For the most part, the word ‘detox’ comes with positive connotations, usually in reference to ridding oneself of unhealthy substances. We are constantly buying into juice detoxes, alcohol detoxes, sugar detoxes, and the list goes on, all with the aim of flushing ourselves out and making us feel good. However, when it comes to digital detoxes, some of us just can’t seem to put down the screen.
Why do we need to have a digital detox?
Screen times are at an all-time high and we are now suffering the consequences. I think more than ever, engaging digitally has become a massive problem for most of us. Lockdown left us with no choice but to turn to our digitals for work, socialising and pleasure. We have become reliant on dopamine dumps (a chemical related to our instant gratification in our reward and pleasure centre of the brain) and with that comes comparison, “the not good enough” narrative, body image issues, procrastination and the list goes on.
Excessive use of things like social media can not only cause a general dissatisfaction with life, but also increases the risk of developing various mental health issues. Several studies have found a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
Social media often promotes negative experiences such as comparison or feeling inadequate about one’s life or appearance but oftentimes we don’t associate our unhappiness or negative feelings with our digital habits, so then it becomes a vicious cycle.
Why some people struggle to put the phone down
Unfortunately, most social media apps are deliberately designed to become addictive to users. In 2006, leading technology engineer Aza Raskin designed ‘infinite scroll’, one of the features of many apps that is now seen as highly habit forming.
Most of us are familiar with this mechanism, allowing us to endlessly swipe down through content without having to click. Mr Raskin said the innovation kept users looking at their phones far longer than necessary. This is just one example of how our digital devices can become addictive, often mimicking other addictive devices like poker machines.
Another addictive aspect is social media ‘likes’, seen predominantly on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. The issue with the like button mechanism is that for many, we base our own sense of self-worth on the number of ‘likes’ we generate from our followers. This is incredibly dangerous for our self-esteem, constantly pushing us to search for validation digitally.
‘Is this bringing me closer to or further away from the person I want to be?’
How can we kickstart a digital detox?
- Set time boundaries
Set a time limit on your phone for different apps, limit yourself to 1 or 2 episodes of your favourite show. Or make a point to look at the time and set a stopwatch for 15 mins (or whatever the amount of time you think is fair).
- Try habit stacking
Habit stacking (‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear) is a term which refers to the idea that by clustering the habits we want to develop and sustain; we stand more chance of remembering them by associating related tasks with each other. A great way to implement habit stacking when it comes to digitally detoxing is pairing up something you want to do (screen time) with something you need to do (folding laundry). That way the only time you put energy into digitals is when you’re benefiting in some other way.
- Be mindful about your practices
Every time you go to engage digitally, I want you to ask yourself, ‘is this bringing me closer to or further away from the person I want to be?’. The aim should be to limit our time spent on screens to things that are benefiting us and eliminating the aimless scrolling. It’s a cognitive reminder to stop investing time into pointless things that are probably just going to make us feel worse about ourselves.
Digital detoxing can then allow you to unplug and reconnect with the present moment and engage in mindful activities such as exercise, cooking, or reading.
Go offline and notice how mentally “online” you feel!
Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology, which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.