Digital Detoxing: How to Spend More Time Away from Screens

This is a collaborative post 

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We all spend a lot more time staring at screens than we would care to admit. On average, people check their phone every 12 minutes. Add to this the time spent working at computers, streaming films and TV shows and playing video games, and this adds up to a worrying amount of screen time as a nation.

The lockdown, especially, has been particularly bad for our digital habits. With the majority of the country confined to the house, choices of entertainment are limited. Sure, many people have taken up new and exciting hobbies like baking and gardening, but with all the attention-grabbing headlines and endless social media debates going on, it’s hard to stop your attention dragging back towards the screen.

Technology is unarguably necessary in our day-to-day lives. Most people need computers or phones to do their jobs, and it’s essential for keeping in touch with friends and family. The digital world is not inherently bad, but like everything, it should be enjoyed in moderation. Too much time spent consuming digital media has harmful consequences for our physical and mental health.

The negative effects of excessive screen time

  1. Poor mental health

Excessive use of social media has been shown to lead to mental health problems such as feelings of reduced confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety, and an increased risk of depression.

  1. Eye problems

Staring at a screen can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated, and prolonged use can lead to eye problems that may result in decreased vision and the need for corrective eye treatment such as glasses.

  1. Weight gain

Over-reliance on technology can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, in which digital devices make users less interested in engaging in other physical activities such as exercise.

  1. Poor sleep habits

Looking at screens all day, and particularly before bed, can disrupt your sleep cycle and cause poor quality sleep. It may even lead to more severe conditions such as insomnia.

  1. Decreased brain function

Too much screen time can actually change the structure of your brain and decrease your cognitive abilities. Always giving into the easy distraction of social media notifications can reduce your attention span and make it harder to focus on demanding tasks like work or study.

While we cannot completely cut out our use of technology altogether, it’s obvious we should reduce the amount of screen time we expose ourselves to. But this is not easy. Most people are so addicted to technology that they habitually check their phones the second they wake up. They do it without thinking. Technology has become so ingrained into our culture that it sometimes seems easier to let it win. But it is possible to release the hold that technology has over you, and experience the benefits of a digital detox.

By reducing your dependence on technology you will not only experience the mental and physical health benefits described above, but you will also have more time in the day and the freedom to be able to lead a more fulfilling lifestyle.

If you are trying to cut down on your daily screen time and need some help getting started, the following tips provide some handy advice on how to reduce your digital use.

Set limits

One of the most effective ways to cut down on your screen time is to establish a set of rules that you cannot break. You would probably be alarmed if someone told you exactly how much time you spend looking at your phone each day, so why not set a limit to restrict your use? Enforce a fixed time every evening to put your phone away until morning. This will help you to set important boundaries while also improving the quality of your sleep. 

Most modern smartphones have a screen time setting that tracks how much time you spend on your phone. You can use this to set cut-off points for specific apps. For example, you could set a 30-minute limit for using Facebook each day, after which you are unable to open it until the following morning. You could also have phone-free areas of your house, such as the dinner table or the bedroom. By setting clear guidelines for your technology usage, you make it easier to turn your attention away from the screen onto more fulfilling activities.

Turn off notifications

It might seem scary to not know when someone comments on your latest Instagram post, but disabling your notifications is a big step to releasing yourself from your phone’s clutches. Most social media apps are actually designed to make checking your notifications as addictive as possible. This makes it particularly hard to fight the urge to pick up your phone as soon as you hear a ping, distracting you from whatever important task you were engaged in and leading you down a 30-minute social media scrolling spree. By turning off notifications, you will prevent these frequent distractions, and it shouldn’t negatively impact your life in any way. You can always set a time to check the apps you use, without being a slave to every notification that pops up.

Call instead of text

A genuine conversation, whether by phone, video, or face-to-face, is much more meaningful than an inefficient WhatsApp exchange sent at irregular intervals over several days. Rather than taking this piecemeal approach to conversing with friends and family, make time to establish a more authentic human connection with a phone call. This way, you aren’t staring at a screen, and you can engage more fully in the conversation. Just avoid the temptation to check your emails while you talk.

Start a new (non-digital) hobby

When you’re bored, it’s easy to fill the gaps in your schedule by checking your phone, simply because there’s nothing else to do. Instead, find a more fulfilling way of passing the time, so you can occupy your mind with more productive activities and avoid the constant distraction of your phone. Taking up a new hobby that doesn’t depend on screens can be a brilliant way to improve yourself while also providing an opportunity to bond with loved ones. There are so many options to choose from, depending on what you’re into. You could try jigsaw puzzles, learning to cook, knitting, gardening, carpentry, painting, colouring, brewing your own beer or some form of physical exercise. And the best part is, if you decide you don’t like one hobby, you can just find another one to try.

Delete social media

Deleting social media entirely may be too much of a leap for some people, but consider it for a moment. For most phone users, social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram constitute the majority of their screen time. If you didn’t use any of these, how much extra time would you have in your day? Try deleting the apps from your phone for a short period of time, perhaps a week, and see how much it really impacts your life. You may feel the constant urge to check your phone at first, but you will soon get used to it. Who knows, by the end of the week you may even decide your life is better off without it! If you still feel you cannot commit to shutting yourself off completely, another option is to delete it from your phone and only allow yourself to access it via a computer. This means you can check in with friends and family when you need to, but the additional effort required means you won’t spend anywhere near as much time each day scrolling through your timeline.

Reducing your screen time can be difficult, as we have all become so reliant on our phones and laptops, but most people understand that overuse is not healthy. By creating a little structure and setting a few strict rules for yourself, it becomes much easier to cut your technology use down to healthier levels

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