Conquering Your Social Media Addiction
Do you ever felt anxious when you don’t have your phone? Do you know how many hours per day you spend on your digital devices? Do you feel that your online activities have a positive or a negative impact on your overall well-being?
These are all important questions. And another to consider: Does doing a digital detox feel like a good idea for your health? Or does it simply sound impossible?
What is a Digital Detox?
A digital detox is taking a break from all technology for a set period of time. You may decide to take one day per week away from your digital devices or you may choose to avoid all technology for the duration of your vacation. This digital break is however long you choose to make it. If you are trying to break or change a habit, it can take 3 weeks of consistent change in behaviour to make that happen. Taking a break demonstrates a certain level of self-control over technology, rather than having it controlling you.
A More Conscious Approach To Technology
The truth is that we could all benefit from a more mindful approach to our digital lives. For many of us, a short “detox” period helps us to maintain our perspective where technology is concerned.
The Why: The Benefits Of Reducing Screen time
If you’re wondering about why you should reduce your screen time, check out these potential benefits.
Do you ever feel like your life isn’t quite measuring up after logging into your social media accounts? Many of us end up wondering why everyone else takes such fabulous vacations, looks so amazing, and has such perfect, high-achieving children.
The old adage “don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides” applies perfectly to social media. The cumulative effect of “comparison-itis” takes a significant toll on our mental health. Many studies confirm a link between internet use and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Better Mental Health
Of course, this relationship may work both ways. For example, have you ever looked down at your cell phone to avoid social interactions? Sometimes we see our phones as “security blankets.” Unfortunately, however, these kinds of habits only reinforce anxiety and isolation. In other words, in addition to triggering anxiety and depression, we are more likely to escape to the online world when we’re anxious or depressed.
Excessive time on digital devices also leads to habits that harm our mental and physical health. One study found that people who spend a great deal of time on their phones are less likely to eat regular meals, follow a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep. That all adds up to an increased risk of depression, obesity and a host of other health issues.
Taking a break from your devices helps you feel happier, and physically and mentally healthier.
Improved Brain Function
Even more alarming is the physical effect of screen time on our brain. It’s true! Screen time actually has the potential to change the structure of our brain. The negative effects of chronic exposure to digital media on our brains include:
- Impaired processing
- Reduced ability to focus, and
- “Dopamine loops” in which we become addicted to the hit from the feel-good chemical dopamine. When you have a positive social interaction on social media, your brain releases the reward neurotransmitter dopamine. Who doesn’t get a small thrill of satisfaction when someone likes their Instagram post? That kind of instant gratification is often missing from our offline lives. In fact, researchers have found that the dopamine cycle connected to Internet use and video games is similar to that experienced with drug addiction.
Conversely, breaking your addiction to screens helps your brain recover it’s ability to focus, and process information.
If you are needing more dopamine, there are much healthier ways to get it:
- Eat protein regularly. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. One particular amino acid, tyrosine, is needed to help your brain make dopamine.
- Sleep well. Quantity, quality and sleep-timing are all important factors in the production of dopamine. Aim for 7-9 hours per night of deep sleep and aim to sleep by 10-11 p.m. and wake up by 6-7 a.m.
- Reduce your saturated fat intake. Saturated fat impairs dopamine signalling.
- Eat probiotic-rich foods. Certain good bacteria in your gut make dopamine.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise also provides a hit of the reward neurotransmitter dopamine.
- Meditate. Meditation has mental and physical benefits that may be due to the release of dopamine. If it’s not really your thing, aim for even 5 minutes per day when you first wake up or when you are going to bed.
- Get outside. Sun exposure increases dopamine levels.
- Improve your diet. In order to make dopamine, your brain needs to have iron, niacin, folate, magnesium and vitamin B6. Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and romaine provide these vitamins and minerals.
More Restful Sleep
The blue light from our digital devices adversely affects our melatonin production. The result? Difficulty falling and staying asleep. Even more troubling are the possible links between blue light exposure at night, reduced melatonin and an increased risk for diabetes, cancer, and depression.
You may have experienced “tech neck” or a sore thumb after spending a long time on your phone. As well, researchers note that the slumping posture that develops while using digital devices also affects your breathing. One study found that 83 percent of people with neck pain have altered breathing patterns.
Recent sensational headlines claimed that our device use is causing “horns” or phone bone. This interpretation of anthropological research was at best overblown and at worst, completely false. Of potentially greater concern, is that your intervertebral discs may get damaged from having your neck perpetually bent looking at your phone. There is also an increased risk for neck osteoarthritis from this prolonged and unusual neck position.
Better Hormonal and Cell Health
One researcher found that people tend to hold their breath when checking their devices. This habit triggers the “fight or flight “response, in which your body goes into survival mode. That process served us well in the past, when this response helped us escape our predators. Nowadays if all you’re doing is checking a social media status and holding your breath, you just wind up with a lot of unnecessary glucose, adrenaline, and cortisol in your system.
