Digital detox and mental wellbeing

- October 23, 2022

Digital detox and mental wellbeing. What sort of relationship do you have with your smartphone? Chances are that it’s a more intimate one than you have with your spouse or your best friend. Most of us use our phones as alarms, cameras, newspapers and maps (they know where we go and when), for shopping, watching clips, series or movies, and staying in touch with friends and family via chats or social media, and to track anything from our fitness efforts over our productivity levels to our calorie intake and sleep cycle – to name only a few.

Our smartphones know our interests, preferences, struggles, fears, and innermost desires – sometimes even better than we know ourselves. And those are not the only screens we use. We may work at a computer, play video games and/or watch telly. For the average American, that means interacting with media of some sort for 11 hours every day! And other research concludes that 61% of people assess themselves as ‘addicted’ to their digital screens.

If you have found this blog post, you may be aware that this constant connectivity is impacting your life negatively and is anything but healthy. In fact, overloading our senses through whatever we consume via our various screens can lead to physical, psychological and social problems. A decreased ability to stay focused, stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia or dissociation are just some examples that can be linked to excessive screen time. One way of regaining authority over your life and mental well-being is a digital detox. It’s a bit like fasting – just with screens instead of food: you can do it for several days or weeks or only for certain hours every day.

This blog post explains what a digital detox involves, what benefits you can expect and how to best go about it if you are considering one.

What is a digital detox

Digital detox means breaking away from your screens – may that be your phone, computer, or TV – to focus on and be fully present for real-life experiences and interactions.

Oftentimes, it is paired with the intention to reduce stress and anxiety and generally improve mental well-being. Digital detox and mental wellbeing are really conected.

Now, technology is deeply embedded into our everyday life. You may need to use a computer for your job or be available on your phone for your children or a sick family member you care for. A digital detox can mean abstaining completely from one or all of the screens you are using for a short or prolonged period of time or intentionally reducing the time you spend on screens overall or on certain apps.

There are different approaches and ways to do a digital detox which we will explore further below. First, we’d like to look at the various benefits you can expect from a digital detox, though.

Why Digital Detox is Important: Benefits for Your Physical and Mental Health

  • It helps with Insomnia
    The blue light from screens like LCD TVs, laptops, smartphones and tablets messes with our circadian rhythms. We all have an internal clock. The term ‘circadian rhythms’ refers to various 24-hour cycles our body goes through. Included in these cycles are – among other things – processes and functions like the regulation of our body temperature, our hormones, our metabolism (e.g. digestion of food), and our sleep. Maybe we are aware of our struggle to fall asleep. Maybe we find it difficult to stay asleep. Maybe we notice that we wake up and still feel tired – despite sleeping through the night. However, the full impact of our screen time is even more far-reaching than that.
  • It improves sleep quality
    Even if that just means avoiding screens for an hour or two before you go to bed and for the first hour after waking up – will most likely improve the quality of your sleep. Numerous research papers highlight how poor sleep negatively impacts our mental health. When we are tired we struggle to cope with our everyday life. This in turn leads to worrying and stress as well as low self-esteem which again negatively impacts our sleep. It’s a bad cycle to get stuck in. Furthermore, scientists have linked phone use in bed to a higher body mass index, according to this article.
  • It reduces stress and anxiety
    Our brains are not meant to process the amount of information we are bombarded with almost every minute of our waking day. We might not be aware of it but every ping and ding our phones make to notify us of an email, message, tag, like, news, or the latest deal leads to a chemical response in our brain and diverts our attention from whatever else we were doing. This is to the point that just the expectation or possibility of a notification reduces the quality of a face-to-face conversation and the empathy levels of the people having the conversation if a phone is present. Whether we are aware of and can admit it or not, the use of social media and being exposed to the highlight reel of other people’s lives is a stress factor in our lives and can cause mild to severe anxiety. We are wired to constantly look for cues in the world around us if we are okay the way we are – this very much includes struggles, insecurities, fears, setbacks, etc.. Most social media channels and accounts only ever show the bright and shiny side of life and leave us feeling like something is wrong with us or we are lacking something. It is therefore no surprise that the most popular form of digital detox is a social media detox. This can look like either limiting the amount of time we spend on social media platforms, deleting the apps from our phones or deactivating our accounts for a certain period of time. A digital detox, regardless if it is focused on social media or all screen activity, can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and even depression and help create a healthier work-life balance.
  • It improves mood and overall wellbeing
    Technology is great! The possibilities it has opened up for us are mindblowing. Have you ever asked yourself, though, if technology is holding you back from living your best life? Could refraining from screens for a while maybe make you happier and leave you feeling more balanced and connected with yourself and the world around you? Various scientific studies show that a digital detox can significantly improve your mental and emotional wellness. It also helps you to find out what is actually important to you – without the distraction of all the noise that is trying to tell you what should be important to you. Avoiding screens or limiting your time on them frees up time and space to regain interests in hobbies you may have neglected and that brought joy and meaning to your life. It will also improve your ability to self-regulate your emotions as well as your creativity, allow you to be more present for yourselves and the people you love and decrease feelings of loneliness as well as symptoms of depression.

