“Be present to the people in front of you from moment to moment. Electronics and technology have a way of clouding our vision for the people sitting next to us. Uncloud your life, look around. Be present.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed, reactive, unmotivated, stressed and chronically tired lately, perhaps it’s not the poor mattress you’re sleeping on that’s giving you such ailing discomforts…. but your possible overuse of your electronic devices. We now live in the fastest paced reality in human history, but is all this technology really that “smart” for our emotional, mental, and physical health? Maybe it’s time for a respite from all the screens and incessant social media, news, on-line shopping, and entertaining videos. Our brains are being bombarded with exorbitant amounts of data points, and they are coming in hot—faster than we can handle. This results in neuro-exhaustion, which science shows is highly correlated to greater displays of irritability, low productivity at work, reactivity and disharmony in relationships as well as poor lifestyle habits. Read on to see if you may be overusing your trusty and fun digital devices and ways to take your very own digital detox.

What does an addiction to technology and digital devices look like?

Maybe you know “a guy” that has a possible addiction to a particular technological device. (You certainly don’t have an issue or inability to part with your, let’s say, phone. . . right?) Most people are in denial that their consumption of digital information via tablets, computers, phones or screens poses as a problem, but science shows that the numbers of technology addiction are pervasive across almost every modern first world society—and the trends are growing fast. Below are a few signs and symptoms that are generally recognizable in those with an extreme compulsion toward technology usage. . .so much so that it is creating chronic disruptions in their normal, everyday functioning, relationships, personal joy and health.

  1. Poor focus and attention while at work, meetings, school, completing tasks or in conversations. Others are very sensitive to this type of behavior. Everyone wants to feel important.
  2. Incessant checking of your emails, social medias or news feeds, uncontrollable screen time usage and desperate need to keep checking and using technology, regardless of time and location.
  3. Feeling extreme mood fluctuations and swings, such as depression, anxiousness, or jealously. Low self-esteem due to FOMO after checking social media.
  4. Insomnia, or chronic poor quality of sleep due to inability to power down your electronics.
  5. Foggy or blurry vision, eye twitches or headaches due to too much screen time.
  6. The need to have your device in your hand at all times—including bathroom, bed and during mealtimes.
  7. Grabbing your phone or device first thing in the morning instead of acknowledging your partner next to you, your family, or prepping for the morning routine.
  8. Mental haze, inability to concentrate, think, reason, plan or remember tasks.
  9. Your weight is increasing and your motivation for exercise and eating healthy has gone dormant. Keep this list of items handy for future reference. Relapse with any addiction is a possibility. This list is a great way to monitor yourself.
  10. You’d rather spend time with your device than be with your family and friends or engage in what were once your most favorite hobbies. You have an apathetic disposition toward work and play.

Whether you are a male or female (ladies are statistically more apt to be addicted to their smartphones, while gentlemen fair toward their beloved video games), any behavior in excess is not good for the body’s overall health. Men, for instance, who become addicted to their technology tend to isolate themselves in order to feed their cravings. Women, though more socially connected, will engage in prolific texting and use social media platforms. Whatever the choice of digital flavor, a few things are not a toss-up when it comes to overuse of this potentially dangerous habit. Screens divide us more than they connect us, and too much of its use drives the inability for people to truly engage, be present, experience real life conversations and can make us feel more alone in the long run.

Creating intentional breaks throughout the day and week from both, the subconscious and intentional need to gravitate and use digital technology can reap many benefits. Below are just a few.

  1. Enhances focus and attention during work activities, task performance, productivity, in the classroom and while learning by keeping distractions down.
  2. Encourages better sleep. The blue light emitted from electronic screens has been shown to disrupt the optic nerve and melatonin production. This throws off the body’s natural circadian rhythm and ultimately disrupt sleep patterns.
  3. Longer attention span. Not only will it be easier to keep your mind on your task, but you will also be able to keep it there longer.
  4. Better emotional resiliency and experience less stress and anxiousness. Studies have shown that the amount of s smart device usage is positively correlated to feelings of reported sadness and loneliness and a better ability to handle stress.
  5. Increased physical health. A sedentary lifestyle also goes hand in hand to excessive digital device usage. Spend less time in front of screens, you’ll naturally be more apt to move your body more. Consistent and smart body movement/exercise, generally prevents lower and paperback discomforts as well as leg and ankle health.
  6. More free time. Studies show that the average person uses electronic devices for two hours or more each day. That’s at least 750 hours a year, and it’s much more than that for many people. What else could you do with that time?

    • Take a couple of minutes and make a list of the things you could accomplish this year with an extra 750 hours or more.

  7. Enhances personal and interpersonal relationships. The time you spend on your digital devices would be better spent on the ones with heartbeats in your life, even your fur babies. Love is spelled with a four-letter word, “time”, so put your devices down during dates, meals and mindful moments and connect with those that you love.

How do you start to Digital Detox?

Create a plan and set definitive guidelines about duration of the detox and have an accountability buddy/partner.

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce one digital item or form of media per week and progressively include one more each week.

  • Give yourself one hour per day to use whatever digital device you choose. Set a timer and stick to it. 

  • You can also be brave and abstain from a specific device (or all of it if you dare) for 3, 7, 21 days. . .. you get to decide.
  • Cut back 50% and maintain that indefinitely.

  • Set rules and the duration for your digital detox. Remember, you get to be the boss. Be reasonable, believe you can do it, write down how you’ll execute your detox goal and be consistent.

Lastly, remember these last three tips. They are bonuses in getting you to your goal in the most steadfast and sustainable way.

  1. Turn off your notifications. Eliminate every notification (or silence them) you don’t absolutely need like mail, social media, and news. Every time a bell, whistle, chime, or flashing light disrupts your attention, your brain is stressed and must work harder at returning to your task at hand, which over time creates unnecessary mental fatigue and irritability. 

  2. Restrict your access. It’s easier to avoid social media websites if you block your access to them, set timing limits, or delete them from your desktop. 

  3. Spread the news of your digital detox intention. Inform your people and send them a courtesy “heads up” just in case they are wondering where your response has gone. Announce the duration of your intended detox. 

Though you may experience strong desires to throw in the towel and reinstall all your apps, turn on your notifications and cancel your in-person plans, give yourself a little wiggle room to feel the feels. Get curious at what bubbles up when cravings creep in and reject the urge to fall back into behavior patterns that keep you feeling overwhelmed, lonely, and tired. You are what you repeatedly do, so keep your chin up, out from behind those screens and exercise your will power to live and thrive with the heartbeat of the world and others through eye-to-eye contact, natural walks and meals without the blue lights, videos, gaming headset, bells, and whistles.