As the pandemic ushered in a newly remote world, many of us found comfort in connecting with loved ones over the web. Building on years of digital dependency, our current reliance on our devices is unrivalled. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re unable to switch off. Or you can’t stop obsessively refreshing your Twitter feed. Or you’re one of the average UK adults who checks their phone every five minutes. If your phone is starting to rule your life, it’s probably time for a digital detox.
What is a digital detox?
By its standard definition, a digital detox is when you refrain from using electronic devices, like your smartphone or laptop, for a specified period of time. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a strict cold turkey, no-screen pledge. Because, let’s face it, total abstinence is unrealistic for a lot of us. Building a healthier relationship with your devices could look like having more screen breaks, taking a social media hiatus or searching for more positive, aspirational content. It’s all about making your phone work for you, not the other way around.
If you’re looking to stop scrolling and start living, you’ve come to the right place! This guide will take you through your digital detox step-by step so you can ease yourself into this journey. Everyone’s end destination may be different but the common goal here is to regularly practice digital wellness. Which brings us onto the benefits…
The benefits of a digital detox
The perils of social media have long been the subject of countless documentaries, articles and studies. Social media platforms have been blamed for distorting reality, spreading misinformation, alienating and dividing people, externalising validation and stirring up unhealthy competition and comparison. Some experts warn that social media is deliberately designed to be as addictive as slot machines and even crack cocaine, while one study suggests that the likelihood of developing depression increases with extensive social media usage. If the digital world is negatively impacting how you feel about yourself, it might be time to unplug.
A digital detox is the perfect opportunity to unwind and reclaim the hours in the day. Being less dependent on your phone rewards you with more privacy and free time, higher concentration levels, greater productivity and a clearer mind. Promoting mindfulness, a digital detox is hugely beneficial for your mental health because, instead of being distracted watching internet strangers live out their lives, you can start living your own. Here’s how.
Setting new boundaries
Ease yourself into a digital detox by waving goodbye to old habits, like feeling the need to instantly respond to every phone buzz. The internet is great at connecting people from the remotest locations but it can give the false impression that we need to be reachable 24/7. Maybe you’re in the mood to scroll through endless dog videos, but that doesn’t mean you have the energy for multiple simultaneous conversations. Turning your app notifications off and disabling your read receipts on messaging platforms takes away the pressure to be constantly available. It’s also less distracting, allowing you to focus on the stuff that really matters.
When setting online boundaries, think of your various profiles and platforms as a virtual home. What sort of people do you want to invite into this space? Who would you hate to take a peek into your private life? If you then think of the people you follow back as your neighbors, who do you want to interact with? What sort of content do you want to come across when strolling through the local area?
Use your answers to guide who you befriend and follow online. Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good in the things you already own and whose content inspires FOMO or promotes an unrealistic, unattainable lifestyle (cough cough, fast fashion influencers). As users, we are partly responsible for the digital content we consume. So, take the time to mould the algorithm to your interests by liking and commenting on relatable posts, flagging irrelevant ads and unsubscribing from unwanted marketing emails. And don’t be afraid to exercise your boundaries by muting triggering keywords or blocking negative influences. You’re simply tailoring your digital world to your values and needs.
Building a new routine:
You’ve implemented new digital boundaries and now it’s time to slowly unglue your phone from your hand. Research by OFcom found that 40% of surveyed UK adults check their phone within the first five minutes. Starting your day glaring at a screen makes you feel groggy and disoriented. Vowing to stop opening social media first thing in the morning gives your body the time to gently and naturally wake up and adjust to the natural light. It also breaks the comparison cycle - you know when you unfairly compare your bed-headed self to an overly-edited photo of a bronzed beach babe?!
The same rings true for your night time routine. Instead of falling asleep with your phone in hand, give your phone a bed time, one that is ideally an hour before you plan to hit the hay. Most phones have a bedtime mode setting that silences your phone and tints the screen greyscale, so scrolling through video apps suddenly becomes unappealing. If temptation is too much, ban digital devices from the bedroom and go old school with an alarm clock.
For the daytime, there’s loads of tools out there to help you limit your device usage. It’s a horrifying sight but most phones have a digital wellbeing hub which visually maps out how you’re using your phone. After identifying which apps you’re spending too much time on, you can set app timers that pause the app once you’ve reached your limit. It’s a great way to keep you accountable and track your progress. Speaking of accountability, Forest is a useful timer app for those moments you need to put your phone down and be productive. You start each session by planting a seed which slowly grows into a tree. Every time you click off the app, the tree will wither and die, which should be incentive enough to stop scrolling!
In The Social Dilemma, the work of social media corporations is depicted as voodooism, where social media users are literally prodded into being on their phone and interacting with ads. This image alone can stop me from doomscrolling, the act of excessively absorbing bad news which, if we’re being honest, isn’t all that hard to find these days. Here, doing the opposite of what corporate powers want allows you to regain control of how you spend your time.
Putting in place distraction mechanisms is another great way to divert attention away from your phone. When you find yourself doomscrolling, you could go for a walk around your room, drink some water, stretch, read, bake or get out of bed. Once you have perfected your routine, redesigning your lock screen with visual reminders and words of encouragement can help you stick to your new habits.
Having phone-free days:
After developing a healthier phone routine and digital boundaries (well done you!), it’s time to take the final step in your digital detox. If, at first, completely disconnecting yourself from the online world seems scary, you’re not alone. 71% of UK adults admit to never turning their phone off. Some worry they’ll miss out on important news while others are anxious about being uncontactable, both valid concerns.
You can work your way up to phone-free days by regularly logging out of or uninstalling apps. You’ll probably feel a huge sense of relief as you slowly embrace the joy of missing out. When you’re ready to take the plunge, let your loved ones about your plans. If you’re meeting up with friends, decide on a specific time and location beforehand. If you need to be reachable, allocate a time to check your emails or make an exception for text messages and calls. Not being online doesn’t mean being unsociable. It actually gives you the time and headspace to make new memories in the real world . Now, there’s nothing more sociable than that!
If you’re looking to have a conventional digital detox, first challenge yourself by participating in #Offline48, a personal pledge to stay off your phone on the weekends. Co-created by Venetia and Max La Manna, you’ll feel supported by the hundreds of people taking part with you. And if you’re still not quite ready, that’s ok! A digital detox doesn’t have to mean breaking up with your phone just yet. For now, it’s all about nourishing your digital wellbeing and taking active baby steps to improve your relationship with your phone. Whatever stage you’re at, we hope this guide can help you along the way.