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Does a ‘Digital Detox’ Really Detoxify You?

Ever since the rise of the smartphone, we’ve also witnessed the rise of the so-called digital detox. Simple enough, the concept here is that taking time away from screens is beneficial on a holistic level, helping reset the habits that a smartphone encourages. 

The concept behind it sounds simple on a surface level, but are all the alleged benefits of digitally detoxifying really true?  Wouldn’t we be better off reestablishing our relationship with technology altogether rather just taking periodic breaks from it? 

What is a Digital Detox

Odds are you’ve heard of the concept before, but if not, the buzzy term “digital detox” refers to time spent intentionally apart from technology. Often, this includes smartphones and tablets, but digital detoxes might even involve computer and television screens as well. Needless to say, doing a digital detox while working in an office might difficult, so some choose to do it on the weekends or continue to use technology where it’s essential, banning mindless scrolling from their houses or bedrooms.

Does a Digital Detox Actually Detoxify

While a digital detox won’t actually rid your body of toxins, it does help you break away from toxic habits typically associated with too much screentime. And this isn’t all anecdotal either. Though the word “detox” might be misleading insofar as convincing you that putting down the phone will rid your body of bad substances, there are chemical changes that occur in the brain when you take a step away from screens for a period of time.

In addition to combatting social media obsession, taking a step back from the technologies we know and love can help break the psychological and physiological cycle of addiction we experience in relation to our technologies. 

The Science Behind a Digital Detox

“Two very particular brain chemicals that are involved in the internet addiction process are oxytocin and dopamine,” Time to Log Off reports.  This campaign, with its focus on breaking the vicious cycle of technology addiction, highlights the fact that the ways we use technology has an impact on our bodily functions — making quitting just as difficult as any other addiction.

Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is stimulated in pair and mother/child bonding. Terrifyingly enough, it also reacts to our social media usage. Even simple actions like posting a photo or responding to comments can release the powerful chemical, giving social media usage a feeling akin to “a dinner conversation with good friends” Fast Co reports. 

In addition to triggering oxytocin, dopamine is a key player in our dependence on technology as well. This neurotransmitter is released when we use our phones, as Bustle explains. “When you anticipate feeling good (like a text message you’ve been waiting for), your body releases dopamine, which is associated with that pleasant jolt that often accompanies your phone buzzing.” 

While it might seem like dopamine release is good, however, getting too used to the feeling can create addictive behaviours. Ever found yourself compulsively checking to see if you’ve gotten a text message? That’s the dopamine talking.

How Does a Digital Detox Help?

Taking a break from technology won’t stop your brain from releasing powerful chemicals when you use your phone altogether. The way we’re wired just means that this is how our bodies naturally respond. And you won’t be totally “reset” to your pre-smartphone mind after a few hours (or days) away from screens, small breaks can have a big impact in reshaping your relationship with technology. 

A digital detox might not stop you from feeling FOMO when scrolling through Instagram, but it can encourage you to recognise whether your relationship with Instagram is good in the first place. Even if you dedicate a small amount of time to powering down your phone every week, odds are you’ll begin to see the effects. 

Benefits to digitally detoxing include less anxiety, better sleep, increased productivity and better health. And while your phone might not be the antitheses of a happy body and mind, it can distract you from the things that help you reach those points. Less time spent with technology means more time spent outdoors, with your family, or getting other projects done. So while doing a digital detox might not immediately stop you from reaching from your phone when you’re bored, it will begin to teach you that there are many other, better ways to spend your time.

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