We’ve all been there: that moment when an instant of boredom becomes twenty minutes of mindlessly toggling back and forth between apps. “This is way better than sitting here doing nothing,” your brain tells you, as you take in yet another photo of your high school friend’s dog.
While these phone-staring sessions are usually nothing more than a time waster, they can easily turn into something more harmful if left unchecked. As technology sinks its roots deeper into our daily lives, digital dependency is becoming more common. For many, device use can spiral into compulsion territory.
So how can you tell if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone? You can start by turning it off, says Mariya Shiyko, PhD., an Assistant Professor in Northeastern University’s Department of Applied Psychology.
Take a break
According to Shiyko, an expert on digital detoxes, the best way to tell if you could stand to distance yourself from your device is by turning it off for a few hours.
“See if you can continue engaging with life without constantly thinking about the end of this miserable break, compulsively reaching for your phone or checking the time,” says Shiyko in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. During this break, are you able to function well and enjoy life? If not, then you may be too dependent on your device.
“You know it’s not healthy if you NEED your device,” says Shiyko, adding that if your happiness and well-being become tied up in anything else — whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or your phone — it has become an addiction. Digital addiction is no different from any other forms of addiction, she says.
There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology, explains Shiyko — but with each, there is the potential for misuse.
If you’ve decided to give technology a rest, the next question might be “How?” — especially if you frequently use your device for work purposes. Shiyko says that as with anything else, you can go big or small.
Digital detoxing, she says, is similar to a bodily cleanse in that there are many different routes to take. “A spring cleanse for your body might look like a week on juices and light vegetarian meals or it may be one fasting day per week continuously,” says Shiyko. “Everyone needs to find what works for them.”
She suggests choosing one weekend a month to keep your phone and email locked up. Or you could go smaller by detaching yourself from computers and devices for half a day on a weekend, or simply by turning them off after 8 PM daily.
Instead of being glued to a computer screen or a TV, go outside or make plans to visit your friends or family in person, says Shikyo. In conquering your reliance on technology, you’ll experience benefits similar to those of a person who is mentally healthy — less stress, anxiety, depression, and higher levels of life satisfaction.
“The more mental freedom one has, independently of gadgets or political news,” says Shiyko, "the more one can enjoy meaningful interpersonal interactions, creativity, and multitudes of opportunities that technology enables.”