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5 Tips for a Successful Digital Detox

Do you need a break from your digital devices? According to Statista, in 2021 we spent an average of 8 hours a day with digital media. That’s about 50% of our waking hours spent on our phones, computers, tablets, and TV.

Of course, most of us need some screen time. We work from home. We chat with our families over video. We pay our bills and track our spending online. But it’s easy to overdo it.

One minute you pick up your phone to look up that tilapia recipe you liked, and 10 minutes later you’re watching a video of a dog dressed up like a superhero, with no idea how you ended up there.

If you’re looking to scale back your screen time, here are five tips for a successful digital detox.

1. Think about what you hope to gain from a digital detox

Scaling back on how you use digital devices isn’t just about gaining back minutes. These days, you may feel overwhelmed with stress, responsibilities, caretaking, job uncertainty, childcare, and other pressures.

“My clients regularly report having no space for their own self-care,” said Brendon Comer, a social worker at Banner Health in Colorado. “Constant connection to devices can exacerbate this lack of space.” Decreasing the amount of time you are devoting to email, social media, television, and other digital media can open up the space you need for self-care.

2. Figure out how much detoxing you need

“I don’t believe there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for a successful digital detox,” Comer said. You need to create a plan designed around your goals and the changes you want to make.

Some people need to cut themselves off completely from their digital devices. For these people, “the ways and frequency they use them have become toxic to their wellbeing,” Comer said.

But most people don’t need a full stop. They need to set concrete boundaries on when and how they use their devices, particularly their phones. That could mean:

  • Turning off notifications, or switching notifications to “silent”
  • Not using digital devices for a period of time after waking up
  • Turning off devices at a set time in the evening
  • Keeping digital devices out of the bedroom
  • Turning off certain apps, limiting access to certain websites, or reducing viewing time for certain TV shows

3. Give yourself a new activity to support your goal

If you hope to have more time for self-care with a digital detox, build in that self-care. Comer recalled one client turned off her phone and put it in a drawer every morning for two weeks. During those mornings, at the top of each hour she took two minutes to breathe mindfully.

After two weeks, she noticed her shoulders and neck were a lot less tense. “Taking regular pauses to check in with herself and her body allowed her to ground and calm herself, relaxing some of that built-up tension,” Comer said.

4. Reframe your response to notifications

You may decide you still need certain notifications turned on. When those notifications come in, you can choose how and when to respond to them. Comer recommends using your notifications as an opportunity to reconnect with present moments.

For example, you might typically stop walking or hiking to reply to a text or email when your phone buzzes. Instead, use the sensation of that buzz as a reminder to pause, take a deep breath, and notice what is happening around you. “A mindless reaction can become a mindful moment,” he said.

5. Don’t view slipups as failures

It’s easy to say you’re going to stop scanning Instagram, but it can be hard not to reach for your phone when you’re accustomed to treating yourself with a little social media time.

“Digital detoxes can be sabotaged in a similar way that New Year’s resolutions can,” Comer said. It’s easy to overpromise to yourself, and then give up if you don’t reach your goals.

“If you ‘cheat’ and fall short of your plan on a particular day, it doesn’t mean that all is lost,” Comer said. Use it as an opportunity to explore the factors that were influencing you. What made the impulse to use your device stronger than your goal? By reflecting on your behavior and what shaped it, you can learn, move forward, and build resilience.

Is a digital detox right for you? Read more to see if your smartphone is getting in the way of your healthy relationships.

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Content of this article was updated on December 8, 2023.

Behavioral Health Wellness