Are you in a toxic relationship… with your phone? Is your favourite device disrupting your life, hurting your self-esteem, and messing with your brain chemistry? You may need some space to rethink your commitment.
It’s time to meet your new beau – the digital detox. 💘
Don’t settle for a toxic relationship
Every ping draws your attention away from work, from the road, and even from your family. Dozens of social media updates threaten to deflate your self-esteem faster than a triumphant pin to a birthday balloon. You lose hours of quality time and sleep scrolling through pointless feeds.
Yet, you still cling to your digital world like a bad boyfriend or girlfriend.
Why? Because it looks so pretty, occasionally makes you smile and keeps you company, even if it doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Sure, you’ve thought you could do better, but just when you’re about to give it up, it reels you back in. We’ve all been the helpless fish snagged on that line.
Just like a toxic relationship, our devices offer just enough benefits for us to ignore the consequences. After all, they educate, entertain, and enable us to multitask. But the adage is true: Too much of a good thing is bad.
Do I need to break up with my phone?
How much of a good thing is too much? How do you know if you need to break up with your phone? You might need a digital detox if you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following:
⚠️ Do you have trouble focusing on a single task?
⚠️ Are you stressed and anxious?
⚠️ Do you reach for your device whenever there’s a pause?
⚠️ Do you feel worse after closing an app than when you opened it?
⚠️ Have others commented on how much you use your device?
⚠️ Do you spend lots of time thinking about your next post or caption?
⚠️ Do you get distracted by your device when driving?
⚠️ Do you feel lost or edgy without your device?
⚠️ Have you noticed your self-esteem getting worse?
⚠️ Do you have trouble sleeping?
⚠️ Is your device usage slipping out of your control?
You’re not alone if you answered ‘yes’ to most questions. Admitting our unhealthy habits is hard, but it’s the first step to healing. What comes next is transforming our addictive relationship with our devices into one that we’re in control of. That’s where this article will help you.
If you’re still not sure whether you want to digital detox, go check your daily pick-ups.* This tells you just how many times you grab your phone every day. You might be in for a wake-up call on just how addicted you are to your device.
Wherever you’re at, there’s no shame. Just know that it’s time to kick our bad habits to the curb and embrace independence from our phones! 💪
* On iOS, go to Settings > Screen Time > See All Activity > scroll to“Pick-ups”.
Social media takes more than its fair share of your attention and turns your personal life and identity into a commodity.
In a world where likes, shares and follows are social and professional currency, it’s easy to get obsessed with your online image. Your self-esteem is soon battered by the endless highs and lows brought by measurable validation. You start to feel more jealous and judgemental of others, potentially losing touch with your empathy skills.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Well, it’s time to reclaim your joy.
Digital detoxing gives you space to consider the effect of these platforms on your mental wellbeing. Does social media really add value to your life or are you just addicted? And, if it does add value, how can you maximise the positivity and minimise the negativity? To honestly answer these questions, you’ll first need to step away from social media by starting your cleanse.
What happens on a digital detox?
Like any detox, you can go cold-turkey or gradually eliminate temptations. Since most people need their phones for work and to communicate with loved ones, cold turkey is a backslide waiting to happen.
🧊🦃 = 🎢
Also, consider that app developers have intentionally hijacked your brain’s innate chemistry to make their apps as addictive as possible. They’re designed to trigger tiny releases of dopamine, little and often. That’s what your brain has come to expect and going cold turkey could trigger withdrawal. The jury is still out on dopamine fasting, so we wouldn’t recommend throwing caution to the wind with an extreme approach.
We think the best way is slow, steady, and sustainably. 🐢 So, let’s go ahead and review the most effective tips and achievable tricks to help you detox.
17 ways to start your digital detox (aka your digital breakup!)
The following digital detox tips will help you nurture healthy habits. ❤️🩹
The more you apply to your life, the healthier your relationship will be with your devices. We suggest choosing the most “do-able” ones and getting stuck in ASAP. Once you’re in your groove, step it up with one new trick. Rinse and repeat.
For best results, write down a schedule to implement the different tactics and follow it religiously.
1. Turn off notifications
Phones are so needy! They are continually chiming, “Look at me! Look at me!” The constant pings interrupt your focus, like someone poking you. You can’t just let your phone pester you like this while you’re working, visiting people, and especially while driving.
