New year, new habits: How to digitally detox from your smartphone

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? For most, it’s picking up your smartphone before you even get out of bed. There’s just something about checking the latest political news or peeking at social media that’s hard to resist.

If you do grab your phone first thing, you’re not alone. A study from ReportLinker revealed that 66% of millennials and 46% of all adults in the US check their phones first thing upon waking. Some 93% of people sleep with their phones within arms reach, and nearly 10% tuck the devices under their pillows, according to Asurion.

Even more surprising is the number of times that ReportLinker found that people pick up their phones each day—it’s 8 billion times among all US adults.

On vacation, it gets even worse. Asurion found that Americans on vacation check their phone an average of 80 times a day—that’s once every 12 minutes. And some admit to checking it more than 300 times a day.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

All of that screen time adds to stress levels. The American Psychological Association (APA) said in a report, Stress in America: Coping with Change, that being inundated with data and social media adds to anxiety. More than 86% of those surveyed said they constantly or often check their email, texts, and social media accounts.

“Taking a digital detox is one of the most helpful ways to manage stress related to technology use,” said Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy. “Constant checkers could benefit from limiting their use of technology and presence on social media. Adults, and particularly parents, should strive to set a good example for children when it comes to a healthy relationship with technology.”

The APA report said that 65% of adult Americans somewhat or strongly agree that taking time out from their phone for a digital detox is important for their mental health. However, only 28% of those who say it’s necessary actually do it.

Why you might need a detox

It’s eye-opening to limit screen time and spend more time engaging in the world. Yet it’s so hard for many to do.

This became obvious to me in June 2015, when the band Cake was performing at a tech conference I was attending in Austin, Texas. John McCrea, lead singer and co-founder of the band, politely asked the audience to turn their phones off and experience the concert. When some fans ignored his request, he raised his voice, and again asked that everyone put down their phones and live in the moment rather than trying to capture video and photos for social media. When some audience members still ignored him, he threatened to walk off the stage if they didn’t stop.

Big tech companies are recognizing the need to minimize screen time. With iOS 12, Apple began offering Screen Time so that you can see just how much time you spend on apps, social media and websites. If you don’t trust yourself to put down your phone to detox on occasion, you can use App Limits to alert you when your time is up.

Android users can also minimize their screen time and install the Digital Wellbeing app, which shows you your app usage and allows you to set limits.

Other options include the My Digital Diet app for Android users, and Space and RealizD, which are both iOS apps. These apps track the amount of time you’ve been on your phone and reveal how many times you’ve picked it up that day.

How to limit your screen time

If you’re considering a digital detox, it’s best to start with small steps.

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“One way to do so is dedicating 10 to 20 minutes minutes of screen-free time before bed. During this time, you can read a book, have a face-to-face conversation with your partner, or simply relax in bed. But whatever you do, you must not check your phone, tablet, and laptop, as well as watch TV. Not only are you training yourself to value time away from your smartphone, but also you are giving yourself a break from bright screens and the opportunity to enjoy the moment in the real world,” said Justin Lavelle, chief communications director of BeenVerified.

Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology, said he’s had to detox from his phone. “The biggest tip I’ve got is to turn all phone notifications off. Every sound, every badge, every lock screen notification, everything. The only noise your phone should make is when you get a phone call and when you set a timer. You shouldn’t get pinged for anything else.”

Once you break the cycle of constantly checking your phone when it pings, you can work on deeper addictions by limiting the amount of time you spend on your phone.

And if you find yourself opting to look at your phone rather than kissing your partner goodnight, then it’s definitely time to turn off your phone and limit your use.

Also see

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Image: iStock/ViewApart