By Elmien Ackerman, a self-proclaimed “wordaholic” who loves words and language and cringes at the thought of a missing apostrophe. She writes for Impaq Education, a curriculum provider for home and tutor education.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many of us staying indoors for days, weeks, and even months on end. When we weren’t working online or joining an online class, we were binge-watching the latest series on Netflix, scrolling through social media, or playing online games. We have been spending most of our time staring at screens, but now might be a good time to take a break and consider a ‘digital detox’.
Did you know? According to a study, South Africans spend an average of 8 hours and 25 minutes online each day.
What is a digital detox?
You have probably heard of a ‘detox’ diet – a specific diet in which people cut out certain foods, supposedly to cleanse the body. A digital detox works in much the same way and requires you to take a break from technology to cleanse your mind. Going on a digital detox requires you to abstain from, or limit the use of, devices and platforms such as:
- Gaming consoles
- Social media
Benefits of a digital detox
In our constantly connected world, embarking on a digital detox can have many benefits, including:
1. Reducing stress
Trying to keep up with a constant barrage of emails, text messages, and notifications can lead to increased stress. Taking a digital hiatus can help you relax a bit and reduce the constant pressure to be online and respond to others.
2. Increasing attention span
The persistent beeping of notifications can not only make you more stressed but can also distract you from the tasks you have to complete. A study has found that more time spent using digital devices was linked to increased symptoms of ADHD (although symptoms of ADHD does not necessarily mean an ADHD diagnosis). A digital detox can help you focus on the task at hand and not distract you with unimportant notifications.
Also read: Might my child have ADHD
3. Connecting with family and friends
Putting away devices can help you be more present and give your full attention to family and friends. Studies suggest that the overuse of smartphones in social contexts can decrease the quality and quantity of social interactions.
Even if you still need to resort to Skype or Zoom calls to connect with loved ones due to the coronavirus, you can make these moments count by focusing on one device or online platform at a time. If you are chatting with someone via video call on your laptop, don’t also scroll through Instagram on your phone at the same time. Focus on engaging with and really listening to the person with whom you are speaking.
4. Getting more sleep
Evidence suggests that children who use digital devices at bedtime have worse sleep quality and quantity than children who do not use a digital device before bed. A digital detox can allow you to channel all the hours spent in front of a screen towards healthier habits such as unwinding at the end of the day by taking a bath, reading a book, and getting enough sleep.
5. Avoiding the comparison game
Children, especially teenagers, who are becoming more aware and conscious of themselves and their peers are likely to start comparing themselves to the curated lives they see on social media. Comparison can ultimately lead to symptoms of poor mental health such as anxiety and depression. Taking a break from seeing the ‘picture-perfect’ lives of others can help you realise that social media is not always an accurate representation of people’s lives.
Tips for embarking on a digital detox
Now you know what some of the benefits of a digital detox are, you might be wondering how to start. Here are some tips on what to do when you are ready to ditch your digital devices (if only for a little while):
- Set realistic goals
Make sure to set goals that are achievable. If you have to work online or attend online classes, going off the grid for a month might not be feasible. Instead, start small by logging out of social media for a few days or doing a mini-detox in the evenings by refraining from using your devices.
- Set limits
If you cannot disconnect completely, setting limits on digital connections can positively affect your mental wellbeing. You can start by reducing the number of hours you spend on your laptop or social media. Plan fun activities around these hours to ensure that you look forward to putting your phone down. You can also block specific sites on your laptop or put your phone on airplane mode to ensure that you are not distracted by notifications.
- Remove pop-up messages
If your social media notification settings alert you with on-screen messages or tones, you will likely check your apps whenever you get an alert. Start your digital detox by turning off push notifications on your phone and set a time limit, like 30 minutes a day, in which to catch up on what you’ve missed.
Did you know? Research suggests that limiting your social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day can significantly improve your wellbeing.
- Choose your detox
A digital detox can look different for everyone – you can decide what type of digital detox you want to do. Verywell Mind provides some ideas below:
- A digital break: avoiding all technological devices for a short period of time, such as a day or a week.
- A device-free day: avoiding all digital devices for one day of the week, e.g. going device-free every Tuesday.
- A specific detox: restricting access to a particular app or game.
- A social media detox: restricting or eliminating social media for a set period of time.
- Detox at specific times
Promote enjoying screen time only when real-life chores are done. Reward your child or yourself with an hour of screen time after chores have been completed. Remember to avoid screens close to bedtime.
While technology is here to stay, you don’t need to ditch your devices forever. A digital detox can help you replace your bad technology habits with good ones to ensure you switch off when you need to. You can improve not only your wellbeing but save on data and Wi-Fi costs as well!