Digital Detox—Mind, Body, and Soul

Chances are you’ve been compelled—more than once—to reach for your phone or other flashy device when it’s not exactly helpful, polite, or even safe.

Chances are you’ve also seen many reports, probably while scrolling through social media in fact, which encourage us to detach from our often-obsessive digital lives. Study after study tells us that excess screen time re-wires our brains to be wired—and tired—all the time, while messing with our relationships and quickly creating dependency.

So . . . what’s the “so what” for us as faithful women?

Well, when I tried to give up social media for the first time, I discovered myself that for many women, digital overuse stems from an attempt to fill a void that only Something Greater can fill.

So this, my friends, is a look at digital detox that involves God. How do we begin?

One step at a time.

We need to recognize the areas where we struggle most, evaluate the very real needs behind them, and acknowledge our desire to bring health and healing to those places. Here are some questions to get started!

Signs you might need a detox:

  • Does your device distract you from fully interacting with those around you? Does it interrupt real-life conversations or one-on-one time?
  • Do online relationships pull you away from real-life relationships, or contain more depth than most of your real-life relationships?
  • Can you go more than 20 minutes without glancing at your phone, heading to social media, or responding to a notification?
  • Do you stop in the middle of a task when you get a notification?
  • Do you set out to complete an intentional task on a device, but soon find yourself doing something completely unrelated?
  • Do you automatically go to your phone or screen for “relief” when you’re overwhelmed, anxious, bored, or having trouble sleeping? Is it your primary escape from life’s stress or demanding tasks?

Detox Tips

Getting started. The “best” method is different for everyone. A healthy balance will depend largely on your level of digital attachment, your confidence level, your personality, and your vocation. Some people can go cold turkey, and others are successful in limiting their digital usage to specific hours of the day. Some of us just need general guidelines, while others (raising my hand) need clearly defined, black and white, hard and fast “rules” to follow.  Whatever you decide, here’s a non-exhaustive list of tips to help you get started:

Re-order priorities: 
  • Go to God first. Whatever your reason for heading to your device, bring it to God first. Sharing a lovely picture? First thank God for the moment, and acknowledge what it means to you—independently of others. Need to vent or get advice? Tell God how you feel and ask for His guidance before anyone else. He knows you best! Looking for information? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in wisdom and productivity, no how big or small the task.
  • Define your ideal digital presence. Think about the ways you want to spend your time in front of the screen. If it’s not hours of scrolling, what is it? Name qualities you value most in digital sharing: authenticity? Charity? Connection? Ask God how to use the gifts He’s given you specifically in your online presence and on social media. Write down your vision and keep it visible to reference often.
  • Work on self-acceptance and self-confidence.  If your sense of acceptance and worth are tied to your social media presence, reject those lies and actively seek the Truth of your worth. Write down your God-given gifts. Remind yourself that in every moment God loves you as much as He ever has and ever will. Remind yourself that God’s will for your life is real, and infinitely important.
  • Work on relationships. If you’re escaping to your digital world because of tough relationships, instead take a step to address the underlying issue. Do you need to plan a night for self-care so you can come back to your family refreshed? Do you need to address an issue you’ve been avoiding with a friend or relative? Do you need to seek counsel from a priest or licensed counselor for a difficult situation?
  • Don’t forget physical health. Keep your device away from mealtime, and try to keep your last hour before bedtime as screen-free as possible. Screen light, even on the “night” setting, disrupts your brain and delays important restorative sleep, which is crucial for healthy immune systems and productivity throughout the day.
Make access harder: 
  • Out of sight: relegate your phone to a less-distracting place during important tasks or interaction, like the bottom of your handbag at work, or upstairs during a family dinner.
  • Move apps. Get social media or other time-wasting apps off your homescreen and shortcut bar. Put them in a folder you have to work to get to, or delete them altogether if there’s a mobile or desktop version you can use instead.
  • Log out. Make yourself log out of time-wasting sites and apps completely, so it takes more effort and intentionality to re-enter your username and password, helping you limit your log-ins to when you actually have time.
  • Lock out. Use an app that locks your phone to keep you productive.
  • Away from the wheel. If you’re tempted to text or glance at your phone while driving, shut that down by placing your phone safely in your backseat or trunk. If you need it for navigation, set the route before you leave and keep your device as far from reach as possible.
Challenge yourself in Self-Control: 
  • Minute to win it. If you’re tempted to check something when it’s not polite, safe, or productive, dare yourself to wait one minute.
  • Up the waiting game. If you make it one minute, wait two more. Then try five more minutes.
  • Pray through weakness. Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen your resolve and help you maintain self-control.
  • Reward yourself. When you do get some downtime, reward your self-control success by setting a timer for a few minutes of screen time at your leisure. You might even find that increasing self-control in this area helps self-mastery in other areas you tend to overindulge, too!
Find replacement behaviors: 
  • All the prayer. When I gave up social media for Lent, I committed to a daily rosary instead. I also collected prayer intentions from loved ones, wrote them in a journal, and tried to set my journal on top of my phone—so whenever I went to reach for my phone, I’d stop and pray first. Prayer is always the best remedy!
  • Hobbies galore. Make a list of hobbies you enjoy that don’t involve a screen. Reference the list when you’re bored or antsy.
  • Change of scenery. Still tempted by distraction? Divert your attention in a healthy way. Get out of the house or office, take a walk, do a little stretch, look around, or take a few relaxing breaths.
  • Brain Food. If you usually relax or escape with mindless scrolling, find something else restorative and engaging: an enlightening podcast, a book, art, music, etc.
Create accountability:
  • Involve others. Tell your friends to tell you (charitably) to get off your phone if it’s distracting your conversation. Same goes for your spouse and kids. If I toss my phone at my husband before bedtime prayers with the kids, he knows it’s because I need to keep the distraction away and focus on our family time. And the kids? They have no problem telling Mom to get off her phone and pay attention to them! It’s sometimes annoying to be called out, but also seriously helpful.
  • Sticky notes. If visual reminders work for you, put them everywhere. On your computer, around the house, wherever you know you’ll need them most.
  • Set time limits. Apps and websites are designed to keep you clicking. Don’t get sucked in! Set a timer for an appropriate amount of time, or reminders to stay on task. If you see something you really want to revisit, save or bookmark it for later when you have more time.

