Unplugging for Wellness: How To Improve Your Mental Health Through A Digital Detox

Social media platforms and digital devices have become integral parts of our day-to-day living today. Singapore alone has at least 5.81 million social media users, a figure that is around 96.9% of its population.

According to recent studies, the average Singaporean spends an average of 2 hours and 8 minutes daily on social media alone, which isn’t that far off from the global average of 2 hours and 24 minutes.

This digital connectivity affords us many benefits, including making communication more convenient and accessible, broadening our sources of knowledge and connecting us with the world.

However, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Excessive usage of digital can lead to a phenomenon known as digital overload, with detrimental effects on mental and physical health.

Understanding digital overload

Constant exposure to digital stimulation can have profound effects on your mental and physical health. From increased stress levels and anxiety to disrupted sleep patterns and burnout, the impact of digital overload is undeniable. Research suggests that excessive screen time can be associated with symptoms of depression and can also exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Benefits of a digital detox

Fortunately, there is a solution: the digital detox.

By disconnecting from digital devices and embracing analog experiences – or “touching grass”, as Gen Z readers would call it – individuals can experience a host of benefits for their mental and emotional well-being. Studies have shown that digital detoxes can lead to reduced stress levels, improved focus, enhanced mindfulness, and better sleep quality. Moreover, there is a clear link between digital detoxes and improved mental health outcomes, including reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Given our highly connected digital age, it may be hard to imagine going on a digital detox. Don’t worry – we’ve rounded up a few tips for you to kick start your digital detox journey and improve your mental health.

How to start your digital detox

1. Reconnecting with the present moment

With everything so readily available in our phones – the answer to our questions, our shopping, the media we produce – it’s no wonder that many of us crave instant gratification, and get frustrated when anything disrupts that. Yet, there’s a lot more to life than what’s on our devices.

Disconnecting from our devices and going on a digital detox can help us reconnect with the present moment and be more attuned with what’s happening around us. Take a moment (or many) to pay attention to the sounds you hear, the sights you see and even the scents you smell. Being more present in each moment allows you to cultivate gratitude and appreciate the beauty of the world.

If you can afford to take some time off and travel, spend time in a place with plenty of natural surroundings to give your eyes and your mind a break. Top that off with some calming meditation or yoga practice, and you’ll find yourself savouring life’s simple pleasures without the constant distraction of your digital devices.

Read more: How To Cultivate Mindful Eating and Improve Your Relationship With Food2. 

2. Rediscovering hobbies and interests

It’s time to get hands on! While we can engage with many of our hobbies on a digital device, there are just as many hobbies that do not require one.

Rediscover interests, or find new ones to engage in, that exist offline and do not require you to plug in. This could be as simple as going on a walk in the park, dancing, pottery or gardening. Personally, as someone whose job is to write, I find that reading is also a great offline hobby – just ditch the e-reader and read words on paper! Finding activities that bring you joy and fulfilment in the “real” world can help break the cycle of digital dependency and help you feel more energised.

3. Strengthening relationships with the people around you

Ever sat down at a dinner table where everyone was on their phones? We’ve all had our fair share of those quiet meals, and it always leaves us feeling a sense of lack. Why gather at all if we’re more interested in our tiny screens?

Put those devices away, and truly invest in meaningful connections with loved ones by spending quality time together without digital distractions. Humans are social creatures, and in-person quality time is exceptionally effective at strengthening and repairing our relationships. It’s no surprise, given that in-person interaction allows for effective communication, with no ambiguous tones or weird emojis to decipher as we do over text messages.

Engaging in face-to-face conversations and participating in shared activities can create lasting memories that deepen your relationships, ensuring that you’ll have moments to bond over in the long term.

Read more: 8 Tips To Boost Your Mental Health

4. Setting boundaries with technology

Most of the stuff we do these days involves some sort of technology, so the digital world has inevitably creeped its way into most of our waking moments. The only way for a digital detox to be successful is by establishing clear boundaries that will help to prevent digital overload.

Some easy-to-implement ideas include designating screen-free time periods and tech-free zones at home where digital devices are off-limits, such as before bedtime. Studies have shown that engaging in more than two hours of screen time a night can affect your melatonin levels, making it harder for you to get a good night’s rest. Poor sleep quality is, as we know, linked to a slew of mental and physical health issues.

Try setting a rule where you don’t use your phone for at least an hour before bed. Instead, opt to do something else, such as listen to music or read a book to lull yourself to a peaceful state.

Being firm on these boundaries requires a great deal of discipline, but it’s crucial to create a healthier balance between online and offline activities to prioritise your mental health and well-being.

Overcoming challenges and resistance

Embarking on a digital detox may be life changing, but it may not be easy for all of us.

Being used to instant gratification may mean that most of us are not comfortable with boredom. Life away from our digital devices and social media may mean a slower pace of life, or being left behind when it comes to the latest happenings.

That’s where the importance of taking things at your own pace comes in. You can manage the challenges by gradually reducing your screen time and taking time to find alternative sources of stimulation that work for you. You may falter on some days, but it’s critical to practise self-compassion throughout your digital detox process.

Read more: Stuck in Procrastination? Here’s How To Take Action

Making your digital detox a habit

A digital detox offers a powerful antidote to the stresses of modern life, providing a pathway to improving our mental health and well-being. By placing more emphasis on our offline experiences, reconnecting with the present moment, and nurturing meaningful relationships, we can cultivate a healthier relationship with technology and make digital detox a regular habit.

At the end of the day, it’s not about cutting out digital devices wholesale – a state that’s hardly feasible in today’s world – but reducing our reliance on them and appreciating the many other joys life has for us.

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