Why it’s Important to Try a “Digital Detox”

Whether you’re at work, hanging out with friends, or just lounging around at home, chances are that you’re digitally connected in some way or another. Technology is so ingrained in our routines that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but being constantly tethered to social media or email can be incredibly exhausting and especially difficult to step away from at the end of the day. That’s why it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your mental state when you finally put down your phone or log off for the night: Are you more stressed? Irritable? Wired?

There’s a lot of research behind the power of nighttime rituals and digital detox. Finding and sticking to a set time to start getting ready for bed by showering, picking up a book, doing a face mask, or turning on your diffuser can all send a message to your brain that work time (screen time) has come to an end and that it’s time to power down.

Of course, digital detox can be most difficult to find at the end of a high-stress day. You might still be thinking about emails that haven’t been answered. Or, if you’re having a difficult time with a relationship, you might be tempted to spend more time on your phone texting or engaging on social media. All of these things can make it more difficult to relax and give your mind the break it needs from technology. Dr. Juli Fraga, a licensed psychologist from San Francisco, has three core tips on how to achieve “digital detox” when you need it the most.

  1. “Give your phone a curfew!”, Fraga says. “Choose a time each day when you’ll turn your device off. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, go retro and purchase a real alarm clock for the bedroom. If it’s difficult to part ways with your device, consider turning the screen (if you have an iPhone) to greyscale.
  2. If you’re having a particularly difficult time remembering to disconnect from your phone, Dr. Fraga suggests trying not to use your phone like a computer—don’t surf the web, read the news or blog articles on your tiny screen. It can be especially tempting given how much time we spend on our phones as opposed to desktop computers, but being disciplined about what you use your phone for can make a big difference.
  3. This one’s especially tricky, but Fraga tells those who struggle to disconnect to try and refrain from using Instagram. Maybe it’s just for a night, maybe it’s for a week—see how long you can go without checking back in on apps.

It’s not just a mental or emotional health issue: Fraga says that too much screen time can affect overall emotional health by contributing to loneliness: “We may think we’re connecting with friends/family members by pressing ‘like’ or ‘love’ on their Facebook or Instagram photos but this is not true connection. We can also become addicted to our devices which is an even better reason to use them responsibly.” Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone to idly “catch up” with your college roommate by scrolling through your Instagram feed, try to remind yourself to carve out time to grab a cup of coffee with them instead. Your relationships (and health!) both benefit, so it’s really a win-win.

Words by Oset Babur, photo by Santiago de Hoyos.