While technology can enhance our lives, our use of technology may not always be healthy and beneficial. When you’re skipping sleep to scroll your Instagram feed, it may be time to unplug with a digital detox.
Some psychologists now consider problematic Internet use (PIN) or Internet addiction an important public health issue. In fact, a handful of health and wellness centres in the US now offer digital detox programmes to help people address problematic online behaviours, including repetitive and excessive use of social media . In one article, a German researcher noted that 1–6% of all Internet users showed evidence of dysfunctional and addictive patterns of use .
More recently, research has suggested an overlap between Internet addiction and other types of behavioural addiction, such as substance dependency . It seems as though symptoms of Internet addiction may be related to impaired dopamine neurotransmission and subsequent dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain involved in complex emotional and cognitive processing and which regulates mood, behaviour, and personality .
10 Tips for a Digital Detox
While we are beginning to understand more about our psychological and physiological responses to technology, the pace of technological advance far outstrips that understanding. As a result, we are in a bit of a quandary as to how best to manage the potential for dysfunction in our online activities.
If you feel tied to Twitter, or can fill a large stadium with your Facebook friends, you might want to try the following 10 tips for a digital detox:
1. Embrace the Watch/Alarm Clock Combo
Instead of using your smartphone to wake up or tell time, get a wristwatch and a separate alarm clock. This will help reduce the urge to check email and social media throughout the day, as well as when you’re lying in bed.
2. Use Technology Blocking Apps
Smartphone applications and browser extensions can block certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter after a set time period. Tools like this can help you stay focused and productive throughout the day.
3. Implement One Whole Day of Digital Rest
Once a week set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode so that only the most important calls can get through. If your computer is a source of temptation, hide it. Make plans to do activities where screen time isn’t involved, such as crafting, baking, cooking, reading a book, swimming, cycling, or visiting with friends and family.
4. Make a Cell Phone Tower
When out for dinner with family and friends, ask everyone to stack their phones on the table. This will minimize distraction and help everyone focus on the people right in front of them. You can also designate the dinner table as a technology-free zone: no phones, laptops, TV, or other digital devices allowed!
Create separate email accounts for personal and work so that when you’re on vacation you’re not still tied to the office. Simply set up an out-of-office auto response and relax!
6. Turn off Alerts
If you’re drawn into the Internet vortex by every new Twitter or Instagram alert, turn them off!
7. Don’t Go Cold Turkey
Extreme dietary detoxes generally do little to help develop healthy habits, and the same may be true for technology. Instead of deactivating your Facebook account and ignoring all emails, it may be easier and more sustainable to commit to a simple routine. Check and respond to emails for 15 minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and ignore your inbox at other times during the day.
8. Hide Your Phone Charger
When your phone is low on power, it’s easier to prioritize usage, meaning you’re less likely to scroll through your Facebook feed for hours at a time or take another personality quiz.
9. Embrace Boredom and Silence
As a novelist, I’m a big fan of silence and the creativity that can arise from empty time and space. Instead of immediately turning to your phone whenever you find yourself alone and free, actively listen to the silence and embrace boredom. It’s amazing what interesting thoughts you can have independent of online stimuli!
10. Track It
If guilt is a primary motivator for you, invest in tracking software that can tell you how many hours you actually spend playing online games, checking your email, or refreshing your Twitter feed. Seeing that you’ve spent days of your life on mindless nonsense can be a real wake-up call, especially if you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
If all else fails, using a simple mantra (“Leave it!”) and taking a few breaths whenever you get an email alert or other notification can help you break the habit of responding immediately and give your brain a chance to recover from the dopamine rush that results from the stimulus.
Practice these digital detox strategies and, over time you’ll find it easier to stay in the moment and maintain control of your digital life.
 Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O. (2016). Internet addiction and problematic Internet use: A systematic review of clinical research. World J Psychiatry, 6(1):143-76.
 Neuenschwander, M. (2014). Online addictive disease. Ther Umsch, 71(10):599-607.
 Bauernhofer, K., Papousek, I., Fink, A., et al. (2015). Biological basis of problematic internet use (PIN) and therapeutic implications. Neuropsychiatry, 29(4):157-62.