Whether you call it a “digital Sabbath,” vacation or even a digital fast, disconnecting from technology, even for a short time, can feel really good. Greater connection to the natural world, more quality time with loved ones, better sleep, more time for self-care and the opportunity to introduce new interests into your life are just some of the benefits.
Thinking about giving it a try? Now may be just the time to experiment with unplugging for an hour, a day or whatever you can handle as the year draws to a close and you focus on what and who matters to you most.
A love-hate relationship
Misplacing your phone or accidentally leaving the house without it (gasp) can create a sense of stress and even panic. We are so accustomed to having a smartphone at all times to connect with others, engage in leisure, look up information or navigate by car and foot that we often feel adrift without one. But there is a large body of research that connects significant smartphone use with higher rates of depression and anxiety, sleep difficulties, poorer academic performance, lower work productivity and poorer quality socialization.
Concerns about personal well-being, and sometimes just feeling tired of being tethered, prompt many people to take a hiatus from their phone and other devices. According to a survey from Reviews.org, almost three-quarters of people check their phone within ten minutes of waking up. A Common Sense Media
survey of 1,000 parents and their children in 2019 found that 68% of teens bring their devices into bed and 36% wake up and check their mobile device at least once a night for reasons other than checking the time.
Just the facts
Of course, smartphones are not all bad. They help us keep in touch more easily, are great in an emergency, provide access to an amazing amount of information and can provide a huge array of apps to help you pursue and track special interests and goals. But, in addition to being linked to greater rates of depression and interference with in-person interaction, a study from UNC Healthcare finds they can also make our brains a bit lazy. When you can quickly look up any piece of information or how-to, we don’t work as hard to remember things.
A digital detox then seems like the answer. But here the data gets a little muddier. A 2021 review of 21 studies featuring more than 3,600 participants published by Sage Journals found conflicting results on the impact of a digital detox on overall well-being. Although there are promising effects on depression symptoms, the researchers couldn’t definitively conclude the same strong connection to other aspects of well-being.
That said, probably the best guide for attempting your own detox is if you feel your smartphone is interfering with things like sleep, paying attention to other activities and your ability to connect with people in person. Your own desire for a break is perhaps the best reason of all.
Expect some initial discomfort and FOMO at first. The average American adult spends three hours per day on a Smartphone and teens a whopping seven-plus hours. But if you stick with it, decreasing phone time can increase time for other pursuits.
Design your own experiment
If you’re ready to give digital disconnection a shot, these steps can help you get started.
- Define your detox. Does it only apply to your phone or do you plan to stay away from other devices as well, such as laptop or TV? Will you continue using your phone for calls and texting, but not social media or gaming? You will also need to decide how long your tech fast will last. Some people enjoy tech-free time every day, such as from dinner time on. Others take Sundays off, devote a whole weekend to unplugging or go even further. Start small and find success there before committing to a possibly stress-inducing more ambitious plan.
- Clue in others. People in your work and personal life may be accustomed to reaching you at all times. Letting them know you are taking a break can turn them into supporters (they might even want to participate) and ensure they won’t be alarmed by your online absence.
- Plan other activities. Having time to do non-tech things is a big benefit of a digital detox, but you may not know what to do at first. Carry a book or other activity with you so you have a way to occupy yourself in situations where you would normally reach for your phone. Go for a walk and actually tune into the sights and sounds around you. Meet a friend for a coffee and give them your full attention. Play a game with your kids. Fix something around the house.
- Capture your learnings. Approach this experiment like a work assignment you need to report on at its conclusion. This is an especially good time to journal. Capture the feelings you’re having during this period to track the potential benefits, as well as the most challenging parts. These insights will help you decide if you want to keep aspects of the detox and change some digital habits permanently.
Whether your digital detox becomes a bigger hurdle than you expected, or an element of self-care you want to extend, it should put you in the driver’s seat. By taking charge of your digital life, you can free up more time, energy and attention to use in ways you value most.