What is a digital detox and do you need one?

Does it seem like you’re always on your devices? Is your face constantly glued to a screen? Nowadays it seems like we have to be constantly connected to our phones to understand what is going on in the world and with our friends and family. Prolonged use of electronic devices can leave us feeling drained and overwhelmed, however.
Because the connected world can sometimes seem all-consuming, many of you may have resolved to be more mindful about your screen time. So, let us tell you about this method to unplug or pause your digital intake a rediscover the beauty of the world on the other side of the screen.

by Montanna Owens
Smiling young woman sits on couch with glasses and books on table
A digital detox can be good for your physical and mental well-being

What is a digital detox?

Simply put, a digital detox is to unplug, pause, and focus. The meaning of a digital detox is to reevaluate your boundaries with digital media or to completely go cold turkey for a certain amount of time.

Since our world is connected more than ever through devices and screens, the excessive use of electronics can result in sleeping problems, inadequate time management, major decrease in physical activity, and other issues such as migraines or headaches. For these reasons many people find themselves needing some time away from their devices or limiting their time spent on non-productive apps. Taking a break from all that screen time – for a day, a week, or even longer – is sometimes called a “digital detox.”

At this time of year, it is common to find someone on social media talking about their “digital detox” which can be for many reasons. This detox is most commonly stepping away from social media, as everyone has found themselves one time or another scrolling for hours without realizing it. Social media tends to have that effect on people – there is always new content to see as people post things every minute of every hour of every day. No one can ever reach the bottom; it just keeps going!

Digital detox benefits

Digital detox is very helpful when it comes to combatting some of the unpleasant side effects of too much time spent online. The benefits of your digital detox can depend on what you were hoping to achieve from the detox in the first place. For example, if you wanted to be more productive, limiting your screen time would help with that. Six overarching benefits you can hope to receive from a digital detox are:
  1. Less stress from digital interruptions
  2. Improved focus on present activities and responsibilities
  3. Enhanced sleep by reducing exposure to blue light
  4. Time to do things you enjoy, including exercise
  5. Reduced screen headaches
  6. Relieve neck and back pain caused by hunching over screen

How to do a digital detox

Doing a digital detox is not easy at all. Let’s be honest, some of us are totally addicted to our phones and the digital world held within them. That’s why we are giving you a digital detox how to so that you set yourself up for a successful digital detox.
  1. Set a goal: Define exactly what it is you would like to digital detox from and for how long. Your goal could be just reducing your screen time or limiting social media use to once per week. Whatever your goal is, define it from the beginning.
  2. Choose a duration: How long do you want to digital detox? Begin with a time frame that is manageable. You can extend the time as the detox continues.
  3. Let others know: Now that you’ve set your digital boundaries, you should inform your friends and family in case they try to contact you outside of your designated detox time. This also helps them respect your boundaries.
  4. Find offline activities: Disconnected and ready to recharge with the things around you. Find some activities or hobbies you can take up in this offline time. This will help you be more productive and not think about the fact that you’re on a digital detox.
  5. Reflect: Think about your digital detox experience: how do you feel after? Maybe this can be a regular routine every few weeks to counter any effects of too much screen time.

Pro tip: Should I include email in my digital detox?

When it comes to your email, we would suggest to not detox cold turkey as many important correspondences happen through email. And it goes without saying that you can’t just quit your work email! Instead, if you are doing a digital detox, we would recommend you set boundaries on your email usage. For example, you can have a window in which you will check emails. You might check and reply to work emails first thing in the morning, immediately following your lunch break, and in the late afternoon, and private emails once each evening. Outside of those windows, your email program would stay closed.

For your work email, you could set up an automatic reply letting people know the times they can reach you by email and giving them an alternative contact, like a phone number, that they could use to reach you in truly urgent cases. Many people have found that scheduling specific times of the day for emails helps boost their productivity, so if this approach works well for you during your digital detox, you can consider maintaining it in the long run.

Digital detox apps

There’s an app for that! There are many digital detox apps out there to help you manage your digital intake or take a break. With the various apps you can set up timers, boundaries, and accountability features.
  1. OFFTIME: Just like when you clock out from work and are no longer expected to perform work duties, this is essentially that same principle but for your digital use. You can set a time for a few hours or minutes to go about your day without the interruptions of your phone. You can also set up which contact’s calls will come through while you’re having your off time.
  2. Offscreen: Ever thought to yourself “I don’t use my phone that much”? Well, guess no longer –because Offscreen will track how often you are scrolling, picking up your phone, and using it while walking. This is the ultimate screen time tracker if you want to get a better picture of your screen usage.
  3. Forest: Talk about accountability! This app won’t silence your other social apps; however, it will give you in incentive for getting your tasks done. The incentive comes in the form of a virtual seed that grows into a tree as you complete your task without using your phone.
  4. AppDetox: Use AppDetox as a multi-purposed digital detox app as you can choose which applications you can access and how many times. You can restrict certain applications while only leaving on the applications you need to be productive. You can also choose a specific time of day when you can access other apps that do not boost your productivity.

Bonus explainer: Turn off notifications for better focus

Even if you don’t want to go all the way with a full digital detox, there is one sure-fire way to use your phone more mindfully: Turn off or mute non-essential notifications! Without the constant pings, vibrations, and pop-ups of push notifications, it is far easier to ignore your phone and stay focused on the task at hand. You don’t even need to worry about missing an important message from your kid or your colleague, because you can customize notifications to let the truly important information through. To find out how, see our deep dive: What are push notifications and what is the best way to manage them?

Should you or should you not digital detox – that is the question. Our answer is well… it can’t hurt! Especially if you follow the how-to steps and pair your digital detox with an app we think you will see the benefits even if it is just being more in the moment and present. Before you go off to tell everyone that you’ve started a digital detox, let us know what you thought about this article below.

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