In today’s society, we are used to being constantly plugged in. With smartphones at our fingertips along with laptops, tablets, gaming systems, TVs, and even smart watches, it is easy to get lost in our devices.
In fact, most of us are completely glued to technology. A recent survey found that 26% of Americans report that they go online “almost constantly.”1 Another study showed that the average American checks their phone 80 times per day—once every 12 minutes.2
So what happens when we become so consumed by our digital devices that we are on them almost constantly?
While the digital age can provide us with a lot of benefits—like letting us stay connected with loved ones, giving us unlimited resources for learning, and allowing us an outlet for creativity—it also opens up the doors to a lot of potential problems.
The harmful effects of excessive screen use
Excessive screen time can harm our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Some common issues that can occur when digital habits get out of hand include:
- Weight gain. According to researchers, higher amounts of screen time may increase your risk for becoming obese3 4 5
- Mood disorders. Research has linked internet and smartphone use with mood disorders like anxiety and depression.6 7
- Sleep issues. Screen time is highly disruptive to sleep. Our devices emit bright blue light that upsets the 24-hour biological clock that governs our sleep-wake cycle.8 Studies show that more screen time is associated with less time spent sleeping and poorer quality sleep.9
And that is just the start of a long list of potential risks. Technology use can also impact everything from our food choices to our self-esteem, from our social skills to our ability to be productive at work.10
As a society, we have become addicted to our devices. And as a result, our health and well-being is hurting.
Clearly, many of us could benefit from taking a step back from our screens. One effective way to do just that is to try a digital detox.
What is a digital detox?
A digital detox is when you intentionally refrain from using your digital devices for a period of time. It is an opportunity to look away from your screens and turn your focus elsewhere.
Unplugging from devices during a detox can take many forms, and they don’t necessarily have to be very extreme.
You may choose to remove yourself completely from all technology for a long period of time (perhaps several days or even weeks). Alternatively, you may choose to take mini-breaks from electronics throughout the day, such as when you wake up in the morning, when you are spending time with family, or during meals.
However you choose to do it, taking time to disconnect from your devices allows you to reconnect with yourself, your environment, and the people around you.
Time for a digital detox? The 8 signs
1. You panic when you don’t know where your phone is.
What will you do without it? How will you keep up with what’s going on? What will happen if you miss messages or posts? If this is the kind of thought process that goes through your mind when you are away from your phone for even a minute, then you may be in desperate need of a true unplug.
2. You bring your phone everywhere with you—even to the dinner table and the bathroom
Do you have your phone in your hand at all times? Does it sit next to you at dinner so you can check notifications while eating? Do you even scroll through social media feeds while on the toilet? If so, that should serve as a warning sign that you may be overly attached to your phone.
3. You rarely read an article or story from beginning to end
Many people find themselves switching between content, social media profiles, and articles without really taking it all in or reading anything fully. This can be an indicator that you have started to use technology in an unconscious and unintentional manner.11
4. You feel jealous of others and compare your life to what you see on social media
If you start to feel bad about yourself and judge your life based on how it stacks up to others’ social media profiles, then you may have developed problematic social media use.11 Real life isn’t the highlight reel you see on social media feeds. A detox can help you become more present now, in the life you are actually living today.
5. Your loved ones complain that they never have your full attention
If you’ve heard comments like “You are always on your phone,” or “I think you like your phone more than you like me,” then pay attention. This kind of pattern can damage your personal relationships and hurt your social well-being.
6. You can feel the physical effects of screen time (like blurry eyes, a sore neck, headaches, or backaches)
When your physical body is being affected by your digital habits, then that is a sure sign that you are using electronics too much. Your body deserves better, so treat it well and give it a break.
7. You get annoyed when you don’t get a response to a message, comment, or posting right away
Has your patience for responses gone down significantly? If you don’t get a like or a reply within seconds, do you hit refresh and refresh until you do? This kind of obsession with constant input might be a sign that you are too invested in the world inside of your devices. A detox can help you reinvest your focus into the real world around you.
8. Electronics show up on a ZYTO scan
If you get a ZYTO biocommunication scan, or bioscan, regularly, you may notice that devices which generate electromagnetic fields consistently show up as out of range. The entire “Electromagnetic” category may show up as outside the normal range, and other electronic items within this category such as cell phone, computer, and TV may show up as out of balance as well if you are using these devices excessively.
