The Digital Detox: What is it? And How to do it.

You may not know it yet, but you need to do a digital detox. Don’t worry. We are here to help. We will cover everything you need to know about a digital detox.

In this post, we will walk you through the following:

About Us: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living

Here at Healthy Hildegard, we look to the wisdom of Hildegard of Bingen to help guide us. Her belief that living a life of moderation and balance is the key to joy in life.   We often think about this principle as Hildegard’s discretio.

Her ideas on regular and periodic fasting got us thinking about some of the other over-indulgences of modern living. So in our ongoing effort to bring holistic health and wellness to our community, we are taking on our relationship with technology. 

Our gluttonous consumption of media and technology is producing many negative consequences. Let’s find moderation in our digital world and make a little room for some good old healthy analog time. 

Read on to learn how a digital detox can help you form a more positive and healthy relationship with your technology. 

What is a Digital Detox?

“Detox” is a term borrowed from the practice of holistic healing. The idea of a fast or a detox has been around for a long time. Detox, or more appropriately, detoxification, is the process by which your body rids itself of those things that are harmful or no longer needed. 

It’s a natural process. But sometimes detoxification needs some time and space to work. A purposeful detox is an opportunity for your natural resiliency to heal and replenish your mind, body, and spirit.

Detoxification is a natural process

Detoxification is constantly happening in your body. You don’t need to do anything special to make it happen. Even so, there are times when your lifestyle choices, environment, or an illness stresses your body. 

As a result, your body is unable to keep up with the toxins and you can become vulnerable to infection and illnesses. You may also just feel lethargic or slip into foul moods.

Luckily, you can help your body detoxify by controlling those conditions that are producing the stress. You can also intentionally feed your mind, body, and spirit though fasting and other holistic healing techniques.

The goal of a detox, often called a cleanse or fast is to minimize the things your body has to process in order to free it up to do what it does naturally. 

why digital detox

Digital Detox

Much like a food-based or digestive detox, a digital detox is designed to reduce the stress, overstimulation, and compulsive behaviors associated with the use of technology. Common digital stressors include:

  • High amounts of screen time
  • Excessive consumption of media and entertainment
  • Excessive consumption of online content
  • Immersion in highly digital environments
  • Unhealthy relationships with devices and virtual settings
  • High levels of smart-phone use
  • Periods of prolonged digital connectivity

A digital detox, sometimes referred to as a media fast, content fast, or technology detox, will help bring your mind, body, and spirit back into balance. 

A digital detox is the purposeful process of absolute or conditional abstinence from some (or all) of the technology present in your life for a specific period of time to restore balance and thus overall well-being.

A Digital Detox or digital fast can take many forms. No matter which you choose, periodically unplugging from technology may be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. 

We will get into the details in the section on how to do a digital detox, but first, let’s look at why you need a digital detox.

Why You (and Your Kids) Need to do A Digital Detox

We were supposed to have flying cars by now. Instead, we got smart phones and social media. Even so, our technology is supposed to make our lives easier. 

So why are so many people feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed by the demands of their social networks, phones, entertainment-on-demand? 

If access to information 24/7 is so great, why does it make us feel so uneasy?

How can constant connectivity with friends and family feel so heavy?

The answer is probably long and complicated. But we’ve summed up part of it.

You Have Become the Product

Somewhere along the way, we went from owning our technology, to our technology owning us. 

The Internet gave us a timeless, endless web of all of the information ever. Then smart phones put all of that – and more, in our pockets and purses. Quite suddenly, we have more information than we could ever consume in the palm of our hands. 

But at the same time something else was happening. Our use of technology changed from a tool we want to use into a tool we must use. The devices and services crept further into our personal lives, demanding more of our attention and engagement.

content fast

Very quickly, the time we were supposed to be saving through technology became time we were spending using technology. We were left with the perpetual feeling that there just isn’t enough time.

Most of the content we consume is also watching us, recording us, and building a digital version of us. That digital version of us is quite valuable. So the true owners of technology need you to be as engaged in the technology as possible. Because you are the product they are selling.

Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave

Anyone who has ever tried to quit Facebook knows: they don’t make it easy. It is no accident that while the digital version of us grows more detailed and interconnected, our ability to opt-out becomes increasingly difficult. 

The providers of technology and content design those things with our most base instincts in mind. It is all organized to make you feel something (dopamine!), to get you emotionally invested in the digital world. 

Unfortunately, our investment in the digital world can cost us in the real world. While the convenience of having a computer in your hand is undeniable, there are trade-offs. When considering a digital detox, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Are you aware of the trade-offs inherent in your technology use? 
  • How much control over your investment in technology do you really have?
  • How does your use of technology actually make you feel?

