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Digital Detox: How Unplugging Can Improve Your Mental and Physical Well-Being



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In the modern world, it seems that more and more individuals are spending more and more of their time glued to screens, constantly checking messages, and being unable to go more than five minutes without checking their social media


Though this is inherently due to the way in which these digital platforms work and try to capture an individual's attention, it is still important that the individuals themselves take the time and energy to assess their relationship with their screens and electronic devices and consider the benefits of reducing their overall screen time.


Whether the individual spends too much time on social media, a long amount of time gaming, or if they spend the majority of their time on a screen for work purposes, it is still important that they consider the harm that this may have on their mental health, as well as their physical health in general. 


Signs that you might need a break from technology


The balance between too much screen time and the abilities of modern technologies these days is still very much debated (1).


Though some individuals - especially young people and children - are still heavily criticised for the amount of time spent on screens, it is hard to deny some of the positives that are associated with technology i.e., the ease and access that it provides individuals with.


The issues come, however, when an individual becomes addicted to screens and spends a disproportionate amount of time online, looking at screens, and engaging in other online behaviours. 


For example, if a person becomes agitated or aggressive when asked to reduce screen time or stop at a certain time, then this may be a sign that they need a break from technology or need support in reducing this time. 


In addition, health issues such as eye strain or repetitive strain disorder (RSI) are common amongst individuals who spend a lot of time gaming, for example. 

If an individual shows any of these signs, then it may be a sign that they need to be supported in reducing screen time and detoxing from technology in general. 


Reasons for a Digital Detox


As mentioned above, when an individual spends too much time on screens, digital

devices, and social media, specifically, this can begin to have serious impacts on their everyday life.


For example, it may affect them socially; if they spend a large quantity of their time staring at a screen or online, then this may reduce the amount of time that they spend interacting with others. This can have serious implications for their later life, as well as their mental well-being.


In addition, it may affect them physically. If an individual is spending a large amount of time online and/or on screens, then this will reduce the amount of time that they spend engaging other activities i.e., physical activity. 

Studies show that this is the worst combination for health-related factors (high screen time and low physical activity) and can cause serious issues for their health and general wellbeing (2). 


Finally, large amounts of time online can have serious effects on mental health, increasing the risk of an individual developing a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, and sometimes addiction (3). 


How to do a digital detox


If an individual chooses to engage in a digital detox, either by reducing their overall time on screens, or by slowly cutting it out as much as possible, then there are some steps that they can take to make the process easier - on their mental health as well as in terms of the overall process. 


The following subheadings outline some of the ways in which an individual may choose to engage in a digital detox, with easy-to-follow steps that can be specialized and tailored for each individual case.


It is not essential that individuals follow all the steps listed, as they may not be suitable in each individual case, but it could be the case that specific ideas or processes associated with each of these processes are suitable for the individual, meaning that they can mix and match different ideas and concepts in a way which will make the most impact for them. 


1. Set realistic goals


To start with, an individual should be clear with themselves and with their expectations of their digital detox process.

Are they looking to reduce the amount of time they spend on screens? Are they looking to cut it out as much as they can without disrupting work/school/other aspects of their life?


For example, if an individual spends a large amount of time on a computer for work but they want to cut this time down, they should think about the necessary time spent on screens and see if there are alternatives for their work life, without compromising their responsibilities. 


If it is a young person or child that needs to reduce their screen time, then it may be suitable for their parent or guardian to create a programme that is suitable for them, without causing disruption, and by providing suitable alternatives or rewards for their progress. 


2. Create healthy boundaries and limits


Leading on from this, it is important to go through a digital detox in a suitable and healthy way for the individual. Time limits, for example, is a great way to start this process. 


This can include alternatives and rewards as mentioned above, as the individual may turn to other addictive behaviors in the place of screen time as a coping method.

In some cases, this may mean that the individual begins to engage in substance use or abuse as a means of 'filling the time' after they have withdrawn from screens, causing additional issues later in life, as well as in the short term and in general to their overall health.


If an individual does develop an addiction to substances as a result of a digital detox, then it is essential that they seek help as soon as possible, without causing additional stress, mental health issues, or physical health complications. 

Please speak to a professional in this area if you feel as though you or someone you know has developed an addiction as a result of reducing screen time, as this can cause serious issues if left untreated. 


3. Occupy yourself with things that nourish your mind and body


As an alternative to spending time on a computer, phone, laptop, or other digital device, an individual should engage in other behaviors in order to fill this time. 

Without taking up a new hobby or activity, an individual may be faced with additional issues that stem from a lack of knowing what to do. In these cases, they should try out a variety of new activities in order to overcome this and find a new way to enrich themselves.


Some examples of new hobbies or activities could include:

  • Physical activity - joining a local sports team or group, taking up yoga, learning a new sport, etc.

  • Mental health enrichment - meditation, meditative yoga, etc.

  • Creative hobbies - learning to knit, crotchet, draw, paint, produce art in other ways (sculpture, gardening, etc.)


