We live in an increasingly digital age; our society is almost always plugged into the Internet and connected. There’s no denying the benefits this can have for keeping us closer, but we are also subjected to dangers with such constant exposure without breaks where we disconnect from online. A PEW Research Center study found that in 2019, 81% of Americans reported owning a smartphone—a startling jump from 35% in 2011.
But what’s more concerning is the statistics of smartphone addiction; King University’s 2017 study found that 50% of teens and 59% of adults showed clear signs of addictive behavior. Those percentages are undoubtedly even higher three years later.
That brings us to the question at hand: how can we possibly disconnect from the Internet when we live in such a technology-centric environment? If you have ever felt the desire to break free from the connectivity of the world, you aren’t alone, and it’s not impossible. Try following these steps to cut back on your technology usage and start to disconnect in our overly-connected world.
Set time limits on your apps and phone—and stick to them
As a person who admittedly uses their phone for too many hours in the day, I understand how difficult it can be to set limits on social media apps and track your phone usage. It can even be unsettling to see how much time you actually spend online or how fast it goes. But taking advantage of built-in time limits on devices—or setting your own—can make a big difference and help you self-monitor the time you’re on the Internet.
Apps like Instagram now have their own time limit features. You can set a limit for how long you can spend scrolling under Instagram’s settings in the app. You'll receive a warning when you’ve reached your limit.
You can also invest in apps like Offtime, which allow you to choose time limits for all apps and select ones you’d like to turn off. Regardless of the limits you set for yourself, the most important thing is to stick by them.
For social media apps that you find yourself clicking on constantly, take a break by deleting the app. Deleting the app won’t delete your account, and you can redownload at any time, but it forces you to disconnect and focus on what’s in front of you.
Turn off all unimportant notifications to disconnect online
Similarly, make sure to mute all notifications that aren’t important. Even if you aren’t on the apps actively, having notifications pour onto your screen can seriously distract from the real world. You can also try using your device’s Do Not Disturb feature to mute all notifications temporarily if you’re really going for an hour or two of disconnected freedom.
Use social media sparingly
Social media is one of the biggest pitfalls when we try to disconnect from online. Social media fun and addicting; it's challenging to step away, and why would we want to anyways?
In truth, it’s much healthier for us to live in the moment. Social media accounts of all kinds can distract from that. Using social media sparingly involves things like:
- Only checking a couple times a day for short amounts of time
- Periodically taking “social media breaks” to disconnect entirely and refresh our minds
- Considering if what we’re about to post really needs to be shared with everyone
Remember that social media is also a very carefully constructed online world; it isn’t real life. Immersing ourselves in social media can be harmful, especially for teens and young adults. Using social media responsibly also means that we need to be smart and safe when using social media apps.
Disconnect online with a dedicated electronics-free hour each day
Selecting just an hour each day to be completely disconnected can help significantly with mental and physical health. This hour can vary by day, or you can pick a time and stick with it—whatever works best for you and your schedule. However, a great time to be electronics-free is before bed, as electronics are proven to stimulate your mind. This interrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep.
If this is jarring at first, try 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. Work your way up to a full hour at both times to give your body the best break.
Make small changes that add up
Little things can make a difference in helping you disconnect. For example, don’t use your phone's alarm clock in the morning; try a real alarm clock. This will lessen the temptation to jump on your phone as soon as you open your eyes.
Don’t use your phone when you’re bored, as this can be a dangerous habit that results in dependency. If you see that you’re reaching for your phone out of habit, make a conscious effort to stop. Ask yourself if you truly need to be connected at that moment.
As hard as it is to disconnect online, the commitment is more than worth it. We can appreciate all that the Internet has done to connect us with others and still recognize that it’s important to step back once in a while.
Overall, the best thing to do is to look at your own life and evaluate if you are really and truly happy with the way you spend your time. Think you might be ready for a change? Try disconnecting for a while and see all the benefits it can bring.