A digital detox will give you the answers.

So Connected, So Lonely: Signs You Need A Digital Detox

Infographic explaining why to consider a Digital Detox

Before we get to how dopamine works and the emerging research on the dangers of technology use, let’s look at some signs that you need a digital detox. 

  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling depressed
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor sleep 
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Lack of motivation
  • Constantly feeling distracted
  • Won’t leave your house without your phone
  • Walk around with phone in your hand 
  • Feel the need to check you phone for no particular reason
  • Fear that you are missing out on something? 
  • Tired of keeping up with your profiles, updates, and connections? 
  • Feel pressured to respond, to comment, to “like”, to review? 
  • Text while driving? 
  • Text while having a meal with friends or family?
  • Eat with your phone on the table? 
  • Turn the TV on as soon as you get home
  • Leave the TV on to keep you company  
  • Obsess or fixate on getting comments, likes, or messages?
  • Find yourself avoiding going into public 
  • Sending texts to avoid conversations
  • Falling asleep with laptop, TV, or phone 
  • Taking pictures of everything
  • You can’t seem to finish this article

If you can relate to several of the above, you just might be addicted to the dopamine rush that is a common part of most of what we do online. In fact, social media and other interactive forms of technology purposefully target your natural dopamine response. Here is how it works.

Chasing the Dopamine Dragon

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter. It helps control how your brain sees rewards and pleasure. Dopamine and its corresponding receptors in your brain also determine how you respond emotionally to various stimuli. This response is important for many reasons – but it is also how we can get into trouble.

The dopamine response is how we see things that will be rewarding. Once the dopamine response associates certain things with pleasure, it compels us to take action toward those things. This relationship between pleasure and action is what makes dopamine a major factor in things like addiction and risk-taking behaviors. 

digital detox dopamine

In fact, dopamine release is the basis of addiction to nicotine, cocaine, and gambling. When researchers use functional MRI’s to view the brains of people using social media, their brain activity looks much like those with substance or gambling addictions getting their “fix.” 

Technology use – particularly smart-phones and social media, trigger our dopamine response in a variety of ways. When we get a text, a “like”, a photo, or a comment, our brains release dopamine and we feel good. So we associate social media and smart phones with good news, social validation, attention, and social engagement. 

Social media is particularly devious. Research shows that dopamine is released even when we merely view pictures of attractive faces. So just browsing through Instagram gives you a dopamine rush. 

digital detox social media

Interactive platforms like facebook and snapchat can also trigger more than just dopamine. Oxytocin, the “love” or bonding hormone is also released when we share our personal or difficult things and receive supportive comments. The cyclical or habitual pursuit of these rewards is what creates the compulsion loop.

The Compulsion Loop

Once dopamine has keyed in on these things as pleasure devices, it begins to compel us to seek them out. That is why occasional use quickly becomes a compulsion to continually check our phones for texts, email, comments or likes – even things like the weather and football scores. 

Further, the more interactive the interface, the deeper we tend to habitually engage. Like substance addiction, we will be compelled to seek out more. This can be both frequency and intensity. The result is obsessive pleasure-seeking behavior.

Online and video game designers purposefully create scenarios that target our dopamine response to create and sustain these compulsion loops. Social media, by design, is one big compulsion loop. It seeks to keep us engaged as much as possible by offering incremental rewards. And we are often in the “loop” even though we may not realize it at the time. 

Screen Time and Your Health

Our signs you need a digital detox were not just pulled from thin air. We’ve looked into a lot of research on the effects of screen time and technology use on health. 

Here are just a few highlights:

The Iphone Effect

“The Iphone effect” is the name given by researchers who studied the influence of phones on a host of different measures of social and personal engagement. 

In short, the Iphone effect it is not good.

The study looked at how the mere presence of an iphone on the table during an interaction resulted in significantly lower conversation quality and lower empathy levels. The effects were found regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, and mood of the participants. 

The mere presence of a phone can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality. These results were most pronounced when individuals were discussing personally meaningful topics. 

According to the researchers, just the presence of a cell phone can have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships. They propose that removing the devices will lead to more feelings of closeness, trust, and empathy — particularly when trying to have a meaningful conversation.  Additional research suggests that phones being present can interfere with interpersonal connections and can potentially create emotional rifts between people who regularly spend time together.

The Internet Paradox

Researchers back in the ‘90’s saw this coming. Early studies on internet use suggested a troubling trend: the more connected, the more likely you are to feel lonely, alienated, and isolated. 