How to do a Digital Detox

Everyone is different and our life circumstances are unique. Therefore, what works as a digital detox for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. Digital detox and mental wellbeing is different for everyone.

If you feel like you could do without screens or want to intentionally limit your screen time, think about what digital detox goals are achievable for you. It’s about setting realistic boundaries for yourself and in regards to your availability for others when it comes to the use of your phone and other screens.

  • Different for everyone
    Full digital detox for one or two days a week or going on a week-long/10-day retreat – this can feel extremely liberating but isn’t possible for everyone due to individual obligations.
  • Intermittent digital detox
    Refraining from one or all of your screens for certain hours of the day (e.g. in the morning or before you go to bed), limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day or creating specific time slots in your day when you check and answer your emails or get back to messages.
  • What can you do
    You could do a location-based digital detox, meaning no phones/screens at the dinner table or in your bedroom You could opt for technology-free activities like intentionally leaving your phone behind when you are going to walk your dog, etc.
  • Leave your phone behind
    If you find yourself grabbing your phone without even thinking just to distract yourself (according to a survey, the average person checks their phone every 10 minutes) try leaving it in a different room, so you have to go and get it if you want to use it.
  • Airplane mode
    If you are using your phone to listen to music or audiobooks while you do other things, you could limit your screen time by putting it on airplane mode for certain periods of the day. Or you start by disabling any and all push/app notifications.
  • Old-school mobile to the rescue
    You could also invest in an old-school mobile phone and carry that with you for emergency calls and texts while you leave your smartphone behind/turn it off on certain days of the week or for certain hours every day.
Embodying a secular mindfulness practice Digital detox and mental wellbeing

Some people will find a digital detox easier than others. Not using screens can initially lead to boredom, be annoying (because we are so used to relying on our phones for so many different things) or leave us feeling slightly anxious (e.g. fear of missing out). Digital detox and mental wellbeing can help you feel happy. Here are some suggestions that might help you make your digital detox a success:

  • Give your family and loved ones a heads-up about your digital detox (so they don’t get worried about you) and ask for their support.
  • Delete certain apps to reduce the temptation of “just checking something quickly”.
  • Plan activities and occupy yourself with things that nourish your mind and body, that you find engaging and make you feel alive/relaxed (whatever you need most).
  • Try new things that you have always been curious about.
  • Track your progress to make the benefits of your digital detox more tangible, e.g. by keeping notes or writing a journal.

Please remember that you don’t need anyone’s permission to take time for yourself and away from screens and there is no need to feel guilty for not getting back to people instantly.

New Life Portugal Programs

Digital detox and mental wellbeing

Sometimes breaking a habit and establishing new and healthier routines is hard while staying in your usual environment and when you are dealing with the everyday demands of your life. Therefore, it can be hugely beneficial to choose a place like New Life Portugal for a reset of your patterns and to kick off your journey to sustainable well-being.

We are a wellness retreat and mindfulness centre in the heart of the Serra Da Estrela natural park in Portugal. Our research-driven programs offer a rare combination of meditation, yoga, counselling, coaching, fitness, nature, and mindful community life.

If you are planning a digital detox to recharge your batteries and/or to help you with stress, anxiety or burnout, we offer the ideal setting as well as a dedicated team of international experts that can guide and support you on this path.You will also find that most people who come to New Life choose to use their phones very intentionally and cut down on screen time to focus on themselves.

Our practice of noble silence between 9.30 pm and 8.30 am provides further incentive to nurture the connection with yourself rather than trying to stay connected with everyone else.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can personalise our program to your individual needs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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