If any of the statements above sound like you, then it may be time to take stock of your screen time. When your habits impact your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, then it is probably well past time to cut back on your electronic use.
Practical tips for limiting your screen time
A full-on digital detox for days at a time (no scrolling, swiping, emailing, commenting, posting, messaging, gaming, notification checking, etc.) isn’t realistic for many people. So it is important to think about a strategy that is going to work for you to encourage yourself to use your screens less.
Some tips for limiting your digital time include:
- Put your phone in a bowl or basket during dinner, movie time, breakfast, or other chosen activities. Ask your family and friends to join you in leaving your phones in a dedicated space.
- Designate a few rooms in the house as “No Screens Allowed.” Whether it is the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, or living room, choose a few places in the house where you agree not to use phones, computers, gaming systems, or TVs.
- Leave your phone outside of the bedroom at night. This is a great tip if the first thing you do in the morning is scroll through your phone, and it’s also the last thing you do before bed. Take your phone out of the bedroom (or at least keep it off of the bedside table), so that you will be less tempted to reach for it with your head on the pillow.
- Set timers for “airplane mode” breaks. Try setting timers for yourself when you put your phone on airplane mode and set it aside for 15 or 30 minutes at a time. Start with once or twice per day. You can then gradually build this time up as you get used to the habit
- Plan a device-free retreat. Make plans to take a mini getaway, with the intention of using your electronics as sparingly as possible while away. Make an agreement with your travel partners, and spend the day or weekend taking in the sights, enjoying activities together, and exploring.
Disconnect to reconnect – will you give a detox a try?
Doing any form of digital detox is a great way to give your screens a rest and give yourself a reboot at the same time.
It allows you to disconnect from electronics and reconnect with what is happening in real life. This can be really helpful in boosting your mood, strengthening your relationships, helping you sleep better, and so much more.
Plus, it also allows you the chance to reconnect with screen-free activities that bring you joy.
At first, you may feel at a loss for what to do and not quite sure how to occupy your time without your devices. But there are so many wonderful activities that you can devote your time and attention to when they aren’t directed at a screen.
During your detox time, try:
- Taking a walk outside
- Doing your favorite hobby
- Reading a book
- Listening to a podcast or audiobook
- Having a conversation with someone, over the phone or in person
- Meditating or breathing deeply
- Creating something
- Doing art
- Playing music
Take the chance to disconnect so that you can reconnect with what is important to you. Your mind, body, and soul deserve it.
About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
1. Perrin, Andrew and Jiang, Jingjing. “About a quarter of U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online.” Pew Research Center. Pewresearch.org
2. Kenney, E.L. & S.L. Gortmaker. “United States Adolescents’ Television, Computer, Videogame, Smartphone, and Tablet Use: Associations with Sugary Drinks, Sleep, Physical Activity, and Obesity.” The Journal of Pediatrics 182 (2017): 144-149.
3. “TV, Screen Time and Health.” Minnesota Department of Health. Health.state.mn.us.
4. Cook, Jia-Rui. “Digital technology can be harmful to your health.” UCLA Newsroom. Newsroom.ucla.edu.
5. Kuss, D.J. & O. Lopez-Fernandez. “Internet addiction and problematic Internet use: A systematic review of clinical research.” World Journal of Psychiatry 6, no. 1 (2016): 143-176.
6. Kadir, D., A. Mehmet, & A. Abdullah. “Relationship of smartphone use severity with sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in university students.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions 4, no. 2 (2015).
7. Chinoy, E.D., J.F. Duffy, & C.A. Cziesler. “Unrestricted evening use of light‐emitting tablet computers delays self‐selected bedtime and disrupts circadian timing and alertness.” Physiological Reports 6, no. 10 (2018).
8. Christensen, M.A., L. Bettencourt, L. Kaye, et al. “Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep.” PLoS One 11, no. 11 (2016).
9. Duke, E. & C. Montag. “Smartphone addiction, daily interruptions and self-reported productivity.” Addictive Behaviors Reports 6 (2017): 90-95.
10. Altuwairiqi, M., T. Kostoulas, G. Powell, & R. Ali. “Problematic Attachment to Social Media: Lived Experience and Emotions.” Bournemouth University Engineering and Social Informatics Group Research (2019).