Thoughts on Digital Detoxing
On average, we spend more than 11 hours a day watching, listening and interacting with digital media. This can become unhealthy and a determent to mental well-being.
Explore answers to common questions around what’s healthy when it comes to digital world and find healthy ways to change your habits, one question at a time.
What behaviors are considered as unhealthy screen time or digital distraction for adults?
Adults have a fully developed frontal cortex, so they are better neurophysiologically outfitted to handle screen exposure than children and adolescents. But they can absolutely become addicted to screens. The clinical symptoms for screen addiction are the same for many other addictions: Is your screen time negatively impacting your life (job, relationships, health)? Are you unable to control how long you’re on a screen? Are you sleep-deprived because of your usage? Do you get irritable when you’re without your device? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you may be experiencing an unhealthy relationship with your digital devices.
Is screen addiction associated with other unhealthy behaviors, outcomes, or addictions?
Yes, numerous studies have associated screen usage and extreme social media usage (“hyper-networkers”—more than three hours of social media a day) to poorer grades, increased acting-out through sexual behavior (pornography addition), and other behavioral problems. Outside unhealthy behaviors, we see that excessive screen usage in adults may correlate to increased depression (so-called Facebook depression due to what’s known as the “social comparison effect” or “FOMO, Fear of missing out.”) and increased anxiety.
Can you take us through the digital detox you’d recommend for severe or extreme circumstances?
The severe or most intense way would be to go cold turkey, unplugging from screens for 4 to 6 weeks (the extreme version also eliminates TV). However, in the digital detox group I facilitate we encourage a more incremental detoxing or “fasting”, where clients learn a combination of skills to develop healthy and incremental time away from their screens. In conjunction with putting away the screens we introduce re-learning leisure activities. This allows a person’s adrenal system to re-regulate itself and return to baseline. Screen time during the tech fast with meaningful and/or healthy recreational activities becomes a new way of living. After the detox period, the person slowly reintegrates some screen usage, and explores what level they can accept without dropping down the impulse rabbit hole. Some can go back to some moderate level of screen time, others can’t. People have done digital detoxes on their own but it is more effective when facilitated by a mental health professional versed in addiction/digital addiction.
For adults who aren’t full on addicted, but who still want to decrease their screen time, what do you recommend?
I recommend tech-free dinners and no-tech periods throughout the day and even screen free weekends. Get rid of your phone if it’s by your nightstand. Increase your non-screen activities: hobbies, sports, recreation, face-to-face time with friends and loved ones. Read a book; walk in nature. Better yet, learn how to be bored and deal with boredom—this applies to both kids and adults. More to come on boredom in future posts!
We have gotten used to the notion that we need to be eternally stimulated. But that’s not true; the strongest skill we can cultivate is to learn to just sit and “be.” Whether this means learning to meditate or just day-dreaming, it doesn’t matter. I’ve said in the past work on the art of doing not doing provides more enjoyment. We are obsessed with doing rather than being. We should all try and remember how to just “be,” because the healthiest people and the healthiest cultures are able to do just that.
Dr. Ryan Westrum is a clinical psychologist and licensed marriage & family therapist that specializes in supporting individuals and couples with pornography addiction, digital addiction and other media related concerns.
If you’re interested in learning more about reducing unhealthy behaviors, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about my upcoming group therapy workshops for digital detox.