Detox is a trendy word used to describe the removal of harmful toxins from your body, usually after a long night with friends or after a few days of sugary and savory indulgence. While physical detox is incredibly important for the body as toxins can interfere with healthy body functions, mental and emotional detox is becoming an elevated practice. Healthy consumption is at the heart of what The Good Mood Co stands for and we believe consumption is not just what we physically consume, but what we mentally and emotionally take in as well.
With information at the tip of our fingertips, it's easy to spend hours on our phones, laptops and tablets absorbing high amounts of information. On the surface, it might sound ridiculous to place limits on how much information we should consume in one day, yet for the health of our brains and mind, we have to responsibly manage how much time we are on our devices. It can be overwhelming to see a full inbox, a barrage of notifications as soon as you wake up, and then trying to keep up with what’s happening in the world as well as social media. Our brains can only process and absorb so much information, but we consistently test those limits despite potential harms.
The term “digital dependency” emerged as our lives have become incredibly dependent on our devices for nearly every function of our lives. This is not necessarily a bad thing! We need access to the resources these devices provide and, as the world becomes more digitally reliant, we cannot abandon technology products that connect to the digital world. However, the amount of time we spend online is staggering. In 2018, the UK’s Office of Communications, Ofcom, found in its Communications Market Report that 20% of UK adults spend more than 40 hours a week online. We are all guilty of checking our phones whenever we see a notification pop up or hear a vibration but it’s amazing to think that on average we check our phones every 12 minutes. Ofcom estimates the average British individual spends 2 hours and 28 minutes a day on their phones with that number skyrocketing to 3 hours and 14 minutes among 18-24-year-olds.
Mental and Physical Risks of Excessive Use
One of the biggest health risks of digital dependency is the amount of time we spend staring at a screen. Excessive screen usage affects our physical health in numerous ways. Our vision can be impacted due to strained vision, blurry eyes, and headaches. Additionally, the blue light emitted by devices suppresses our bodies from producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin which affects our ability to have quality sleep. Finally, excessive use of devices makes us more sedentary which increases our risk of increased weight gain, diabetes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Our physical health is not the only thing at risk with excessive digital consumption, but our mental health is also affected. Social media is known to have negative impacts on our mental health due to social comparison, FOMO, and increasing our feelings of loneliness. However, social media is not the only culprit of potential poor mental health. Overall, increased digital connectivity impacts our mood and happiness and prevents us from having a healthy work-life balance.
Smartphones can be a great distraction. Watching funny videos online or browsing the internet to learn about the latest trends in interior design can be a good use of time for some. Consequently, it can take us away from our responsibilities and impact our focus. Research shows that smartphone addiction harms productivity by breaking the flow of work. Small breaks in our concentration can increase errors in cognitive tasks and make it hard to refocus.
Why Might Detox Be Needed and What Does It Mean?
Completely withdrawing yourself from technology might not be realistic and it is not easy. Limiting your consumption in practical ways, on the other hand, is an effective tool. Setting daily limits with reminders of how long you should spend online is a great way to regulate your intake. Apple and Google have features within their software systems that allow you to place restrictions on your usage as well as locking your device to prevent further use. Apps like Instagram and Facebook have time-well spent features that monitor your daily time.
Now that we have saved a few hours a day, we might be wondering how we spend this free time. Well, focusing on self-care may be a great use of time. Practicing healthy habits like exercise, meditation, and self-reflection are great for self-growth. While technology is great for connecting with others, real-life physical connections are invaluable. The time away from our devices brings an opportunity to connect with people in our physical world. There is never an excuse to check out a new restaurant or coffee shop or attend a fun event with a friend.
In our super-connected world, it may be impossible to turn off your devices and completely detox but digital detox does not have to mean the complete removal of technology. Developing a sustainable plan on how to maximize your health and productivity while still affording yourself time to surf the internet and social media can be a realistic goal for many. This may start with cutting your phone and laptop use by an hour, or shutting your devices off for a weekend. Understanding the role technology plays in your life is powerful and recognizing you do not need to be dependent is a healthy mindset. Naturally, we will all have a relationship with our devices but that relationship does not have to be unhealthy and toxic. No matter how you choose to digitally detox, make sure it's something you can commit to and it won’t be an added stress to your already busy and hectic life.
Written by Tariq Ahmed
University of College London | 2019
MSc Global Health & Development