It takes at least 6 hours for a digital detox to work

It seems like we spend most of our time attached to our phones, and yet the popular conventional wisdom says that we can only find peace through “digital detox” and stepping away from technology altogether.

How to resolve this?  We spoke to Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, mindfulness teacher and author of THE POWER OF OFF: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World about how we can use our devices more mindfully.

“It’s not about finding freedom from technology, it’s about finding freedom in technology,” Colier told Ladders. 

Technology gives us an emotional bond

While we may complain about being tethered to our phones, we do it to ourselves — and with good reason. Getting notifications can be a source of comfort— having a friend reach out to you via text or Twitter can feel good.

Social media usage triggers a lot of dopamine, a feel-good hormone, according to a study by media-buying firm Radium One. Dopamine is also a hormone that’s connected to addiction, as people keep looking for the next high.

The dopamine hit we get from technology pushes us to make connections more often, finding reasons throughout the day to share our lives with others using technology— especially on social media.

But Colier told Ladders that you don’t have to try to go device-free forever.

How long withdrawal lasts when we disconnect

“There’s no reason to have to give up texting and social media, but how do you do it mindfully? We really want to get out of this framework of giving it up or doing it addictively. The question is doing it with awareness,” Colier told Ladders.

But if you do choose to detox for a limited amount of time, know that the first few hours are the hardest and then it gets a lot easier.

Colier used an example of detoxing on a weekend, which theoretically should be easier.

During the first few hours people tend to feel a sense of “panic,” Colier said, but by 5 to 6 hours in, “the mind and body start to settle down.”

How will you know you’ve detoxed? Common thoughts are, I can just be where I am, I don’t have to be doing something else right now. 

She said that “by the end of 2 days, people usually feel profoundly better.”

Just be careful when resuming your use of technology after the detox.

“The challenge comes when we start to apply the detox to regular life. It’s more like an eating disorder than an alcohol addiction,” Colier told Ladders, because even though alcoholics can stop drinking, people with eating disorders still have to eat to live.

She added that we need to figure out “what behaviors we want to keep in place of our lives, and which assist our greater well-being.”

On connecting with ourselves

Colier told Ladders that it all comes down to “our relationship with the present moment.”

“Our relationship with open, unscheduled time has become one of dread. Our nervous system needs open, unscheduled time— that’s where creativity can come in,” Colier said.

Colier emphasized that these quiet times are essential to developing and improving who we are.

“There can be no real well-being if we cannot tolerate our own company. It’s not possible,” Colier said, adding, “We’re not consulting our own thoughts or experience anymore.”

She said that even if we take the time to “spend a few moments with ourselves,” we often end up “posting it right away” on social media.

On being more aware of how and why we use devices

“Every moment, you have an opportunity to interact with who is in front of you, yourself, and with technology in a way that is mindful,” Colier told Ladders.

She encourages people to ask people to ask themselves a few questions when they’re tempted to use technology:

  1. Do I really need to do this for work or anything else right now?
  2. How am I using it?
  3. Do I really want to make this choice?
  4. What would I have to feel if I didn’t use tech right now? What am I using it to escape?
  5. How do I really want to live? How do I want to use it?

On using technology in a healthy way

Colier gave Ladders tips on how to use our gadgets mindfully, like using a traditional alarm clock instead of a phone, spending 10 device-free minutes each day, charging your phone in another room, and to “find silence for 30 minutes” at the beginning of each day.

But she stressed that it goes well beyond putting certain practices into place.

“Tips are not a replacement for taking ownership of your relationship with technology,” Colier told us.