It’s time to silence its selfish cries. 🤫
One of the most instantaneous detox tactics is to turn off your notifications, which are typically found in Settings. Scroll through the list of apps and ask yourself, “Do I really need to hear from this app throughout my day?” Most of the time, the answer is no. Plus, your phone will be automatically set up to send random, pointless notifications from obscure apps with the intent of increasing the number of times you pick up your device throughout the day.
The quick fix is to turn off or edit most, if not all, notifications.
2. Get some closure
After you finally break up with someone who’s not good for you, what do you do? You take down photos of them, put their stuff in a box, and get some closure. That’s exactly what you need to do with your digital devices. Though, unlike your ex’s stuff, there’s no need to set fire to it while casting banishing incantations.
Just sign out, switch off, and put away your devices when you aren’t using them.
When you’re done with your computer, turn it off completely – don’t just put it in sleep mode. If it’s a desktop, chuck a decorative cover or scarf over it. If it’s a laptop, tablet or smart device, tuck it into its case or in a drawer. When you get home from work, take off your smartwatch and stash it away somewhere.
3. Make your devices hard-to-reach
Let’s be honest, most of us are quite lazy. Think of all the times you ended up watching the same channel because you didn’t have the willpower to get up and grab the remote control. Use that innate laziness to your advantage. If your phone dings out of reach, you will think twice before getting up to retrieve it.
Make use of the axiom, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. When you’re driving, put your phone in the backseat where you can’t possibly reach it unless you pull over. When you’re at the office, bury your personal phone in a bottom drawer. When with others, leave your phone out of reach. Whatever the solution, keep it out of reach.
Sloth-power to the rescue. 🦥
4. Designate tech-free hours
The golden rule of friendship is to always carve out time for your friends, especially when you’re dating someone new. The same is true for you and your phone. You don’t want your relationship with your mobile to eat away at what’s important in your life.
Check your device’s screen time tracker*. This tool shows how much time you spend on your device and even breaks it down by app usage. You will be shocked at how much me-time you could enjoy instead of mindless screen time!
Designate tech-free hours every day. During that time, you can do all the things you want to do but never seem to get around to, such as:
🎲 Play board games with family
⛰️ Take a hike
🥂 Have drinks with friends
🙏 Do yoga
💅 Get a spa treatment
🌳 Make tea and sit in your garden
✨ … And so on! The options are endless!
* On iOS, go to Settings > Screen Time > See All Activity
On Android, go to Settings > Digital Wellness
5. Go all “Marie Kondo” on your phone
Marie Kondo is a Japanese tidying guru who specialises in bringing harmony to people’s lives. Her decluttering philosophy hinges on this wise advice: “Ask yourself – does it spark joy? If it’s a yes, keep it. If it’s no, you throw it out.” It’s a simple philosophy that we can apply to our possessions, toxic relationships, frenemies, and even our digital distractions.
When doing your digital detox, consider each app on your phone. Ask yourself, “Does this app bring me joy?” If so, keep it. If not, delete it. But the real trick is to rinse and repeat, since we tend to have a hard time letting go. After one week, review your remaining apps again. Chances are, you’ll delete even more. I know I did.
6. Bury distracting apps
If you have a crush on a toxic player, your only hope is to avoid them like the plague.🙅🏻♀️
Likewise, we all have apps that we want or need but pay too much attention to. Social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are the biggest culprits. Burying such apps inside your phone incorporates several of the strategies we’ve discussed, making them out of sight and hard to reach.
Drag these overly distracting apps into folders and move them to the second or third page in the folder. That way, you aren’t reminded of the bad boy icon’s charming allure, and in weak moments, you have a few clicks and swipes to rethink your choice to open them.
7. Spring-clean your friends and followers
If you can’t bring yourself to delete social media apps, there’s still detox tactics you can employ. An excellent strategy is to spring clean your Friends list. Unfriend and unfollow toxic people and influences. This reduces updates and culls negativity lurking on your feed.
Remember, social media is a highlight reel to people’s lives – not the whole picture. Many people use it to humblebrag about their real-life romantic comedy or to make their life seem perfect. If those sorts of posts make you question yourself or hurt your self-esteem, unfollow the people responsible for them! Even if the person is being genuine, your feelings of insecurity are also genuine. Don’t put yourself through that!
8. Use a ‘dumb’ phone
Not for the faint of heart, this detox strategy takes you to the next level. Turn in your smartphone for a dumb phone, at least for the duration of your digital detox. Or purchase a dumb phone to use at certain times. For instance, you can use your smartphone at work but your dumb phone while running errands.
