Digital detox: Take a break from technology to boost mental health

Woman in the dark looking at a screen


Everyone needs a healthy connection with other people – it's essential for our mental and physical health. According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report, the average American spends 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or interacting with media.

If we weren't spending large amounts of time on digital devices before, the pandemic has only increased our tech time. Isolation can be devastating. Studies show that isolation is as detrimental to our health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The serious psychological and emotional impact of COVID-19 was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020, revealing concerning statistics compared to several years prior:

  • Anxiety disorder symptoms increased threefold (25.5% versus 8.1%) 
  • Depressive disorder increased fourfold (24.3% versus 6.5%) 
  • Starting or increased substance abuse by 13.3%
  • Suicide ideation increased 10.7% versus 4.3%

The challenges of too much digital time 

Social media

While social media is one way to stay connected with others, it's easy to get sucked into the negativity. Negativity can end up occupying our thoughts, lowering self-esteem, affecting our mood and increasing stress and anxiety.

Computer, gaming or TV

Excessive use can begin to become addictive over time. In a poll conducted by the organization Common Sense Media, 50% of teens reported that they felt that they were addicted to their mobile devices and 78% said that they check their digital devices hourly. 


Using our cell phone can become an automatic reflex and often serves no purpose. Taking a break can help us be more intentional with our time, allowing us to focus on what's more important in the moment.

When it may be a good time for a digital detox

There are red flags to watch out for, signaling it may be time for a digital break. "You're overdoing it if technology interferes with your work, relationships, mental health, physical health or finances," says Kimberly Vacek, PhD, Nebraska Medicine psychologist. "If it's consuming a lot of your thoughts, conditioning your behaviors or interfering with your life, it may be time for a digital detox."

Other signs to watch for:

  • If you feel stressed when you can't find your phone 
  • If you notice you're compelled to check your phone every few minutes 
  • If you feel depressed, lonely or angry after spending time on social media
  • If you notice you're preoccupied with the response you get on social media posts 

Healthy alternatives to tech come with benefits

Choosing healthy alternatives offers many benefits, including:

  • Feeling calmer, happier and more connected to others
  • Reduction of exposure to stress and mind-numbing activities that don't serve us
  • Feeling more focused and present by reducing distractions
  • Being more intentional about our choices

Find some way to connect that works for the relationships that are important to you. Try these healthy alternatives to improve your mental health:

  • Try in-person coffee dates or scheduled phone conversations each week
  • Reach out to friends intentionally to stay connected. Even if you don't feel comfortable meeting in person, consider a weekly coffee date via FaceTime or Zoom rather than continuing to postpone your book club or other hobbies
  • Connect by sending short videos to friends or loved ones
  • Send cards or write letters with someone who is far away 

How to do a digital detox

"Since breaking up with technology altogether isn't realistic for most people, cutting back is a more helpful approach," says Dr. Vacek. "To begin, assess which parts of your digital consumption feel toxic, unproductive, are interfering with your responsibilities or simply are making you unhappy."

Whatever you need a break from, put a plan in place and stick to it. Digital behaviors you may need a break from could include reading the news, scrolling through social media, watching TV or playing mindless games on your phone. 

Digital detox tips

  • Create a realistic plan to minimize consumption and be as specific as possible with your limits. For example, a limit of 30 minutes of news per day, no social media on the weekends and only one hour per day during the week
  • Create no-phone zones, particularly in the bedroom one hour before bedtime. Blue lights trick our brains into thinking it's not time to wind down. Another example is no phones at the dinner table, or for 30 to 60 minutes in the evening as a family
  • Turn off notifications during abstinence periods or delete apps temporarily for designated periods
  • If you work on a computer all day, schedule time away from screens throughout the day. Set up a time in your calendar or an alarm to go for a walk, eat lunch away from your screen and phone or split up your workday to include non-screen time
  • Replace your digital habits with healthy habits, such as exercise, meditation, in-person connection time or starting a new hobby

"If you're finding it difficult to disconnect from technology or to reconnect in person with people, please reach out to a mental health professional," says Dr. Vacek. "If it feels like digital influences may be negatively impacting your mental health, we are here to help."

 Ready to schedule an appointment? Call 800.922.0000.