It is important that this activity is interesting to the individual and is something they enjoy doing, meaning that they will enjoy their time engaging in this activity, not just taking part in it as a way of distracting themselves from screen time.

At the start, this may be how it feels, but the longer that they engage in this new hobby (or something that they have previously engaged in an enjoyed), the more likely it is that this behavior will completely distract them from screen time and move towards greater nourishment for their body and mind. 


Benefits of a digital detox


As mentioned throughout this article, there are many reasons why an individual should try and reduce their excessive screen time in order to create improvements in both their physical and mental health. 


Not only will it improve the individual's physical and mental health, but it is also a good way to free up more time for other activities, as mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

The following subheadings go into more detail about the benefits of a digital detox, what it can lead to, and why more individuals should consider it. 


1. Reduced anxiety and depression


Many studies have shown that screen time is correlated with anxiety and depression, specifically in young people (4).

Therefore, by reducing screen time, individuals are far less likely to develop these issues as a result of what they may see online, be subject to as a result of having an online presence, and experience hate and abuse as a result of their time online. 

Though it is seen as a large part of young people's culture to be online, have multiple social media accounts, and engage in other online acts, this may be becoming less and less common due to the issues with this kind of behavior being raised in mainstream media and culture. 


2. You won't feel the need to compare yourself (as much)


Mainly relating to social media (and a social media detox), it is important for individuals to consider the harm of taking everything they see online to be real. Often these images, stories, and posts are distorted from the truth, creating fake standards and lifestyles that, in truth, are impossible to achieve.

By removing or reducing this aspect of an individual's life, they are far less likely to come across these types of posts, meaning that they are less likely to compare themselves to what they see online.


This also means that they will be less likely to compare themselves and their own lives to what they see online which, as mentioned above, are often fake, distorted, and not reflective of these individuals' real lives at all. 


3. Enhanced focus and increased productivity


Without the distraction of screens, time online, and social media, individuals may also find that their attention and focus in other areas of their lives has become greater. 

This is because their brains are less distracted with checking the latest posts, updating their own pages and posts, as well as constantly thinking about others’ lives - especially those which are distorted and unachievable to the average person.


In addition, this time away from screens can lead to increased productivity in other areas of their lives. This can include the fact that the individual has more time to spend in other areas of their lives, as well as the increased focus that they can bring to these areas of their lives.


4. Improved sleep


It has been proven across multiple studies that increased exposure to screens, including levels of blue light, phone calls, and mobile phone dependency/addiction can have serious impacts on the amount of sleep an individual receives - especially young people (5). 


Though some screens now come with the option of blue light filters, this is still not an 100% effective way to reduce the damage caused. The amount of time that an individual spends on screens, as well as the chance of them becoming dependent or addicted to screens can still have a much bigger impact on their overall health than many individuals realize.


Therefore, by reducing overall time spent on screens, an individual is likely to notice improvements to their sleep - either in quality or time that they spend sleeping i.e., the individual's general sleep patterns. 


If an individual is trying to reduce the amount of time on screens, then it may be beneficial for them to start this in the evenings, leaving one hour or more between the last time that they look at a screen and going to bed. 


5. It provides an opportunity to get outside


As a final benefit, and related to previous points made across this article, reducing screen time and engaging in a digital detox may be a great way to create more time in the individual's everyday routine.

With this newfound time, an individual may opt to spend more time outside - something which is known to have multiple physical and mental health benefits to the individual, and also (in some cases) to those around them.


Be patient with yourself


A digital detox can be a daunting thing, especially if the individual has gotten into a habit of spending long amounts of time on screens, online, or on their phone/computer/other device in general.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the idea of a digital detox, or is struggling getting started, then it is important to talk to those around you, get professional help, or seek alternative sources of support where appropriate.


Above all, it is important that individuals are patient with themselves, know their limits, understand their relationship with technology and create a digital detox programme that is suitable for them and their individual needs, not just something that has been 'prescribed' to them by another person or organisation. 

Be patient, stay safe, and take a look at our other resources on our page to get more support today. 


References 

[1] LeBlanc, A.G., Gunnell, K.E., Prince, S.A., Saunders, T.J., Barnes, J.D. and Chaput, J.P., 2017. The ubiquity of the screen: an overview of the risks and benefits of screen time in our modern world. Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 2(17), pp.104-113.

[2] Davies, C.A., Vandelanotte, C., Duncan, M.J. and van Uffelen, J.G., 2012. Associations of physical activity and screen-time on health related quality of life in adults. Preventive medicine, 55(1), pp.46-49.

[3] Panic, A.C.M., 2020. Screen Time and the Young Brain. Making Time for Digital Lives: Beyond Chronotopia, p.25.

[4] Maras, D., Flament, M.F., Murray, M., Buchholz, A., Henderson, K.A., Obeid, N. and Goldfield, G.S., 2015. Screen time is associated with depression and anxiety in Canadian youth. Preventive medicine, 73, pp.133-138.

[5] Cabré-Riera, A., Torrent, M., Donaire-Gonzalez, D., Vrijheid, M., Cardis, E. and Guxens, M., 2019. Telecommunication devices u