Two great dumb phone options are The Light Phone and The No Phone. They are affordable and simple. Their selling point is being the “least advanced phones” on the market. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a digital detox!
9. Make your bedroom a screen-free zone
It’s a well-known fact that televisions in the bedroom kill any sexy vibes. It’s no surprise that phones and tablets do too. Removing screens from your bedroom will not only nurture your relationship with your significant other but also improve your sleeping habits. The lack of distractions and blue light will help you snuggle up and fall asleep more quickly.
Don’t use the ‘but my phone is my alarm clock’ excuse. Go old school and purchase a cheap alarm clock. Replace your charging station on your bedside table with the books you’ve been meaning to read. And no, I don’t mean digital books. Dust off the paperbacks and dive into a great story that will help take your mind off the stresses of the day.
10. Prioritise sleep
Speaking of rest, a digital detox requires you to prioritise sleep over entertainment. When it comes to bedtime TV or scrolling, you need to draw a hard line. Set a screen curfew for yourself. Turn all devices off once the clock strikes, let’s say, 9 p.m. Allow your body and brain to wind down in preparation for sleep.
You can read, pray, or meditate instead to help the wind-down process. The first few nights, you might find yourself falling asleep at the same late hour. But stick with it! Soon enough, you will retrain your body and mind to properly relax during this time.
If you’re interested in sleeping better, we have a whole guide on that too.
11. Embrace doing nothing
Busyness does not equal productiveness. Psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World, promotes the art of doing nothing. Known in Dutch as “niksen,” doing nothing lets our brains rest and frees up our thinking for imagination and contemplation. Without these “nothing breaks,” we feel anxious and stressed.
When we can’t even go to the toilet without our phones, it’s clear something is out of whack. 🥴
So next time there’s a pause in your day, take advantage of it to do nothing. Yes, nothing! Waiting in line for your coffee? Do nothing. Waiting for the meeting to start? Do nothing. Going to the bathroom? Do nothing… Well, besides the obvious.
12. Go grayscale on your phone
Have you ever been attracted to someone because of their beauty, despite their bad personality? Well, your phone is the epitome of skin-deep beauty. Your phone’s background is essentially a crowd of supermodel icons fighting for your attention. Brands spend fortunes dressing up their colourful logo designs to catch your eye and draw you in.
Greyscale not only reduces eye strain but also curbs your desire to click. Greyscale shows you the frumpy version that wears sweatpants and no makeup, so you can see what matters.
The grayscale setting is often buried. You might expect to find it in the Display and Brightness setting, but that’s usually not the case. For iPhone and other popular devices, it is usually in the Accessibility setting under ‘Colour Filters’. Running a Google search for your particular device might save you time trying to figure it out.
13. Use the “Do Not Disturb” feature 🌙
A most beloved feature of detoxers and uni-taskers, the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your device blocks all notifications, text messages, and phone calls while activated. But what if an emergency arises and your loved ones can’t get a hold of you? Have no fear, for you can unblock specific phone numbers to receive their calls still.
On iOS devices, you can simply swipe your screen up from the bottom and select the crescent moon icon. On Android phones, swipe down from the top and select the circle icon with a line in the centre. You can personalise the feature in the Do Not Disturb settings menu. Be sure to activate the automatic ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ mode – it could save your life!
14. Go cold turkey (sometimes)
Going cold turkey full-time isn’t practical for most. Our phones and digital devices have become a necessity of modern living. And that’s okay. But sometimes, going cold turkey will give you an emotional reset that your mind and spirit greatly need.
Choose a day to go completely cold turkey: no phone at all! Warn your family and friends that they won’t be able to reach you by phone. Tell them where you will be that day and who you might be with, in case they need to get a hold of you in an emergency. Then, turn your phone off and leave it at home, tucked away in a hard-to-reach place.
15. Give your phone a cradle at home
You may be too young to remember the days of phone cradles, so let me explain. The first cordless home phones had charging stations known as phone cradles. When not in use, the cordless phones were kept in their cradle. It was kept in a convenient spot in the house and always within earshot. I suggest you do the same with your smartphone.
Have fun with it! Doing something silly, like tucking your phone into an actual doll cradle, will lighten your day with a giggle and make you more apt to make it a habit. Or, put the “World’s Best Dad” mug to better use. Drop your phone into it as soon as you get home as a reminder to spend more time with your kids. Make it a cradle you want to put your phone into as soon as you get home.
