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How to Do a Digital Detox

A digital detox is any period of time that you choose to refrain from using your electronic devices with the objective of reducing stress, improving focus, and spending quality time with your friends and family in the physical world.

It may seem impossible to toss aside your smartphone or tablet and turn off your computer or television for a few days—or even just a few hours!  We get it. These days most of us are in a relationship with our devices, but given all the evidence, I think we can safely say that for the most part, it is a toxic one.

They drain you, they take a toll on your physical and mental health, and at the end of the day leaving them behind or losing them can feel like an attempt at pulling out your organs.

Typically an American spends four hours watching the television and over seven on devices, according to a Cleveland Clinic report. Like in any healthy, long-lasting relationship, mental health experts recommend to get away from the screens every once in a while, breathe under the clear skies, walk on the grass, meditate, and not worry about the incessant pings, dongs, social media updates, Netflix, and Hulu, et al.

Signs that You May Need a Digital Detox

Apart from the visible anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out) when the Facebook shuts down for an hour, for example, how do you know if you could use a digital detox? Are you experiencing any of the following after issues that can occur with overuse?

  • You’re more irritable
  • Poor attention span
  • Feel insecure
  • Poor sleep
  • Depression
  • Uncontrollable urge to consume social media
  • Aggressive emotional reaction to the material shown in the media
  • Ignoring responsibilities at work or home
  • No interest in meeting people offline
  • Lower productivity and engagement

Benefits of a Digital Detox

Our grandparents didn’t live distracted lives. Their relationships remained wholesome and social lives untied to devices. Constant exposure to screens has taken a toll on our productivity, attention span, relationships, and overall health in ways we are yet to decipher completely.

For example, research finds that overuse of electronic devices, especially smartphones, can actually produce changes in brain waves. Every reaction to social media posts releases dopamine in your brain, an effect similar to what has been seen in addiction to drugs such as cocaine. A good digital detox can help us undo this damage to some degree.

Better focus. When you are not being distracted by constant pings, the outcome is more focus and attention to whatever it is that you are doing. For a generation that is immersed in virtual experiences, it may take some culturing of the mind to bring the focus back to the present moment, even while they are on a digital detox. It is a good idea to pair up a digital detox with a deep dive into meditation and spirituality to deepen the benefits.

Reduces stress. Unrelenting exposure to ‘disaster’ reporting, negative news coverage, disturbing information coming in through media and social media from the moment you wake up until the end of the day can lead to an increase in stress levels, difficulties in getting deep sleep, and cause anxiety. Consuming negative news material can activate the flight and fight mode in your nervous system, causing the body to release stress hormones like cortisol. Taking some time off of the news cycle can regulate elevated stress levels, improve moods and help you calm your nerves.

More meaningful social relationships. For many of us, our relationship with our devices has nearly crippled our ability to make meaningful connections outside of the digital world, especially in post-pandemic times. Intentionally staying away from the devices and instead choosing to invest that time in connecting with friends and family in physical spaces can be highly rewarding for the mind and body. Without your devices you are inclined to interact more with the people around you, take more interest in the conversations, and form deeper bonds that support emotional well-being and life satisfaction.

More time and self-control. The need to keep checking and rechecking your device for social media updates or emails can become a compulsive habit for many. You find yourself reaching for your phone whenever you have a few minutes to yourself, only to spend the time scrolling TikTok, FB, or Instagram feeds endlessly. The worst part is, you probably gained nothing meaningful from the scrolling activity and yet you could not help it. Unplugging for a while gives you more time to spend on diverse pursuits in the real world like learning a new skill, picking up a sport, art form, or simply reading.

By engaging in a digital detox from time to time, you can regain control over how much and how often you engage with your device or use social media.

How to Digital Detox

There are a number of ways you can practice unplugging from time to time.

Step 1. Zero in on the problem. You need to know the exact problem you are trying to deal with here. Is it the overuse of your smartphone? Is it too much news that you consume? Is it the endless stream of emails? Or is it addiction to social media and lack of control that is the pain point? It will help you quantify the outcome at the end of the detox.

Step 2. Goal setting. Based on your findings in step 1, you can set your goals. Make sure these goals are achievable and yet do not affect work or study. You can decide if you want to completely stop using a particular device/app/medium or just reduce it and keep it manageable. Do you want to do it all day, or a few times for a specific period of the day? For example, if you find yourself fending off the urge to keep checking your social media feeds, you can decide to log out of your accounts once a week.

Step 3. Time-bound vows. Spiritual master and Art of Living founder, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, to break bad habits, tie your vows to a specific period of time. For example, instead of saying, I want to quit social media for good, you can commit to staying off social media for a week or two or twice a week or maybe six hours a day, based on what seems doable for you to begin with. Gurudev says, even if you fail once or twice, start again from the beginning and renew your vow.

Step 4. Find a support group. If you think doing a detox on your own can make you weak, you can start with first declaring your goals to your family, friends, or partners. Ideally, get them on the detox bandwagon—the more the merrier. You can also suggest ways in which they can support you in achieving your goals—reminders, reprimands, positive reinforcement, interventions, or feedback.

Step 5. Measure your success. It is essential to be able to measure your success in this. You must see for yourself, the changes in the number of hours you spend on consuming news or social media or watching Netflix after the digital detox. You should also see if the compulsive tendencies have reduced or if they continue to be as strong as before? Make sure you do not switch from one digital habit to another in the name of digital detox. Total unplugging from time to time is ideal for giving your mind, eyes, and body complete rest.

It is a good idea to analyze what worked for you in the process and what didn’t. What were the most difficult patterns to break and what were you able to do more easily with decent change in behavior? Can you make it more challenging and interesting for yourself? What was the change in your state of mind and emotions before and after the detox? This information will help you craft your next digital detox better.

Celebrate the Wins

So give it a try! It may feel nearly impossible, but the benefits—more calm, more productivity, feeling better about yourself, enriched friendships, getting better sleep, being healthier—are so worth it.

If you feel like your digital addiction is disrupting your everyday life and you’re unable to take control, talk to your doctor or a therapist. They can work with you to find the best solutions for your lifestyle.