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Do You Need a Digital Detox?

Why your addiction to your phone may be harming your health.

Digital detox concept. Gadget addiction. Copy space; Shutterstock ID 1131172547; Notes: Muse_DigitalDetox Photo: Shutterstock / Ekaterina Markelo

According to a recent study, the average American checks her phone every 12 minutes, with an average of three hours on her smart phones. That seems detrimental enough, before you consider the fact that that’s only one of many screens in your day. The average American will sit staring at a screen (from computers, to iPads, to phones, to TVs) a whopping 11 hours per day. As we become more and more technology driven, that number is only going to get higher.

So how do we sit back, relax, and disconnect with all that technology? More and more Americans are choosing to do a digital detox to reboot their minds. “For some people, their screen habits have crossed a line and have become really problematic in their lives,” says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, PhD, LCSW-R, and founder/CEO of Omega Recovery Transformative Healthcare, who says some refer to it as screen addiction. “We know that screen time can be extremely habit forming—especially depending on the content—and that it can also act as a stimulant and effect a person’s adrenal system and disrupt their circadian sleep cycle. When this occurs, a digital detox is the best way for a person to get back to a more normalized baseline.”

“There have been several dozen peer-reviewed studies that have linked excessive screen time to increased depression, anxiety, ADHD, aggression, and even suicidal ideation and behavior,” says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras.

But because technology is such an essential part of our lives as functioning humans in the 21st century, how can we tell what qualifies as an unhealthy digital use for adults? “When the phone begins to take away from the other parts of your life, that’s when you know you have a problem,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Are you engaging in your hobbies less? Are you spending less face-to-face time with others? Do you go to sleep and wake up with your phone?’ These are all telltale signs.”

Screen addiction can have a severe impact on both mental and physical health, experts warn. “There have been several dozen peer-reviewed studies that have linked excessive screen time to increased depression, anxiety, ADHD, aggression, and even suicidal ideation and behavior.”

To embark on a full digital detox, Dr. Kardaras recommends committing to unplugging from screens for four to six weeks, which allows the re-regulation of the adrenal system. He says it’s important to use the method of Dopamine Replacement Therapy if you plan to detox, meaning that you need to find meaningful activities that will replace all that extra time you were formally spending in front of screens. “That means replace the screen stimulation with some other engaging behavior or hobby—don’t just sit and stare at the wall.” After the detox period, screen usage is slowly reintegrated to individual tolerance level.

For less severe addictions (and for a detox that is actually doable if you have a job that involves sitting in front of a computer), he says that “mindfully unplugging” one day a week and/or a over a long weekend can be extremely helpful in helping a person come back to a more grounded and engaged way of living. Small steps toward unplugging, such as tech-free dinner and no-tech periods throughout the day where you’re phone-free, can also be significant over time.

If the idea of a digital detox is way too daunting, start even slower; many companies are hopping on board the screen-free trend by launching services that help guests to disconnect. At Dermatologica in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, you can sign up for a 60-minute Digital Detox Treatment, which is meant to reboot, recharge, and revitalize from head to toe via a touch-therapy facial massage that stimulates lymphatic flow, improves blood circulation, lowers stress, and filters away toxins. Clients are draped in a weighted blanket to help disconnect from distractions while professional-grade ingredients are applied to skin to help fuel the skin’s natural repair process. So not only will you be phone-free for a bit, but you’ll leave with glowing skin. If that’s not the perfect way to start your screen-free journey, I don’t know what is.

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