Subsequent research fleshes this paradox out by looking into the type of social media engagement. What they call “passive consumption” is much more detrimental to your health. Passive consumption of social media is linked with increased depression, whereas more active thoughtful engagement seems to arouse less negative outcomes.

Social media can be a kind of amplifier of your current emotional state. What you bring into it will often increase. So if you are neurotic, depressed, or tend toward loneliness, social media will cultivate more of those feelings.

In general, the internext paradox is validated by a lot of research that supports the old adage of quality over quantity.

Screen Time and Kids

A growing body of literature is associating excessive and addictive use of digital media with physical, psychological, social and neurological adverse consequences.

digital detox kids

Research on screen time and children is focusing more on mobile devices use, and studies suggest that duration, content, after-dark-use, media type and the number of devices are key components determining screen time effects. 

Physical health effects of excessive screen time in children has been associated with: 

  • Poor sleep
  • Higher Risk of Obesity
  • Higher risk for cardiovascular diseases and insulin resistance
  • Poor stress regulation 
  • Impaired vision
  • Reduced bone density

Psychological & neurological effects of excessive screen time in children: 

  • Depressive symptoms and suicidal ideations
  • ADHD-related behavior 
  • Antisocial behavior and decreased prosocial behavior 
  • Addictive screen time use decreases social coping
  • Excessive tech use in children can cause autism-like behaviors
  • Brain structural changes related to cognitive control and emotional regulation
  • Screen time reduction is effective in decreasing ADHD-related behavior

A Digital Detox as a Buffer

The anticipation of good news or good feelings is a powerful driver of our behavior. With smart phones, tablets, and laptops we can live our entire lives with nothing separating us from our next hit of dopamine. 

The power our technology has to make us more efficient, more informed, and more engaged can just as easily make us more complacent, lonely, and disconnected from what truly matters to us. 

digital detox social networks

Luckily there is a solution to all of this. You can create a buffer between your real life and your use of technology. Incorporate a digital detox into your routine. 

Reclaim your life from TV, smart phones, and social media. Do a digital detox. Here is how.

How To Do A Digital Detox

A digital detox can take many forms. We’ve come up with five digital detox plans that you can use separately, or in combination, depending on your goals. 

  1. Digital Detox Immersion
  2. Periodic Digital Detox: a Daily or Weekly Detox Regimen
  3. Social Media Detox (Incremental or Selective Digital Detox)
  4. Destination Digital Detox
  5. A Content Fast

Unless otherwise specified, the digital detox plans all include going without digital technology. In some cases, this means consuming no digital content at all. In general, a digital detox means none of the following:

  • TV
  • Movies
  • Internet Access
  • Computers, laptops, pads
  • Smart Phones
  • Texting/Messaging
  • Social Media 
  • Digital screens

The Digital Detox Immersion

A total digital detox involves removing all of the digital technology from your daily life. This technology detox (or digital fast) technique is for those who desire to truly test their relationship with technology and digital content. 

Digital Detox Immersion

The immersion approach is just how it sounds. You pick a period of time and you fully opt-out of all digital technology and content. 

Ideally, the period of time is long enough such that you feel the affects. Then a bit longer so you can move through the discomfort into a new sense of being.

The total Digital Detox can be challenging for those who rely on computers and smart phones for work. But you can still use this approach for shorter durations. In general, longer durations are more effective, but even small breaks are helpful.

The typical Digital Detox Immersion is between 3 days and 3 weeks. You won’t know the level of resistance (addiction) you have until you try it. So give it a try!

Periodic Digital Detox

Like a digital detox immersion, a periodic digital detox requires that you remove all digital technology from your life. A periodic digital detox, however, means you set aside some portions of your day or your week to do live without technology. 

This digital detox technique is similar to intermittent fasting or periodic fasting with food. The idea behind a periodic digital detox is to break the habit of constant tech use and consumption of media. 

The periodic breaks allow your body to readjust from the stimulation of things like social media, texting, and screens. 

Creating the healthy habit of regularly disengaging from technology can keep you grounded. It can also make you less prone to the addiction. Finally, a regular periodic digital detox allows for time to just be present with your own thoughts, a rare thing these days. 

Social Media Detox (Incremental or Selective Digital Detox)

A digital detox doesn’t have to include ALL technology to be beneficial. The social media detox is the elimination of all social media from your daily life for a specified period of time. 

Social Media Detox

A social media detox is one type of incremental or selective digital detox. Though we recommend the more comprehensive approaches to a digital detox, there is still much to gain from eliminating the demands of social media.

