The Impact of Digital Detox on Mental Wellbeing: Strategies for Disconnecting in a Digital Age

The Impact of Digital Detox on Mental Wellbeing: Strategies for Disconnecting in a Digital Age

In today's hyperconnected world, constant digital stimulation has become the norm. But what toll does this take on our mental health?

Digital detox: a period of time in which a person actively chooses to stop using tech devices wherever possible, including smartphones, tablets, televisions, personal computers etc, or social media and entertainment platforms. By taking part in a digital detox, you can free yourself from the stress of hyper-connectivity, reconnect with nature and everyday life, and can have some overwhelmingly positive impacts on your wellbeing. 

Whether we like it or not, technology is all around us, and although some revel more than others in todays socially-connected landscape, there is a lot of evidence to support that time away from our devices can bring us closer together in meaningful ways, reduce stress and cultivate some mental-stability. 

In this Etanics blog post, take a look through how being online 24/7 can be detrimental, and what steps we can take to avoid or overcome this modern-day phenomenon.

Understanding Digital Overload

Although, thankfully, global domination by robots remains firmly in the realm of science fiction, there is much evidence to support that the ultra-connectivity of the technological world is having negative impacts on our wellbeing. 

According to Common Sense Media, the average screen time of a teenager is over 7 hours per day! That’s a whopping 106 days in a year! At this stage of development, the brain is particularly sensitive to the world around it, adolescents can become increasingly reliant on screens and devices, which can not only impact them in the day-to-day, but affect development in later life. 

Let’s explore some of the impacts of excessive screen time: 

  • Reduced sleep: Sleep is one of the most critical areas affected by screen time. As many of us are aware, sleep is an essential part of the daily routine, to repair cells, store information and prepare the body for the day ahead. 

Your body releases melatonin, the sleep hormone, in response to darkness, which not only helps your body to fall asleep, but to stay asleep throughout the night. The light emitted from bright screens can stop the release of this hormone, making it difficult or even impossible to fall asleep at the correct time. This can leave you feeling groggy during the day, weaken your immune system and impact your ability to learn or recall information.

  • Mood: You may be surprised to learn that there is a pronounced correlation between increased screen time and increased symptoms of depression. While spending hours scrolling social media may seem harmless, it can actually be programming your mood and impacting how you feel about yourself and the world around you. You may use your screen time to neglect the areas of your life you are unhappy with, deal with stress or relieve anxiety in the moment. But the distraction from these emotions can make them feel more intense when the screen is turned off, so it’s best to deal with them as they arise, wherever possible. 

  • Digital addiction: In the most extreme cases, one may develop an addiction to their devices, including social media, video games or entertainment. There is an argument to support that the addiction of electronic devices should be classified in the same way as substance addictions – it’s serious stuff.

To explore video gaming in more detail, in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was amended to include ‘internet gaming disorder’. Defined as gaming dependencies that negatively impact the players life, the individual would have to express some of symptoms including: 

  • An intense preoccupation with gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the user is not able to play games. These symptoms can include sadness, irritability, anxiety, or depression.
  • A need for increasing amounts of gaming to satisfy the urge to play
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop playing
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities in preference for gaming
  • Continuing to play despite the harmful effects of gaming on the user’s life
  • Hiding or lying about the amount of time spent gaming
  • Using gaming to cope with negative emotions or moods

Symptoms courtesy of the United Brain Association

What are the Benefits of a Digital Detox

There are several benefits that a digital detox can have on your life, whether you choose to take a temporary break from your devices, or impose longer term boundaries on your habits. Let’s take a look:

  • Create space: A break from your devices can be a forcing function for you to evaluate the role that your devices have in your life. Over-consumption can make you lose sight of what’s important to you. This break can really help you keep an open mind when you return to your regular habits. 

  • Sleep quality: Taking time away from your devices can help your sleep routine dramatically, by alleviating some of the implications mentioned previously. You might find yourself with better concentration and focus, and reduced irritability. 

  • Reduced anxiety: Social media can be really good at telling us we’re not enough, don’t have enough and yet don’t deserve more. Having these inputs again and again can affect us in ways we don’t realise, and so by taking the time to limit time spent aimlessly scrolling, we can search for more uplifting messages, like in books, exercise or mindfulness. It can also reduce work related stress, as emails, work calls and checking up on colleagues no longer interferes with quality you-time. 

Top Tips for Implementing your Digital Detox

Whether you’re calling a hard stop on devices across the board, or implementing everyday habits to manage your connectivity, there are many approaches to making your digital detox work for you:

Set boundaries: Get clear on why you’re doing this, and what you want to come from it. This can really help you in times of temptation. 

Establish screen-free area: By actively designating areas of your home to be screen-free, you can remind yourself of your goal and engage with different activities, such as cooking, reading or yoga.

Tech-free times: You could also establish key times of the day to avoid tech, such as during meal-times, or before bed. 

Engage with the outdoors: There can be some great fulfilment to be found outside of the house, it’s also a great way to separate yourself from your devices, by leaving them at home while to go for a run or a picnic.

Pursuing hobbies: Finding some stimulating activities to fill your free time with can not only expose you to new things, but you may find that you make more time for these activities even when you go back to your regular screen allowances.

When setting any new habit, it’s important to identify what struggles you may come up against, for example FOMO (fear of missing out) or lack of accountability. If you find yourself experiencing FOMO, can you try to reframe it into an opportunity to develop and grow, discovering new things about yourself? Similarly, if you lack accountability, why not tell a friend or family member about what you’re doing, and ask if they can check in with you for progress? 

Above all else, bear in mind that it can be a challenge to confront our reliance on devices, so choose an approach that feels good to you!

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