Americans use electronic media an average of 11+ hours a day. Considering that waking hours are 16-18 hours a day, screen time has become the modern day addiction. However, there is help. A digital detox is a break from all electronic devices which includes smartphones, computers and smartwatches. The goal is to wean ourselves off the dependency to be checking and communicating through our devices throughout most of our waking hours.
In a world where you always have to be connected; how can you digital detox?
It's tough but not impossible. You don't always have to be connected. When I prescribe a digital detox for my patients, the first question they ask if "what is there's an emergency?". You can always have someone contact someone closest to you in case there's an emergency like your spouse or a close friend who can get to you if needed. "In case there's an emergency" is not enough reason to keep the phone on. You have to just set a time and date and most important set your mind to fully disconnecting. I normally start getting my patients ready for taking a detox by taking alerts off their phone. Instead of checking social media or email every single time there's a notification, check once an hour or even every 2-3 hours. This saves time AND stress.
Is always being connected to devices and online affecting our mental and physical health?; if so in what ways?
Constant connection unfortunately can have negative effects on you mentally and physically. Constantly checking email alone can contribute to symptoms of anxiety including a persistent feeling of being "on edge" and poor concentration on other tasks. There has been a correlation with consistent scrolling of social media feeds with depressive symptoms. The consistent snapshots of people living their best lives can result in not just FOMO (feeling of missing out), but actual feelings of inadequacy.
Our connection to our devices also is a major time drain. Laying in bed scrolling our phones takes away from time we could be physically active. You see this effect in today's children where technology (video games, smartphones and tablets) have led to more time inside and less exercise.
How did we become so dependent on always being connected?
We didn't exactly choose to become dependent. Technology has granted so much convenience that we can make phone calls through our watches, contact people across the world in seconds and do a majority of business remotely. It was more a cause and effect. The convenience from technology improvement is really what contributed to us becoming more dependent.
Companies like Apple who once promoted constant access to your devices are now promoting time away from them. Do you think companies should take more responsibility prior to kick-starting trends like this?
I don't think the companies need to take any responsibility. Their job is to promote their product and keep making it better. We are thankful to companies like Apple who have brought these technological advances into our homes. It's up to us to regulate our own use.
What are some signs that a person should be on the lookout for that may should digital detox?
Anxiety symptoms are usually a first sign that it's time for a digital detox. Dependent people have become so mentally consumed with being connected that they have neglected their self-care. You see this in people who check work emails hours after leaving the office and on the weekends. They never have a time to decompress so they burn out. They start feeling overwhelmed, irritable and may have problems sleeping. I have had patients develop physical symptoms from the stress, including having muscle tension in their back and shoulders and frequent headaches.