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Is it time for a digital detox? Take the test

Take the test

How many times have you looked at your phone today?  Scrolled through your Facebook feed?  Checked your email?  Used an app?

How many screens are in front of you right now?

You might want to sit down for this next question . . . how would you feel if you suddenly broke your phone, laptop and tablet, meaning NO access to the internet, emails, social media or apps?

To put it in perspective:

  • The average person checks their phone 200 times a day
  • 73% of Brits say they’d struggle to go a day without checking their phone or computer
  • One in four people spend more time online than they do asleep
  • 70% of 16-24-year-olds say they prefer texting to talking

These statistics took my breath away although I’m the first to admit that a huge amount of my time is spent online or on my phone, and the irony of communicating about digital detox by posting online certainly isn’t lost on me.

I love the digital world and the doors that technology has opened for us.  But, and it’s a big but, digital can seriously damage our health, and I don’t say that light-heartedly.

The reason I decided to write this post is that I’ve recently witnessed first-hand the negative effects of over-reliance on devices, and the immense benefits of a digital detox. A few of my clients decided to step away from social media to see if it would accelerate the progress they were making in sessions – and I was bowled over by the results.  Every one of them reported a significant improvement and said that levels of focus and concentration were much better, and that mood was enhanced.  They also noticed that they had been comparing themselves to others much less and they were less concerned with the need to live up to a certain lifestyle. Consequently, they had less self-doubt and more self-confidence; and were really able to reap the rewards of every therapy session.

All of my clients who have tried digital detox also reported another big benefit they experienced during their break from cyberspace – they stepped back into the real world! They stopped looking down at screens and started to see what was actually going on around them, to engage more, to forge better connections and to start enjoying ‘real-life’ things properly.

Often, we are so focused on improving our virtual life or presenting a picture-perfect persona on social media, that we fail to appreciate, or even notice, what is actually around us.

How many times have you found yourself in a beautiful place or seen/eaten/bought something pretty and instantly thought ‘I must photograph this for Instagram?’  We get so wrapped up in capturing the moment for our digital life that we often fail to savour the moment in real life.

Do you need a digital detox?

In CBT we talk a lot about the need to become more aware of the patterns we are in both mentally and behaviourally so that we can then work on altering the ones that don’t serve us well.  Most of us have habits that we have no awareness of forming – such as an over-reliance on, or addiction to, our phones, laptops and tablets. It’s often only when we embark on a digital detox that we realise the full impact these habits have on our lives and wellbeing.

Digital technology has completely revolutionised the world, in many ways for the better. It enables us to connect to so many more people and gives us access to information on absolutely anything in an instant.  I certainly don’t know how I could manage life without it.

So, where does the problem begin? Imagine the brain as a muscle.  The digital world is giving the brain a work-out like never before!  It’s processing more information at a significant rate. Part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens is the motivational and reward centre – and we know that it is stimulated during ‘reward’ experiences and produces the feel-good chemical dopamine.

My concern is that the immediacy of social media and the digital world stimulates this area of the brain in a way that normal day to day just doesn’t. And that this results in addictive behaviour that is constantly reinforced each time we indulge the urge for an online quick fix, or avidly keep check of likes for our latest post.  Other activities just don’t provide us with the quick fix of dopamine, in the same way, meaning that there is a very real danger of us starting to value our phone more than our close relationships.

Having our heads in the digital world is also playing havoc with our capacity for concentration.  We are becoming used to receiving and digesting information in bite-sized pieces, which has impacted our ability to have a longer-term focus or concentration.

Time To Take The Test

I’ve put together a quick test to help you work out whether or not your online activity and relationship with technology is negatively impacting your wellbeing.


Please answer yes or no to each of the following:

  1. I spend more than one hour a day on a digital interface such as a computer, iPad/tablet or phone – Yes/No
  2. I often feel a dip in my mood after I have checked social media – Yes/No
  3. I am frequently distracted – Yes/No
  4. My sleep is often disturbed – Yes/No
  5. My concentration levels are worse than they were a few years ago – Yes/No
  6. If I see something beautiful, I will usually take a picture of it to post on social media – Yes/No
  7. If I left the house without a phone I would feel some anxiety – Yes/No
  8. Instead of reading books, I read status updates – Yes/No
  9. The amount of likes I receive on a social media post improves how I feel about myself – Yes/No
  10. People around me have complained about my focus on my phone or device – Yes/No
  11. I relax with a device – Yes/No

If you answered ‘yes’ to four or more items on the list, then it’s time to take some time out from technology. 

If you’d like to download a PDF of the Digital Detox Test >>Click Here


To be effective, a digital detox means a minimum of 24 hours without checking devices.  48 hours would be better, and if you can manage three days then you’ll really start to notice the benefits.  Stage two is to start making it a regular thing, for example having phone free Fridays to take you into the weekend.

Yes, the prospect can be daunting and it’s entirely normal to have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). The irony is that you’re already missing out – on the real world!

Six steps to your digital detox

  1. Get motivated: Make a list of two or three things you’d like to do (relax can be one of them!) during your detox time.
  2. Decide when: Be realistic – downing devices during a peak work week might not be the best idea!
  3. Plan the logistics: Think about all the ways you use the devices and make sure you have alternatives in place for things like your morning alarm, maps/directions, finding important phone numbers or checking your diary.
  4. Tell people: It’s important to give others advance warning of the fact that they won’t be able to get in touch with you via certain channels for the designated period of time; especially schools and anyone who may have you as an emergency contact.
  5. Put your devices out of sight: Switch off all alerts and keep all of your devices somewhere that isn’t visible to you.
  6. Journal: During the detox, make a note of what you notice and how you feel. Journaling increases our awareness of the patterns we are in so that we can reflect on them and make changes as necessary

The benefits of doing a digital detox can be far-reaching, and often unexpected.  Each of you will experience something different and will draw individual positives from the practice.

Top ten gains!

Expected benefits of a digital detox include:

  1. Improved focus and concentration
  2. Improved mood
  3. Enhanced self-esteem and confidence
  4. More rewarding connections and relationships
  5. Improved memory
  6. Reduced stress and anxiety
  7. Boosted creativity
  8. Increased productivity
  9. Better sleep
  10. Happier you!

I think the digital detox is going to be really popular and I would love to know if you have tried it how you have made it work for you and what you noticed or if you feel you can’t do it what are your worries, look forward to reading your comments.


 

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.