You can also opt to eliminate things like texting, TV, or Internet browsing. You should start with whatever is the greatest source of stress and/or consumer of your time. 

Choose a period of time when you will disengage completely from all social media. The longer the time period, the better the results. Start with a day. Then try a week. Try to work up to a month.

Once you have grown accustomed to going offline with social media, you can incrementally incorporate other aspects of technology and media use into those periods of tech and media fast. Eventually, you may find that the digital detox immersion approach is within reach.

The Destination Digital Detox

The destination digital detox is about using a vacation or other travel as a means to help you separate from technology. You can take trip specifically to detox from technology or you can use a trip you already have planned as a means to help facilitate your digital detox. 

destination digital detox

With this digital detox technique you simply use the natural constraints of travel to facilitate time away from technology. If you travel to less developed, remote, or foreign destinations you can use that time to do a digital detox. Chances are, you will be busy having fun and won’t really miss being so connected.

Being away from home and work also helps to create distance from obligations, relationships, and old habits. 

Whether it is a cabin in the woods, a sailboat, an island, or just a routine trip to a different city, you can use it as a chance to leave your technology behind. 

Let people know you are unavailable. Set your email auto-respond. And go out and enjoy time in some other place without your phone.

The Content Fast (or Media Fast)

Many people trying a digital fast will also cut out all other forms of information and entertainment, collectively referred to as “content.” This approach is called a content fast, meaning you don’t consume any content of any kind. 

A content fast involves going without television, movies, magazines, books, online media, radio, and even music for a specified period of time.

A digital detox or digital fast can easily include a content fast. Or a content fast can be done separately. 

A content fast is a great way to clear the way for mindfulness exercises, dynamic meditation in nature, or just to reset your senses.

content fast digital detox

A content fast doesn’t need to be long to be effective. In fact, if you can do a content fast for just a few hours per day or week. You will be surprised just how much content you have been consuming every day – all day! 

Try a content fast for a few hours at a time. Incorporate it into time you spend with family, your exercise or outdoor activities, or even on a long drive. The idea is to just “be”, to sit with your thoughts, and to engage in the world in its natural state. 

Tips for a Successful Digital Detox

In order to help you find success with whatever form of digital detox you choose, here are some things to keep in mind when unplugging from technology.

  • Tell people what you are doing. Set Boundaries. 
  • Remove social media apps from your phone.
  • Cook a meal together with loved ones, slow down with slow food.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Bring back the Sabbath. Use your day of rest as a day without tech.
  • Small Moves. Practice periodically leaving your phone at home, in the car, when you are on a walk, meeting for lunch, taking your kids to the park. People did these things just fine for generations. You can too.
  • Don’t keep your phone by your bed. Use an “old school” alarm clock. 
  • Practice healthy sleep hygiene.
  • Go outside. Spend time in nature. Go for a walk after dinner.
  • Do it with your kids, friends and family. Make a pact. 
  • Track your progress. Make a chart, set goals. Use pen and paper.
  • Keep a Journal. Note how do you feel. How does this change over time? What do you notice about your thoughts, feelings, moods, and interactions with others? Does it feel liberating? Empowering? Are you getting more done?
  • Build/Create something. Re-engage in an old hobby.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Read an actual book.
  • Go Analog. Start using pen and paper again for things like “to do” or grocery lists. 
  • Incorporate into a dietary cleanse, fast, or other practice of food as medicine. 
  • Stop taking pictures of everything and enjoy the moment for what it is.

What to Expect from a Digital Detox

Some initial challenges and thoughts on doing a digital detox:

The tough parts:

  • You will feel uncomfortable at first
  • The desire to quit will be strong, but taper off over time
  • Other people may pressure you to quit
  • Some people will get annoyed with you
  • You will feel disconnected and perhaps even more alone at first
  • You will feel like you are missing out
  • Boredom may tempt you, but you will find other things to do

The good parts:

  • You will become aware of how you use technology 
  • You will start to feel a new sense of strength
  • Sleep will come easier and be higher quality
  • Your mind will be more clear and focused
  • You will have less anxiety and stress
  • The blues will be less frequent
  • You will be more creative
  • You will develop better conversation skills
  • Eye contact will come naturally
  • You will learn to “just be”
  • Happiness will come easier
  • You will be more engaged
  • Improved memory
  • Longer attention span
  • Better posture
  • You will care less about what other people think
  • People will respond more positively to you
  • More organic and fruitful relationships will form

If you think you may have an addiction to social media or your phone, you may find some helpful resources at the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.

If you are not sure if you are addicted, check out their Addiction Screening Tools to see

We wish you the best with your digital detox!

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