We’re hearing a lot about ‘Digital Detox’ lately, especially because the general media landscape has shifted from ridiculing people who limit their screentime, to portraying them as fashionable and trendy.
We’re usually digitally detoxing for a reason – maybe we spend too much time online and don’t get anything done, maybe we’re constantly getting interrupted by notifications, or we are sick of seeing meaningless short videos and advertisements over and over again. No matter the exact reason, we feel overwhelmed and we need a break.
We want to feel better, to lessen the grip our online life has on us, we want to de-stress and feel the joy of being unavailable like in the old days. We announce our departure to our followers and friends and commit to staying off our apps until a specific date.
Detoxing this way sounds amazing. Taking time off from social media or other sites to relax and rewire seems like a great idea, almost like a small vacation for our minds.
But how it’s usually done and fashioned online isn’t beneficial:
Taking a time off from social media, but then returning afterwards like nothing happened, without making any changes doesn’t help us in the long run.
Detoxing this way is just another way of running away from our problems. We leave the environment until we feel ready to go back online again, only until the next time we are sick of our feeds and phones and want leave again.
A better way to detox would be to use the time for the long term improvement of how we use the Internet – so that we feel good about our online presence and connectivity without needing a break once in a while.
We can have a better detox by reflecting on these four points:
1. Be Realistic About Your Dependence And Emotions
What we’re hoping for when we consider a detox, is having a nice time off – just relaxing and feeling fine without even thinking about the online activity we aren’t seeing.
What usually happens though is feeling the initial ‘withdrawal’:
wanting to check your phone and remembering you turned it off or left it somewhere, and fighting the urge to break the detox and just ‘check for 5 minutes only’.
We often experience anxiety or feel left out, imagining all the cool things we could miss out on. We want to post something, and then remember we can’t.
It’s important to be honest to yourself about that and mentally prepare yourself, so you won’t go back once you hit that snag. You can get through this – with time.
2. Detoxing Is A Process; It Takes Time
Just one day, even once per week, won’t rewire your brain.
That goes double for people who aren’t ‘just’ internet addicted teenagers, but people who are required to use the internet for their careers.
Just giving yourself one or a few days off is often not enough to break the hold your online presence has over you. Your goal with a Digital Detox is taking time off from online stress and annoyances, but you can’t do that if you spend most of the time suppressing urges to check or post or sitting there with anxiety. It’s harder to get work done when your brain is craving the easy, instant entertainment of your social media feeds.
You need to be fair to yourself and give yourself the time you need to see the benefits of a detox. Otherwise, you’ll spend your free day(s) being antsy and return to social media on a huge binge to catch up on everything and everyone, worse than before, throwing away what you achieved.
Through other people’s experiences online, it becomes apparent that 20-30 days are a good amount of Detox Days, leaving you with more days to reap the benefits after the initial withdrawal is over.
3. Change How You View The Digital Detox
Don’t just see this as a break – see it as an opportunity for reflection on your online space!
During this detox, you’ll start to see which services you really need and which ones suddenly lose their appeal after 10 days or more.
What apps do you miss?
What features are really important in your day to day life? Can these needs be met in a more meaningful way without the internet?
Why did you sign up for these services in the first place?
Was it peer pressure? Feeling left out at work? Did you sign up just because you can, or for an actual use?
Do these services benefit your life? Or are they just providing you vapid content you’ll have forgotten soon?
Is a certain follower count keeping you there, making you feel like these people need your commentary?
Is it tied in to your social status and popularity? Do you need attention and validation from people you barely even know or care about?
Do you get hit with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?
4. Step Into Action
With the break from your online compulsions or commitments, you will experience more time, a relaxed mind, and a more objective view about the online services you use. When we return, our social media even seems boring sometimes.
By reflecting on the steps and questions above, you can help yourself make a lasting change, making your Detox more meaningful instead of a failed attempt to limit your use only to come back and binge.
Did you discover you don’t actually miss or need Instagram and Snapchat?
Don’t just return to your old habits and go through the motions until you’re fully committed to them again – delete them!
Did you realize what’s making you uncomfortable or more stressed and annoyed online are some people you follow or pages you liked?
Don’t just accept that, unfollow and unlike until these drains are gone!
Did you notice that the constant feed checking to stay up to date on peoples lives feels bad to you?
Don’t just return, make it a goal to directly talk to people instead of their wall and posts.
Did you enjoy your Digital Detox?
Then delete all the unneccessary time wasters off your phone, keeping only what you felt you needed during that time.
Don’t think a short-lived digital detox is providing you any long term benefit, and don’t think a longer one is enough to undo damage if you’re just gonna return as always.
Use your digital detox to think about a better way to use your services! Design a way to use them in a responsible, limited, and productive way so that they aid in your work and your life.
Just taking time off, without putting thought into why you are doing so, will just keep you in a cycle of internet use and detoxing.
Once your internet use is designed in a way that it benefits you or at least doesn’t cause negative effects, you won’t need days or weeks dedicated to ‘detoxing’ from it.