Paul Chastain
November 7, 2023

Digital Detox: Combating the Addictive Nature of Screen Time

At present, there are 5.3 billion internet users and 5.25 billion smartphone owners worldwide. These are just two examples of the widespread adoption of digital technology, which has become an integral part of our daily lives. While the internet and smartphones have brought about many benefits, they also have a dark side: digital dependency.

Technology is well-integrated into modern life in a way that makes it easy for people to overlook technology addiction. According to recent studies

  • 85% of American adults cannot spend a day without going online.
  • 44% of adults say not having their phones gives them anxiety
  • 9 out of 10 report feelings of anxiety or fear when their charge gets below 20%
  • 71% of people spend more time on their phone than with their romantic partner
  • 47% admit to being addicted to their phones

Yet experts found that excessive smartphone use can cause changes in the brain. Each swipe or scroll sends a hit of dopamine to the same areas of the brain that respond to dangerous and addictive substances like cocaine.

What is Digital Addiction?

Digital addiction (or internet or smartphone addiction) is a term used to describe an excessive and compulsive use of digital devices, like smartphones, computers, and the internet, to the point where it interferes with a person's daily life, responsibilities, and overall well-being. This addiction can manifest in various ways and may involve an individual's overuse of social media, video games, online shopping, or any other digital activity.

Key characteristics and behaviors associated with digital addiction include:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time on digital devices, often at the expense of other important activities like work, school, or social interactions.
  • Failing to control or reduce the use of digital technology, despite wanting to do so.
  • Neglecting work, school, or household responsibilities due to excessive screen time.
  • Experiencing anxiety, restlessness, or irritability when unable to access digital devices or the internet.
  • Needing more screen time to achieve the same level of satisfaction or stimulation.
  • Using digital technology to escape from real-life problems or to cope with negative emotions.
  • Negatively impacting relationships, as individuals may prioritize their screens over spending time with friends, family, or romantic partners.
  • Neglecting physical health due to prolonged screen time can lead to issues like poor posture, eye strain, and disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Developing or exacerbating mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as a result of excessive screen time.

It’s important to recognize the signs of digital addiction and take steps to address it to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Effects of Excessive Screen Time

Man in bed at night dealing with mental repercussions from excessive screen time considering digital detox

Too much screen time can have significant health and mental repercussions, including:

Decreased Concentration and Cognitive Function

Excessive screen time can lead to reduced attention span and decreased cognitive function. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that high levels of screen time in children and adolescents were associated with lower cognitive development scores, particularly in language and thinking skills. Prolonged screen exposure may hinder the brain's ability to focus and process information effectively.

Disrupted Sleep Patterns

The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body's natural circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Experts warn that the use of screens before bedtime can lead to poor sleep quality. As a rule of thumb, one should turn off the screens at least an hour before bed.

Physical Health Issues

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the prevalence of screen time has been linked to insufficient levels of physical activity. This explains why people with digital addiction have a negative self-concept and a higher risk of obesity. Besides, prolonged screen use, especially without ergonomic practices, can contribute to conditions like "text neck" and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Mental Health Issues

There is growing concern about the relationship between excessive screen time and mental health issues, especially in young people. Teen’s use of screens has been associated with poor mental health because of cyberbullying and compulsive internet use. Screen addiction can also exacerbate conditions like anxiety and social isolation, as excessive use often replaces in-person social interactions.

Reduced Productivity

Screen time can increase productivity when used appropriately. However, excessive screen time at work can lead to reduced productivity and a decreased ability to concentrate on tasks. Constant distractions from email, social media, and other digital sources can impair work efficiency.

Eye Strain and Digital Eye Syndrome:

Prolonged screen time can lead to digital eye strain, characterized by symptoms like dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. The American Optometric Association warns that excessive screen time can contribute to eye strain and recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look at something 20 feet away.

Reduce or Eliminate Screen Time With Digital Detox

Embrace digital detox to alleviate mental repercussions and enrich interpersonal relationships with gadgets stowed away and a woman engrossed in reading a book

A digital detox is a deliberate and temporary break from digital devices and online activities to reduce or eliminate screen time. It's a valuable strategy to counteract the negative effects of excessive screen time and to regain control over your digital interactions.

Unplugging from your devices or making a conscious effort to use them less can help you improve your quality of life in the following ways:

  • Help you feel better about yourself
  • Lower your stress levels, help you calm down and feel content
  • Gives you mental clarity that you need to focus on things you need to get done
  • Provide relief to different body parts, thereby reducing the chances of eye problems, back and neck pain, and headaches
  • Help you sleep better

How to Get Started With Digital Detox

  • Set clear goals: Determine the purpose and duration of your digital detox. It could be a day, a weekend, a week, or longer. Clearly define what you hope to achieve during this time, such as reducing stress or reconnecting with loved ones.
  • Notify others: Inform friends, family, and colleagues about your digital detox plans. This helps manage expectations and reduces the pressure to be constantly available.
  • Establish boundaries: Create physical boundaries by setting specific times and areas where digital devices are off-limits. This could include designating "device-free zones" in your home.
  • Unplug gradually: If going completely cold turkey seems daunting, start by reducing your screen time gradually. You can limit specific apps or activities first before moving on to a full detox.
  • Engage in offline activities: Plan alternative activities that don't involve screens, such as reading physical books, taking up a new hobby, or spending more time in nature. Engaging in these activities can make the detox more enjoyable.
  • Use a substitute alarm clock: Avoid using your smartphone as an alarm clock. Invest in a traditional alarm clock to keep your phone out of the bedroom during the detox.
  • Stay active: Regular exercise can help occupy your time and boost your mood. Consider taking up activities like yoga, hiking, or biking during your detox.
  • Socialize face-to-face: Reconnect with friends and family in person. Arrange get-togethers, host dinners, or plan outings to strengthen your interpersonal relationships.

If you still have a hard time managing your screen time, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Professionals in these fields can provide guidance, support, and therapeutic interventions tailored to help you develop healthier habits, set boundaries, and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your screen time challenges. Seeking professional help is a proactive step toward achieving a healthier and more balanced relationship with technology.

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