Why a digital detox can be your new healthy habit

27 April 2023 dot 4-minute read
Mental health Feel Well Healthy Mind Digital detox How to Social media
A digital detox is the act of taking a break from your devices to improve your overall sense of wellbeing. (Credit: Shutterstock)
There was a time when a digital detox sounded like a passing trend. Now, health experts say taking time away from your devices is an excellent form of self-care. But how many hours on a phone or tablet are too many?
There are no universal guidelines on what constitutes excessive screen time for adults. Measuring time spent on a device may be impractical since people use smartphones and laptops daily at work and at home. But there are some signs that may indicate it's time to consider a digital detox.

Signs of excessive screen time

People rely on digital devices to stay connected, informed and entertained. However, this dependency on technology has raised concerns about the long-term health impact of screen time and the content people consume.
Studies show these physical and mental health red flags may necessitate a review of digital use.

1. Repetitive strain injury

People often discover they've spent too much time looking at screens when diagnosed with repetitive strain injuries (RSI). RSIs include "text neck" and "smartphone elbow".
  • Text neck, or neck muscle strain, occurs when you frequently look down at your mobile device.
  • Smartphone elbow, also known as "tennis elbow," develops when the elbow's tendons become inflamed. This can happen when holding a mobile device for extended periods.

2. Lack of sleep quality

A digital detox means less exposure to blue light, which can affect circadian rhythms. (Credit: Shutterstock)
The brain releases melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel drowsy, in response to darkness. Researchers have found that the blue light emitted by electronic devices may lead the brain to believe it's daytime, prompting it to suppress melatonin secretion. This suppression makes you feel alert rather than sleepy in the evening. Lack of sleep contributes to fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating the next day.

3. Poor eating habits

Activities like scrolling through social media or binge-watching shows can inadvertently lead to mindless snacking or overeating. The focus on the screen can cause individuals to consume more calories than necessary or prolong their eating duration.

4. Increase in sedentary behaviour

Spending excessive time in front of screens often entails prolonged sitting or lying down, hindering motivation to engage in physical activities. This sedentary lifestyle can contribute to health problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

5. Increase in anxiety

Being online constantly can lead to technology stress. For example, your inability to "switch off" after working hours can overwhelm you. The need to regularly check and respond to messages can increase stress and anxiety, a study published in Mobile Media & Communication suggests.

6. Vulnerable sense of self

Too much time spent on social media provides more opportunities for social comparison, affecting your self-esteem. As you compare yourself to others, you may start to feel that your life is inadequate, which contributes to loneliness and low self-worth.

How to digitally detox when you work online

Creating a device-free space can help you engage in non-digital activities and deepen in-person relationships. (Credit: Shutterstock)
The need to stay connected can create a sense of urgency and pressure, leading to feelings of overwhelm. A digital detox can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus and productivity.
The best way to practise it, including duration and frequency, will be different for everyone. The key is to bring mindfulness to your own personal device use. Here are a few tips on self-regulation.
  • Establish a period to check your emails and respond to messages. Then shut off notifications and disconnect when you leave work.
  • Set work boundaries. Make it clear to others when you're unavailable.
  • Designate the dining room as a device-free zone to encourage conversations among your family members.
  • Pursue non-digital activities like taking up an analogue gratitude journal or colouring book.
  • Stay physically active by brisk walking, gardening and cooking.
  • Set aside your phone during face-to-face gatherings, which allows you to be more present.
You can have a healthier relationship with technology when you create a digital detox plan that works for your lifestyle. For additional tools and motivation, join a wellness programme like AIA Vitality, which can help you make better health choices. You can also bookmark this article for the next time you feel overwhelmed with life online.
What can you do if you're sleep-deprived? In this episode of AIA Voices, Kate Yan, one of China's leading psychotherapists, shares tips to improve your sleeping habits.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia who talk about life, health and wellness. It is a platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. AIA Voices provides an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate and learn from each other, and was designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
Convergence. 2020. Digital detox: Media resistance and the promise of authenticity. [online] [Accessed on 9 January 2023]
Business & Information System. 2022 Digital Detox. [online] [Accessed on 9 January 2023]
Mobile Media & Communication. 2022. Digital detox: An effective solution in the smartphone era? A systematic literature review [online] [Accessed on 9 January 2023]
Education and Information Technologies. 2022. The perceptions of social media users of digital detox apps considering personality traits. [online] [Accessed on 10 January 2023]
Frontiers in Physiology. 2022. The influence of blue light on sleep, performance and wellbeing in young adults: A systematic review. [online] [Accessed on 10 January 2023]
N & Journals, Electronic. 2018. A Study between Social Media Usage and Self-Esteem among Youths. [online] [Accessed on 20 December 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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