Have you ever felt a little bit too connected to the rest of the world? Do you wake up and immediately disappear into a cycle of social media apps, news sources and targeted advertisements that seem to follow you throughout the day? If so, you’re not alone.
Technological advancements are happening faster and faster with each passing year, integrating gadgets like smartphones and tablets further into our everyday routines. While there are countless benefits to these inventions (1), people are becoming more aware of the cost of always being connected.
Internet addiction is very real (2). Well before Twitter and iPhones began to dominate popular culture, researchers, academics and behavioral therapists started recognizing a problem (3). When the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published in 2013, psychiatrists listed internet addiction disorder as a condition recommended for further study (4).
You might not feel addicted to the internet per se, but there are plenty of reasons to think about a digital detox. If you need some help unplugging, consider these tips.
1. Cut Back in Small Increments
Depending on how ingrained your devices are in your everyday life, you might experience a bit of difficulty getting the process started. You might find yourself saying, “I’ll start tomorrow,” so many times that you feel like you’re never going to switch off. This is because suddenly breaking free from sites like Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle can fill you with a sense of something missing from your life. Cold turkey might be an effective method when you’re looking to quit smoking, but this is slightly different. Baby steps and small cuts will go much farther (5).
While you might not believe you are addicted to the internet, cutting everything out at once might be too much of a shock. It may sound strange, but there are documented cases of people entering states of psychosis due to unplugging (6). Whether you’re afraid of having a bad reaction or you worry that FOMO levels will shoot through the roof if you’re not glued to your phone, you should introduce changes to your digital habits at a pace that works for you.
2. Deactivate or Delete a Social Media Account
Social media is one of the biggest issues people have with the internet these days. When first introduced in their current form a little over a decade ago, social media websites seemed innocuous enough. Cut to the present, and the news is flooded with politicians fighting on Twitter (7), Snapchat getting into one PR nightmare after another (8) and Facebook essentially mining and selling off user information in secrecy for years (9). When looking for a digital detox, you undoubtedly have considered removing yourself from the social media equation altogether.
Here’s the truth: there is no such thing as “limiting social media usage.” Sadly, it’s all or nothing. If you hold an active account, research shows you are going to log back in even if it is a subconscious action of habit. What’s worse, being depressed can increase the odds of you caving and logging back in (10). In order to break free, you need to commit to deleting an account. Luckily, with so many different sites out there, you can easily get rid of most and hold on to one to check at your leisure. Cutting back on how many accounts you have can lower the pressure to stay socially connected that these apps have instilled.
3. Get Rid of Non-Essential Apps
Take a broader look at the programs you run on your phone, computer or tablet each day. Which of these applications do you feel are essential to going about your routine? You might need to use your email app frequently for work, making it more essential than an app you use exclusively to shop. In order for you to appreciate a digital detox, you should limit yourself to apps you absolutely need.
When all is said and done, you actually don’t need any of your apps to survive. Until a phone can provide shelter, sustenance and improved health, it remains a tool for making other aspects of life easier. In determining which apps are essential, you will have an easier time cutting out any programs that only serve to distract, agitate or waste your time.
4. Read a Book Before Bed
A number of academic institutions have been putting intense research into how daily smartphone usage impacts basic functions of the body. One study that made a lot of waves revealed that the soft, blue light emitted by smartphones actually “tricks” the mind into thinking it is receiving sunlight. This confuses the body’s internal rhythms and can easily cause insomnia and other sleep issues (11).
Though you might enjoy looking at your phone while hanging around in your bed before slumber, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by cutting out this habit. Instead, grab a good old-fashioned book off the shelves. Even if you aren’t an avid reader, looking at a paper with words on it instead of a glowing box can help lull you to sleep without messing with your circadian rhythm.
5. Improve Short-Term Memory
Another great way to begin detoxing from the digital world is by actively working to improve some of the areas where technology has an adverse effect. Research in this area suggests smartphones and similar devices impair an average individual’s attention, which, in turn, compromises short-term memory storage (12). In other words, it is much harder to remember details of your day and get tasks done when you’re constantly looking at your phone.
By removing your phone from the equation for a few hours each day, you can give yourself a bit of time to restore your mental faculties to a place you’d prefer. Play brain games or write in a journal for a bit to get your mind working. A cup of green tea is packed with antioxidants and can also help to improve how your mind functions in relation to memory (13).
6. Dedicate Time to a Hobby
The idea of “free time” is kind of funny. When your life feels overwhelmingly busy, you might imagine you don’t have a second to spare. Now, try and think about how many hours you waste aimlessly scrolling through the same posts online. Adding all that time together might reveal some startling findings about how much time you would actually have for your passions if you unplugged.
Dedicating time to a hobby or skill you want to hone is the only way to get better at it. If you’ve been dying to learn a new language, play an instrument or take a painting class, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. The minutes you free up by removing yourself from the digital world can help you chase some of the dreams you’ve left sitting on the backburner.
7. Experience the World
Finally, there is a lot to be said about leaving your phone in the house and taking a long walk, run or ride (14). Often, it is far easier to lose oneself on Wikipedia than in nature. The world is a vast and varied place filled with wonders and oddities. Instead of reading about it on the internet, unplug and get out there for a bit. Though you might find yourself reaching for your phone to take pictures of everything you see, remember your mind is also a wonderful place to store a treasured moment or image.
A digital detox might seem more like a lifestyle choice, but overwhelming evidence suggests it is a great move for your health. Discover which tactic works best for you, and get ready to unplug and relax.