As well, our increased reliance on technology has led to high levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation in our bodies. Although the long-term effects need to be studied further, some evidence links this exposure to an increased risk of neurological disease.
Are you ready for a digital detox?
So, how exactly does a digital detox look? Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you’re inspired by the list of possible benefits above, you may be ready to implement your own detox from technology. However, as with many behavior modifications, a slow and realistic approach is often more successful. Your long-term goal could be a weekend (or even a week) without any devices.
Digital Detox Retreats
Digital-detox retreats are a growing trend in the travel business and provide opportunities to be pampered in spa-like conditions or to pursue recreation adventures, all without a digital device. There are alternative free options too, of course, such as implementing your own retreat! Examples include planning a weekend hike in a local area and connecting with nature or spending time indoors playing with your kids, reading a book or writing your journal. Be creative!
If you’re reading this blog post the day it was first published, I’ll be doing my own digital-detox at Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville. Forest bathing, downtime, reconnecting with family and nature, great food, campfires, and digital-detox all rolled into one wonderful week.
Creating Healthy Digital Habits
Before starting a cold-turkey detox, it’s a good idea to simply be more mindful of your device use. Pay attention to when and why you pick up your phone. As with unhealthy eating habits, it is a good idea to journal your internet/device use. It helps you identify unhealthy patterns of use. Do you pick it up when you’re bored? In an awkward social situation? In the bathroom? First thing when you wake up? In the middle of the night if you wake up? Make it a habit to put your phone away if you don’t need it. Commit to unplugging from any digital devices at least an hour before bedtime.
As you adjust to having reduced online time in your life, try going an entire day without checking a device. This might be uncomfortable at first. Recognize your FOMO (fear of missing out) feelings and acknowledge that if something really urgent happened, you would hear about it. Remind yourself that you don’t actually need to know every detail of your friends’ lives, or every piece of celebrity or political gossip in real time. In other words, the sense of urgency that the internet creates is not real.
Top Tips For Your Digital Detox
Here are some tips that can help you set up your own digital detox retreat, on a level that works for you.
Make your bedroom a cellphone-free zone
Bedrooms are for sleeping, and shouldn’t be associated with cellphone use. If you don’t have a landline you may worry that your loved ones won’t be able to contact you in an emergency. For example, if you have teenage kids who work or stay out late at night and they are trying to call you. The solution is to simply put your cellphone on the other side of the room, with the volume turned up high enough so that you can hear it. Also, put it face down so that other notifications won’t disturb your sleep.
Choose your activities wisely
Even in today’s wired world, you can find places where cell phones can’t be used. If you’re swimming, hiking, practicing yoga, or watching a movie, you can’t check your Facebook updates. As an added bonus, you will end up having more fun.
Go “old school”
We think of our phones as indispensable, but for centuries, people survived without them just fine. Fortunately, many “real-life” tools exist that can do the tasks we rely on our phones for. If you’re worried about losing the functions on your phone, consider a few old-fashioned alternatives:
- A paper calendar or day planner to book appointments
- An alarm clock to wake up
- Books – read them in yellow or natural light
- Letters or cards sent through the post office. Who doesn’t love receiving an old-fashioned, hand-written letter?
- A classic watch
- A camera
- A landline phone. We tend to think of the landline as unnecessary, but just over 40 percent of households still have one, and they provide a reliable back-up for getting in touch.
Reschedule your email habits
Many busy executives try to put aside specific times of the day for checking email. That means that they’re not looking for new messages every 30 seconds, or reading every notification. If this makes you feel anxious, remind yourself that in most instances, emails don’t need an immediate response. For more prolonged absences, use an out-of-office autoresponder to let people know how to contact you in an emergency.
Yes, the idea that technology can help to reduce your tech use is ironic. However, many apps and programs can measure the time you spend on your phone. They will also measure time “wasted” online. You can free up an hour or two per day in the real world for more beneficial pursuits by reducing the time that you are wasting online. If you don’t do this already, try monitoring it for a few days to get a baseline of your usage.
Get your friends and family on board
If you have contacts who expect an immediate response to every text, let them know you’re dialing back on your screen time.
Similarly, if you’re out at a restaurant for dinner, challenge everyone to put their phones away. The first one to check their device pays!
Listen to your body
How do you feel after a few hours without technology? Get in touch with any anxiety you feel that needs to be addressed. It’s also important to note the positives. Do you take in more of the world around you? Do you feel more relaxed? Were you able to get a lot more crossed off of your “to-do” list?
Get help if you need it
If you’re worried about your digital media use or if you’re wondering if you’re addicted to technology, help is available! Give our office a call if you’d like to talk about behavior modification or switching to a more health-conscious natural path with one of our naturopaths.
Call us at 416-481-0222 or book online here
Authored by Dr Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), Naturopath