Have you ever sworn you got a text message or heard your phone ring only to pull your phone out of your pocket and realize there was no notification or phone call? This phenomenon is called phantom vibration syndrome, otherwise known as “ringxiety”. These hallucinations have a variety of possible causes such as attachment anxiety to your phone, the fact that your phone is a part of you (much like a pair of glasses you wear everyday), and even having an addiction to your cellular device. While there’s tons of research that goes into this strange occurrence, the point is, sometimes it’s good to put our technological devices aside for a brief time to improve, and even test, our mental and physical health.
In college I was required to do a one week technology cleanse as an assignment, meaning no TV, no computer, no phone, and even no music for a week. We couldn’t entirely escape from these forms of technology though since we needed it to do homework for our other classes, so we got a slight cheat for that, but the idea was we couldn’t use technology unless it was absolutely necessary. Although I knew I would get through the week using minimal technology and be fine, I didn’t expect to go through physical and mental side effects along the way.
Just over the course of that week I experienced everything from withdrawal, headaches, panic and anxiety, loneliness and isolation, restlessness, and exhaustion. This exercise wasn’t just to test my ability to go without entertainment, but it forced me to go through the mental and physical consequences of the dependence I didn’t even know I had on technology.
Ever since this assignment, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more impossible it feels to separate yourself from technology, the more it probably means you should (at least for a brief period).
A few benefits of doing a technology detox are:
1. Better Mental and Physical Health
Social media along with many other forms of technology is often used to avoid social interactions, especially ones we feel unsure about. On the flip side, we go to social media to engage in those social interactions, however because we aren’t forced to have these interactions in real time we speak, act, and treat others in ways that are unrealistic to how we would in person. This is often why so much unkindness happens on the internet. We get to hide behind the facade that is social media and be whoever we want to be, suffering minimal consequences for our actions.
Social media and technology is also unfortunately an easy escape from reality. It becomes a place we run to when we want to numb or distract ourselves from anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness. Most of the time this leads to a habit of turning to social media as the medicine to our problems instead of actually dealing with those emotions head on. This leads to an increase in mental health problems like anxiety and depression as well as a cycle of bad habits. It not only affects our ability to have fruitful social interactions, but it also negatively impacts our eating and sleeping habits.
And while you may think you have your relationship with technology under control, it only takes a few days away from it to tell you if you really have it under control or not. Why? Because you will physically and emotionally react to its absence if you have an unhealthy dependence on technology to get you through your day, much like having caffeine withdrawals.
2. Less Comparison to Others
It’s easy to turn to social media as a template for how we should look, how accomplished we should be, how much money we should have, and how well liked we are. This frequent act of comparing ourselves to others often negatively affects our mental health. If you take social media out of the equation, at least for a brief period, you can begin to see people for who they are, not the best, and oftentimes, fake versions of themselves they display on social media. This not only lowers the expectations we place on ourselves, but we get a realistic picture of the people around us and even of ourselves. It also lowers the amount of anxiety and depression we can feel as a result of this comparison, which helps us instill a greater confidence within ourselves.
3. Better Approach to Technology
When we know we can step away from technology and still function regularly, we have a much healthier approach to technology itself. We can take advantage of the great benefits of technology while still taking into account the risks of it. This changes our whole approach and actually improves the effectiveness of our technology use as a whole.
4. Developing Good Habits
If you’re anything like me, you tend to choose picking up your phone and scrolling for a few hours over doing anything else. Technology has oftentimes prevented me from starting or developing hobbies. Instead of reading, which I love to do, I find myself picking up my phone. The same goes for exercising, connecting with my friends and family, sleeping, spending time alone, cooking or baking - basically anything I could be doing, instead I choose to check my phone.
Part of this has to do with the dopamine that’s released every time we turn to social media. It feels good to us and often serves as a “rewards system” or “reward loop” every time we check our phones. When we’re forced or compelled to choose to do something else, it’s easy to feel that urge towards technology again. For me, sometimes it’s just the reality of being alone with my thoughts that makes me want to turn to technology instead of doing something I actually truly love doing.