16. Set timers for time-outs
The very device you are trying to detox from can remind you to detox! Irony at its finest (where is Alanis when you need her? … Oh, come on, don’t tell us you’re too old to remember that too?).
Back to topic, you might as well put this ironic feature to good use.
Set recurring alarms on your phone to go off three times a day. When it’s safe to do so, stop everything and practice the art of doing nothing for a few minutes. You can even use your phone to set a countdown timer.
To make the most of those “nothing minutes,” gaze at nature’s beauty. Multiple studies have shown that looking at nature, even a picture, dramatically reduces stress and anxiety. But don’t just see it, gaze at it. If you’re looking at a flower, gaze at the individual petals, the different colours, the stem, and the leaves. Admiring the small details of nature truly brings life into perspective.
This tip brings us nicely to the last section…
17. Stay human in the digital age
Finding wellness through digital minimalism isn’t just about how you interact (or don’t interact) with your device. It’s about shifting your focus onto the life that happens offline.
We started this blog to help ourselves and others find more ways to stay human in the digital age. In the article “Going Light”, it means stripping away the digital clutter in our lives and redefining our relationship with technology to one that benefits us.
We’ve already walked you through plenty of tips on digital minimalism and digital wellness. But what will you do with that time, attention, and energy once you’ve reclaimed it? Anything and everything that makes you feel connected to yourself, the real world and the people in it. 😍
First up, rediscover the joy of physical objects. Most devices and apps on your phone are imitations of or replacements for real tools — or at least modelled on them. Spotify? A record collection! Podcasts? The radio! Instagram? Polaroids! Tinder? A deck of playing cards (… Yeutch)!
Here’s the ‘Going Light’ take on why we should reconnect with real objects…
“It’s hard to describe the ‘soul’ that some of our favourite objects inherently have. It’s an emotional connection that has almost nothing to do with features, but the pure joy of using an object.”
They might just be right. No phone can replace the satisfaction of pressing the shutter on a film camera. A kindle can’t match the comforting weight of a book. Cueing up a playlist on Spotify isn’t the same as tenderly lowering the needle of a vinyl player onto your favourite album.
Even more important than falling back in love with the material aspects of our lives, though, is rekindling those human connections.
In the digital age, eye contact is a dying art. Long, uninterrupted, heartfelt conversations are few and far between – let alone the kind of brief but cheerful connections we used to make throughout our day. Saying hello to the bus driver (now we just have our headphones in), finding a helpful stranger to ask for directions (instead, we pull up an app), or even just heading to your local shops (rather than ordering everything off Amazon).
So, once your mental energy is no longer being zapped by your phone, shine that beautiful spotlight of attention on your friends, loved ones, co-workers, neighbours, or even strangers. Get to know the world around you a little better, one interaction at a time. It’s full of weird and wonderful people – building community and social connections with them will fill your life with stories better than any you’ll find on your feed.
👫🏿👬👭🏻👭 🌍 👬🧑🤝🧑👭👫🏽👭🏽
When to seek help
Digital addiction is a dependence syndrome that should be taken seriously. If your attempts to detox actually cause you more stress and anxiety than relaxation, then you may need to seek help. Many who suffer from digital addiction have underlying issues like depression, anxiety, or an addictive personality.
In such cases, devices become a form of self-medication – a distraction to avoid your feelings and struggles. But it’s hurting more than helping you.
If that sounds familiar, don’t be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. You are not alone. Talk with a trusted doctor or a therapist. They want to help. Let them help. You might also like to take a little peek at our guide on taking care of your mental health, but be sure to seek professional advice too.
Final words of encouragement
The definition of a toxic relationship is that it makes you feel stressed, defeated, insignificant, and insecure. Sadly, it’s the type of relationship most of us have with our phones and social media. It’s time to escape it. Now is the moment to decide that you want something better; that you deserve something better.
Digital detoxing is self-empowerment – taking back control of your attention, your time, and your wellbeing. It’s both healthy and necessary in the digital era. It’s a powerful act of self-care.
Applying these detox tricks and tips will set you on a steady and sustainable path to digital minimalism. You’ll agree on your terms with the tech in your life and reap the social, emotional and physical benefits up for grabs.
What more are you waiting for? Get out of here, you! 😉