your phone at the same time as consuming other media – for instance television?
- Do you check your phone during mealtimes?
- Can you leave your phone when you hear a notification, or are you compelled to look at it immediately?
- Do you find you’re doing less of your other hobbies, like reading books or listening to music, and are you sitting on your phone/apps instead?
- Are you neglecting other areas of your life – like friendships or work or household chores in favour of your phone?
- Do you stay up late, scrolling?
- Do you ever conceal your phone use from anyone – at home or at work?
- Do you ever feel envious of other’s pictures/images/stories?
- Do you ever get headaches or blurred vision from scrolling?
- Do you find your attention span for taking in information or concentrating on one thing is worse than it used to be?
What does a Digital Detox involve?
The first step in any Digital Detox is to be realistic. Our phones are our satnavs, address books, work aids, social spaces and emergency contact devices. Turning yours off or leaving it at home probably isn’t going to be possible. But there’s plenty of other, less drastic measures you can take to take a break from the digital world.
1. Pay attention to how your apps make you feel
A great way to start your Digital Detox is by paying attention to how your apps REALLY make you feel. Are you getting a feel-good buzz, or are you feeling oppressed by the need to scroll and consume more/do more to get the same feeling? Do you feel good when you do put down your phone, or does it make you tired/grumpy? Try keeping a diary of when you’re using apps, and how you’re feeling at the time, and afterwards.
2. Put away your phone during mealtimes
A good step is to set some phone-free times or zones in your house – and the table is a great place to start. Try putting your phone in another room while you cook and eat, so you’re free of interference and temptation.
3. Keep your phone out of your bedroom
1 in 4 people are thought to have trouble sleeping because they spend too long on their phones before bed. Although many of us use our phones as our alarm clocks, you can still set yourself phone-rules for the bedroom, including banning apps that aren’t directly linked to sleep or relaxation (or waking up on time). So you can listen to music, white noise or meditation tracks - but no news, games or social media once you cross the threshold.
4. Set a social media timer
If you absolutely have to have a daily social media fix, set an alarm for 20 minutes, once a day. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in your newsfeed and lose track of time – or keep dipping in and out several times a day.
Moderation is the key. Studies have shown that in general, people who use social media excessively are unhappy with their own lives. But people who used it a moderate amount were the happiest – even in comparison to non-users.
5. Rationalise your newsfeed
It’s a great idea to weed your social media apps, so you limit the number of sources and amount of information you’re taking in. Ditch anything or anyone that gives you keyboard-warrior-rage, or doesn’t bring you joy. Yes, you might get stuck in your own feedback bubble, but you might also get to relax and enjoy it.
6. Delete your worst apps (temporarily)
If Instagram is your social media Achilles heel, it’s time to remove the app from your home screen. It’s much harder to click on it in automatic pilot mode if you have to re-download it first. Just that bit of distance can make all the difference in breaking your habit.
7. Stop multi-screening
Make a rule that you can only look at one screen at a time – so if you’re watching TV you’re watching it actively, not scrolling at the same time.
8. Turn off push notifications
If you find it impossible not to check every time an app alerts you, turn off notifications. You can check your messages in your own time, and not be a slave to the ping.
9. Set up Do Not Disturb
You can set your phone to Do Not Disturb mode – especially in the evenings and overnight. That means that you can feel connected during the day, but get a break from it all at night.
10. Track your progress
It’s well worth keeping a track of your progress. Although it seems counter-intuitive, there are phone features and apps that can help you monitor your screen time, and see how your Digital Detox is actually going. Keep on making a note in your diary about how you feel, so you can see if your Detox is making a difference.
11. Do something else
A Digital Detox is a great opportunity to reconnect to offline hobbies. Use what would have been your scrolling time for something else. That could be doing some exercise, calling a friend, picking up a paper book, reading a magazine, painting, sorting, or listening to music.
Having quiet time in your own head without filling it with your phone can feel strange at first, and it may take some getting used to. One thing to try could be some mindfulness, helping you learn how to centre yourself in the moment and connect to your body and your surroundings.
12. Keep it up for a month
It’s no good staying off social media for a couple of days and rewarding yourself with hours of scrolling on day three. Truly breaking a habit can take anywhere from 18 – 254 days. Your Digital Detox should last at least a month – and preferably two.
At the end of that time you can check your usage, your diary entries, and judge what difference it’s made to you – and how you want to use your phone in the future.
Screens are not inherently evil or bad for you. There’s lots of great things about our phones – as long as we’re controlling them and not the other way around.