But, when we take technology out of the equation, even for a few hours out of our day, we can develop a good habit of productivity. Technology often distracts us from our thought processes. It then takes us twice as much time to accomplish something that should have only taken a short while to complete. We often waste our lives away using technology which diminishes the potential God has given each and every one of us.
Taking a break from technology also gives us the opportunity to make new memories with our friends and family, allows us to have in-depth conversations with others, and to develop new unique, creative, ideas!
5. More Restful Sleep
The blue light that emits from our phone screens actually disturb our body’s natural production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycle, which helps us feel sleepy at night and causes us to wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. This means when you spend that hour or two laying in bed scrolling on your phone instead of trying to fall asleep on your own, you’re actually making it harder to fall asleep and preventing your body from getting the rest it needs. Again, this leads to insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness which are all harmful mental health problems.
There are tons of other reasons why taking a break from technology is good for your overall health, but here are some tips for having a successful technology detox.
1. Be Realistic
Don’t expect yourself to be able to quit cold turkey for a week and then give up the moment you accidentally use technology again. This is about improving your mental health and giving you the tools to take control of your technology use.
Some people choose to get rid of all technology for a week or for a day. Others choose to take it a little at a time such as going without social media for a week, or even simply going without a specific app or just TV for a week. You can tailor it to your needs or to what you may be specifically struggling with at that moment in time.
It’s also best if you spend some time planning or preparing for your technology cleanse. Don’t do it spontaneously because you’ll be just as tempted to start it back up spontaneously. If you can prepare for it, you can get into the right head-space before you begin. This also gives you time to let others know you’ll be doing this cleanse for a day or for a week, to remove any distractions, and to fill your time with other things aside from technology.
2. Set a Limit
A wise decision might be to ease your way into a detox like this. What I mean is that it might work out better for you to start taking a break from technology for a day before you try it for a whole week. It’s also easier to achieve a goal like this when you have a clear idea of when it will end. As you set limits and achieve those goals you’ll find yourself naturally putting aside technology for longer periods of time because you’ve developed a healthy relationship and habit with technology.
3. Let your Family and Friends Know Beforehand
Letting your family and friends know by text or sharing it on social media before you take a break from technology will solve a few problems. First, they’ll be less likely to text you or send you something through social media if they know you’re trying to take a break from it. If they don’t know about it they can’t support you. Second, by letting them know you’re taking a break from technology they won’t think you dropped off the face of the earth, which will also put them at ease and prevent them from texting you.
4. Remove Distractions
It’s pretty hard to take a break from something if it’s still in front of you, taunting you, and reminding you of how much you want it. Just like when people remove caffeine from their house so they can take a break from soda, you’ll want to take away the temptation to use technology altogether. Put your phone in a drawer, have someone take or hide your remotes, do whatever you need to do to remove the temptation. The whole “out of sight out of mind” mentality is real. It’s much easier to stop using technology if you can forget about it altogether. Instead fill your environment with what you DO want to do such as books if you want to start reading more, go out with your friends if you want to build up your connections more, or be intentional about exercising every morning with a friend or family member.
5. Repeat the Detox
It’s not enough to do this once in your life. Make it a regular occurrence. Some people choose one day out of the week to go without technology (or at least social media). Others choose one week out of the month. Whatever works best for you! Just be honest with yourself and discipline yourself to go without it based on what you need mentally and physically.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “look to Jesus” or “set our eyes on Jesus”. A technology cleanse like this is much like fasting. Not only can we fill the time we now have with prayer, reading Scripture, and devotion to Jesus, but we’re also able to determine what our idols are. For a lot of us technology and/or social media is that idol we put before Christ. It’s what we turn to before we go to sleep and the first thing we fill our minds with when we wake up. But, we’re called to look to Jesus who is able to help us in our struggles and doubts and who is worthy of our praise!