Signs You Need a Digital Detox

Ever feel like you can't live without your phone? You're not alone. We rely on technology more than ever these days but there are some downsides of being so 'connected' this way. Here are some signs it might be time for a digital detox...

Contributor: Dr. Kristen Race

When my daughter was 7 she turned to my husband and said “I bet you can’t go one week without checking your phone while we are around.” My husband who, in addition to being a great partner and dad, also loves a good bet, didn’t hesitate. “You’re on, winner buys milkshakes!”

And for one week, my husband fidgeted, whined, talked about withdrawal, and….then engaged with us at all times we were around. It was remarkable, really -- with personal benefits for him, family benefits for all of us. And as much as I might want to give him a hard time for needing the wager to motivate him in the first place, the reality is he is hardly alone.

Technology seems to be part of our everyday lives but there are still some downsides of being so connected. If you can say 'yes' to one or more of the following, it could be time for a digital detox:

  • You find yourself asking people to repeat what they said because you were distracted by an incoming text
  • You go out for a family dinner and sit in silence because the entire family is on their phones
  • You feel a sense of panic when you don’t know where your phone is or you notice the battery is low
  • You wake up in the morning do you immediately dive into your push notifications and text messages
  • You spend more minutes per week on screen time than you do working out
  • You miss your daughter’s game winning goal because you were checking your phone

Had more than one 'yes'? Before you panic, this doesn’t mean you need to cleanse yourself of tech completely but it could mean it's time to start managing your tech -- instead of letting your tech manage you. Overuse of technology can have a negative impact on our relationships, productivity and our health in general. Here's how it has an impact on each area of your life, and what to do about it:

Your Relationships

Researchers from the University of Essex found that people who engaged in personal discussions when a cell phone was nearby -- even if neither was actually using it -- reported lower relationship quality and less trust in the person with whom they were interacting. They also felt the other person was less empathetic to their concerns.

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Solution: Start with Meals. The easiest way to not use your phone at a meal (drumroll please……) is to not have your phone at your meal! Brilliant, right? Our kids are now teenagers, and their phones are very important to them. We make it clear that they are not to bring their phones to the dinner table-- when we go out for dinner, they leave their phones in the car.

And when friends come over, if someone pulls out a phone, we politely ask them to put their phone away during meals. But here’s the thing -- there is only one way for this to work. As parents, we have to do the same! By modeling the behavior we want out of our children (and our friends), we set the stage for success, for a lack of pushback, and for great conversation.

Your Productivity

According to the Harvard Business Review, people who focus on many things at a time are less productive than the ones who focus on one thing at a time and nothing causes us to multitask more than our phones. Studies show that when we attempt to do 2 cognitive tasks at once our cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an 8-year old. It is a phenomenon called dual task interference. Constant emailing and texting reduces mental capacity by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. - This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep, or smoking pot.

Solution: Turn Off Push Notifications. That sound your phone makes when you receive a text, email, or social media update sends a message to your brain that triggers an urge in you to check your phone. That urge becomes more urgent as each moment passes until finally, once you give in, dopamine is released in the brain making you feel momentarily content. Until the next ‘ding’!

If you haven’t already, turn off as many notifications on your phone as you can. Almost every app on your phone will send you a notification if you let them, all vying for your attention. Control your phone before it takes control of you. Go to your phone’s settings, and under “Notifications,” decide which apps will interrupt your productivity.

Your Health

When we constantly have one eye or ear out for the next ping or ding on our phone we maintain a heightened state of anxiety. Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down — it’s in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. While in this state our brains release stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine which negatively impact our immune systems, blood pressure and ability to sleep.

Solution: Give Your Brain a Tech Break. Get into the habit of taking at least 30 minutes for a tech break before you go to bed. This means staying off the computer and avoiding that “one final check” of your phone. Read a book, watch a television show , make the kids’ lunches for the next day, take a warm, soothing shower. And then set yourself up for a healthy night sleep all the way through by leaving your phone in another room and using an old school alarm clock instead.

Technology, and our use of it, is not going away any time soon. The key is to be intentional about how we use it, so we can manage it, rather than the other way around.

Have you ever done a digital detox? How does technology impact your life? Share your thoughts below!