Friday 31 July 2020

Digital Detox: 6 ways to unplug to improve your mental health

Sophia shared insights on the importance and different ways of taking a step back from toxic media. 
- Sophia

Somehow or other, we all managed to adapt to life in lockdown. Whether it was logging into a Zoom meeting in lieu of travelling to work, partaking in a Saturday night ‘pub quiz’ on Houseparty to get your dose of socialisation, or binge-watching Tiger King on Netflix to make the endless days at home more entertaining, quarantine only made society’s dependence on technology even more apparent. And while it’s amazing and relieving that we can all still more or less accomplish many things we can’t do in person through digital technology, how good for us is this inevitable spike in screen-time really?

While we all know that too much time online can hurt productivity and we all wish we could spend a little less time scrolling on Instagram, my recent research highlighted just how detrimental this digital dependence can be for millennials’ mental health*. According to my preliminary findings, 70% of the 53 participants felt they needed to be present digitally to be relevant in terms of their career and/or social life. Unfortunately, 62% of participants admitted that they feel digital use has had a negative impact on their mental health.

In their personal statements, many participants raised the issue of social comparison, noting they felt ‘insecure and self-conscious’ and wishing ‘[social media] was never invented in the first place.’ One participant claimed they believe social media ‘gives an unrealistic expectation on not only what to expect from their lives, but it removes value from the simple pleasures in life.’ Another commented that social media ‘creates insecurities as we tend to compare ourselves to others’, noting that ‘I think we need to find the right balance.’

Digital-detox is a crucial practice that can help us all find this ‘balance’. This is backed by 76% of participants who believed they would be happier if they could use their digital devices less, and 90% of respondents who said they would be open to a digital-detox to better their mental health. So, how exactly do we start?

Here are 5 lifestyle changes that you can try if you are like me, wanting to go on a digital detox:

1. ‘Do Not Disturb!’ 
Getting never-ending notifications and emails pop-up on our screens is a guaranteed way to keep our brains continually stimulated and distracted. If you’re allowing yourself to be interrupted that many times, you’re letting your device, work, or others take the 1st place on the list of your priorities. Switching to ‘Do Not Disturb’ means you can control your work and social life instead of the other way around!

2. Be phone free 1 hour in the morning and before bed. 
Not allowing your phone to be the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed not only means you’ll sleep better, but you start and end the day on your terms. You can begin the day calmly and proactively, with your own thoughts instead of others’! Spending a mindful morning or evening reading, stretching, or just having breakfast can work wonders. Invest in a new non-phone alarm clock! Or better still, make your bedroom a phone-free zone.

3. Set ‘screen-time’ limits.

For Apple users, ‘screen-time’ can be found in settings and offers you the option to set time limits on your apps. Most applications such as Instagram and Facebook also have ‘screen-time’ limits that send you a reminder when you surpass a certain amount of time on them. You can use these to check how long you’re already spending on them, and if it’s more than you’d like, you can adjust it to your goal. Alternatively, there are many 3rd party apps, such as Moment or Space which are dedicated to helping you digitally detox.

4. Spring-clean your social media accounts.
While social media supposedly helps us stay connected, research shows certain contents on these platforms often make us feel worse than better. So much of social-media is only the curated ‘best-bits’ of people’s lives, leading to issues with self-esteem and comparison. Take some time to survey what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad, and simply cut it out! If you don’t need to be seeing it, don’t.

5. Take an hour walk every day without your phone! 
This tip is much more than just an exercise to benefit your physical health! So often we use our phone to distract us from being alone with our own thoughts; going for a walk phone-free can help us realise what we truly want and need to be thinking about when we’re not constantly distracted. Take some deep breathes, and appreciate the nature and environment around you or take a book and make it an educational time! Your mind will thank you as well as your body.

6. Learn something new. 
Whether it’s picking up yoga to fill your phone-free hour in the morning, reading, walking, baking, journaling, gardening, or squeezing in an extra workout, the free time gained from letting your digital media take a back-burner on your list of priorities will enable you to do things you never thought you had time for before. The average person spends 4+ hours a day on their phone. Think of all the alternatives you could now do if you’ve digitally detoxed!

*Disclaimer: The findings mentioned in this blog post are the results of my preliminary research. This survey is still ongoing; therefore, the figures mentioned here may change over time. The data was correct on 22/07/2020.

For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on looking after your mental wellbeing during the pandemic, please visit the Student Minds website.  

I'm Sophia, a Literature Graduate and PR Masters student who loves to write and find ways to better myself!  


  1. These are great suggestions! Phones and social media can be huge distraction and are often drivers of depression, anxiety, and devaluing ourselves.

  2. Thank you! I definitely need to try this!
    Statistics on my phone says I use it for 8 hours every day. And where do I find that much time? Of course, I've been sitting at home for almost six months, but it's not okay to be so dependent on a gadget. I thought about it a few weeks ago, and now your article has pushed me to start working on it.