Your nose is stuck to your phone for hours a day. Given the nature of work these days, it’s a necessity. But being “always on” isn’t healthy.
If you’re feeling a too tethered to Facebook, Twitter, games, email, or videos, try a digital detox. Distancing yourself from your personal tech can free up some brain cycles and let you pursue activities that don’t involve constantly tugging the pull-to-refresh lever.
A digital detox is like a health food cleanse, except instead of shunning bad food, you shun screens. Your phone is the most important device to regulate. According to David Greenfield, a clinical psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, smartphones are the gadget people most often find themselves addicted to. They go everywhere, so they’re always screaming for attention.
The Science Side
The brain changes as you grow reliant upon technology. Greenfield says interacting with a screen floods the brain with dopamine. Do it too much and the brain gets used to the higher level of the stuff. Taking the screen away then causes problems. “The most common response is panic, especially being away from the smartphone. Some will witness withdrawal,” he says.
One good way to ease that withdrawal is to trick your mind into focusing on something else. Greenfield instructs patients to make a list of activities they enjoy like knitting, baking, or gardening. Such tasks distract you, easing the pull of your phone. They also help eliminate excess dopamine.
Simple Tricks That Work
Small changes can help you break free of your phone or other gadgets. Start by shutting off notifications so incoming text messages, social media updates, and the like don’t cause your phone to chirp or vibrate. Turn all of that stuff off and set a designated time to check in and catch up.
“Out of sight, out of mind” works here, too. Try stashing your phone in a desk, or your backpack. If it’s in a pocket or within your line of sight, you’ll reach for it every time. If it distracts you at work, put it in Do Not Disturb mode and tuck it away somewhere. Take a peek during your coffee breaks to get a small fix.
And whatever you do, put the damn thing away at dinner. “If I am in a restaurant, I can’t have my phone on the table because it is a distraction,” Greenfield says. “These might be small things, but they are really not.”
This might sound counterintuitive, but there are some apps that can help by tracking how much you use your phone. You may be surprised, and knowing how hooked you are can help assess the problem and how to address it. Moment tracks phone use throughout the day. It’s only available for iOS, but Breakfree is similar and works on iOS and Android.
Appreciation and Balance
If you feel your phone is taking over your life, Greenfield suggests a digital detox of at least three days. That’s typically the minimum amount of time needed to be effective. Shunning technology for that long will teach you just how much people take these devices for granted. You will learn to appreciate your phone or laptop, and about the importance of balancing digital life with real life. You may even want to ditch the device for good—Greenfield says he’s seen people give up smartphones entirely after a detox.
Of course, you don’t have to surrender your phone to see improvement. Greenfield says most patients who take a little time off feel happier and less stressed because of it. And that’s something everyone can benefit from.