6 ways to start (and stick with) a digital detox

Let's face it: we're all glued to our gadgets. Whether we're working at computers all day, watching Netflix, or scrolling through Instagram on our smartphones, screen time is slowly taking over our daily lives. In fact, the average American spends nearly half their waking hours staring at a screen.

The scariest part? Studies show that our electronic addictions negatively impact our mental health, social behavior and emotional stability. They even cause weight gain and cortical thinning of the brain, effectively lowering both our attention spans and IQs.

You know what that means. It's time for a digital detox.

Don't worry, we're not suggesting you return to handwritten letters and landlines. But a few simple changes in your routine will have major benefits on your stress level, sleep, blood pressure, and general well-being.

Here's how to get started:

1. Turn off push notifications:
The endless stream of alerts popping up on your phone's home screen constantly demands your attention and makes it difficult to focus on pretty much anything else. Disable alerts (under Notifications on your iPhone, and Settings on an Android) for every app you can live without.

2. Make mealtimes sacred:
Take your tech off the dinner table to improve your digestion and the quality of your conversation with loved ones.

3. Detox your social:
Studies show that scrolling through social media increases blood pressure and stress levels thanks to the anxiety we feel when comparing our own lives to the highlight reels we see on Instagram and Facebook. You can solve this problem by clicking "unfollow" or "mute posts" from anyone in your social media feed who makes you feel insecure or anxious.

4. Device-free zones:
Exposure to the blue light from our devices actually blocks the production of melatonin and serotonin (our sleep and happiness hormones). Designate certain "screen-free" spots in your home to reduce your dependence on technology and improve your sleep. Invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock and challenge yourself to get your phone out of your bedroom after 9pm.

5. Get back to nature:
Explore nearby parks, go for a hike, or simply go for a walk around the block -- without being plugged in listening to the latest podcast. Slow down and tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights around you. Studies have found that spending just five minutes in nature has the power to lift your mood.

6. Begin with baby steps if you need to:
Some people opt to start with a "Tech Sabbath" where they commit to a single day of detox from screens. See how that feels -- and then give yourself a challenge. Can you go tech-free for an entire weekend? How about a week without using your phone for anything other than actual phone calls? Giving up digital devices for any length of time can feel a little scary at first. Any detox can feel this way! But as you "clear out" and connect more deeply with people and nature, don't forget to connect with your feelings. And we bet you'll feel pretty amazing!

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Published: August 30, 2019 - Last Updated: April 6, 2021

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