Why do a detox? Let’s examine what can be behind our digital habits as women.

The Good

Technology makes many worthy pursuits easier than ever before: accessing important information, snapping a picture and sharing a memory, or keeping up with friends and loved ones. The primary benefit reported by women is, unsurprisingly, seeking and building community. It’s a concept that stems from a very good, divinely-imprinted need: the need for each other. God created us to exist in community. He wants us to thrive in sisterhood, to maintain connections that support and encourage and challenge each other to a higher good. We exist to love and be loved—in order to ultimately share God’s love with the world.

At its very best, our digital usage makes all of these things happen. Isn’t that encouraging? Truly, technology and social media have propelled our access to community and our global sharing of faith to a whole new level.

[Tweet “God created us to exist in community. He wants us to thrive in sisterhood.”]

The Not So Good

Of course, we’re all human, and we’ve all experienced the double-edged sword of our digital interaction. The wealth of information that allows us to research or respond to an important matter is also a repository of endless distraction, where we find ourselves suddenly coming to and wondering how long we’ve been senselessly scrolling. The freedom that makes it easier to write a kind word is the same freedom that makes it easier to hurriedly tap out a flippant or hurtful response that we’d never think to utter face-to-face. And for every uplifting interaction, there’s the drain of latent anxiety, driven by very real compulsions and fears: the need to know, the pull to mindlessly escape life’s stress, the fear of not being included, and the ever-popular “FOMO,” or fear of missing out.

So we dive into the world behind our screens, seeking a community to fill our very real need for love, affirmation, acknowledgement, and direction. But so often we receive a tainted, insufficient version of these qualities from imperfect people, then wind up unwittingly hungering for their folly-ridden feedback in place of God’s perfect and complete love.

Such attachment creates a sort of micro co-dependency. We might hang our entire emotional well-being on whether enough people or a specific person on the other side of the screen respond—and if they respond in the “right” way. Ultimately, we end up needing higher and higher amounts of escape time or false assurance to garner the same satisfaction.

Additionally, digital overuse robs us of important life skills, like the ability to sit with the discomfort of a situation, develop patience, and use critical thinking, or problem solving. We start to miss out on the world and relationships outside our screen. We fill our lives with curated online community over investing intentional effort to create that local “village” so crucial to our well being.

Finding Balance

Clearly, while the digital world is filled with benefits, we’re also prone to using it to the detriment of ourselves and others. But I think you and I would agree that we don’t succumb intentionally. We’d all love to be less attached to the diversions inside our screens and spend more time looking out, invested in true growth and happiness.

Old habits die hard, and facing the reality behind our attachments takes work and self-awareness. But it’s more than worth it to embrace a healthier you and a more balanced digital presence—for the good of yourself and others!

How do you create balance in this digital age? Share your own tips and ideas!

Written by Megan Hjelmstad. Find out more about her here.

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  • Reply
    Dorothy McKnight
    April 4, 2017 at 9:52 am

    This was incredible and it came just at the right now. Beginning my detox today. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Courtney Hand
    April 4, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Wonderful. Thank you for this thoughtful article. I definitely need to examine my habits! This was a major gut check!

  • Leave a Reply