How and Why You Should Try Digital Fasting
What is Digital Fasting?
The process of setting periods in your day or your week where you are not using certain forms of technology. Usually, phones, tablets or laptops.
Some people may choose to spend a few hours every day on a “Digital Fast”, others spend multiple days per month. It generally depends on the individual and each person’s unique relationship with their tablet or smartphone.
Regularly checking and scrolling through social media has become increasingly popular in the past ten years. Although the majority of peoples’ use of technology is non-problematic, there is a small percentage of users that become addicted to smartphones and social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use.
Incorporating regular “Digital Fasting’ or “Digital Detoxing” can be effective methods to improve your relationship with your phone and give you a sense of control.
May also be known by other names like: “Digital Detox”, “Dopamine Fasting”, “Unplugging from Technology”, Digital Sabbath”.
Digital Fasting Vs Intermittent Fasting
For me, the cross over is obvious. Like with regular food fasting, which can give you better control over hunger, and has the potential to transform your relationship with food. The same can happen with digital fasting – it can decrease compulsive behaviour associated with social media addiction and reduce smartphone addiction, giving you a sense of control.
Social Media Addiction
Social media addiction is a recognised behavioural addiction that can be characterised by being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to check Instagram, Facebook and other platforms, to the extent that it impairs other important areas in life. Primarily personal relationships, work and school.
From a mental health perspective, concerns have been raised about the negative impact of excessive use of social networking sites on the health and wellbeing of users, especially that of young people, who are enthusiastic users of this technology.
Over the past five years, there has been an increase in studies (1) assessing how excessive social media use can impact negatively on health. Many of them show that social media use, for a minority of individuals, is associated with several psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and addiction.
You don’t have to be a “Social Media Addict” to experience any of the above symptoms. For me, social media is a way of sharing my message about The 2 Meal Day and Intermittent Fasting and reaching more people. This means that I check it multiple times a day, daily. I have found my attention and focus has decreased dramatically since incorporating social media into my business.
I am someone that doesn’t generally suffer from anxiety or stress; however, even I have felt the adverse effects of social media. This is why I started to experiment with Digital Fasting.
Social Media Addiction Symptoms
According to Psychology Today If you want to check whether you may be at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask yourselves these six questions:
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
Do you feel urges to use social media more and more?
Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
Do you often try to reduce your use of social media without success?
Do you become restless or troubled if you are unable to use social media?
Do you use social media so much that it has harmed your job or studies?
If the answer to all six of these questions is “yes,” then you may have or be developing an addiction to using social media. We say “may” because the only way this can be confirmed is through a diagnosis from a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist.
If you answered “yes” to a few of these questions, you will almost certainly benefit from incorporating Digital Fasting into your day or week.
Smart Phone Addiction
It’s not all about social media addiction; for some people, it could be the use of any function or app on a smartphone. A known problem is something called “Information Overload” – compulsive web surfing, watching videos, playing games, or checking news feeds can lead to lower productivity at work or school and isolate you for hours at a time.
Smartphones are designed in a way that encourages constant use. Just because you aren’t on social media, doesn’t mean that you can’t be addicted to using your phone.
Unplugging from Technology: The Benefits
Over the past year, I have been consistent with changing the way that I use my phone and laptop, mainly social media. I have noticed some profound benefits:
I’m more productive – Switching off your phone means no notifications or phone calls. No more being rudely interrupted in the middle of a task. Previously, I could get an Instagram notification in the middle of some work which could then mean 10 minutes of mindless scrolling before I remember what I was working on, Digital Fasts have supercharged my productivity!
I’m more present and “in the moment” – Before I started Digital Fasting, if there were ever any time where I was alone in a public space, I would get my phone out and start scrolling. You might think that this is a great way to pass some time while waiting for a friend, however since I have made a concerted effort not to do this, I have started to notice things in my environment which I completely missed out on before. It might be some interesting artwork, or music playing, or making eye contact with someone and meet someone new. I now use these times to try and practice mindfulness – the process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. For me, this brings out a sense of calm and relaxation and can help prevent compulsive thoughts.
I have more focus – Switching your phone off, shutting down outlook and turning the TV off allows you to focus solely on the task at hand. It’s incredible how being focused on one task at a time improves my work quality, productivity and creativity. Of course, this is a skill that takes time to get better at, but once you get used to not checking your phone, or being interrupted by notifications, it can have a profound impact. (2)
I’m more relaxed – For me, not checking my phone all the time has allowed me to slow down, breathe deeper and take in the present moment. Being continuously distracted by my phone increased stress and anxiety; however, I only realised this once I started to incorporate Digital Fasting.
It’s improved my relationship with close friends and family – They say that social media is great for connecting you with people far away, but terrible for connecting with those that are genuinely close to you. Now that I don’t use my phone as a distraction, I find that I communicate better with those close to me, in particular, my girlfriend. We both make a concerted effort not to use our phones in the evenings, which has made a big difference.
I sleep better – It’s well documented that the artificial blue light from screens can mess with your body clock and quality of sleep (3). I seem to be particularly sensitive to this. If I am on my phone close to bedtime, it takes me a long time to fall asleep, and my sleep is much lighter. Even with the orange tint on the screen that removes some of the harmful blue light, the fact that I am mentally stimulated by social media and my smartphone causes a lot of issues.
Different Methods of Digital Fasting
Just like with regular intermittent fasting, there are going to be some methods that work for some people, but not others. I recommend trying a few different techniques to see what is going to be the most effective and sustainable method for your lifestyle and habits. It could be that one method suits you best, or even a combination of all three.
Daily Fast – I try very hard not to look at my phone before 9 am and after 9 pm. So essentially I am “Fasting” for 12 hours every day. Like with intermittent fasting, you could start with a small daily fast and work your way up to a longer one. The iPhone has the “Screen Time” function which can make this much more manageable.
Weekend Fast – A 48 Hour weekend Digital Fast has made a world of difference for me. Since social media is part of my work, it’s great to be able to switch off from it on the weekend and come back motivated on a Monday. Even if social media isn’t part of your work, you could benefit from incorporating this style of Digital Fast. The weekend should be a time for catching up with friends and family and getting odd jobs around the house done!
You don’t have to get rid of your phone completely, I delete the “problem” apps, like Facebook and Instagram, which means I end up hardly looking at my phone unless I need to arrange a meet point with a friend.
Monthly Extended Fast – At certain times of the year, or when I am exploring the mountains with Connect Retreats I will spend many days not using social media or certain apps on my phone. It can be difficult at first, but once I immerse myself in the situation, activity and environment, I get so much more out of the experience! Next week I am heading off to the Lake District for some more Mountain Leader training, I will not be using social media for a total of eight days.
These are all methods that I have tried and tested. Some might be relevant for you, others won’t give them all a try and see what works.
Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your Phone
Turn off all notifications on your phone (other than phone calls) – At the end of the day, if it’s REALLY important, they will call you. If it’s not, then it’s not worth being interrupted while you are catching up with a friend of working on a task.
Use screen time or equivalent – this will lock you out of certain apps at specific times. Tell yourself that you will not respond to work-related emails or calls before/after a particular time every day.
Ban phones when catching up with friends – It’s incredible how much of a difference this makes, you might be met with resistance at first, but persist in a non-aggressive way, challenge them to go for 1 hour without looking at their phone!
Combine Digital Fasting with Forest Bathing – Going on a phone-less walk can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety at the same time as improving physical fitness and connecting with the world around you. It’s one of my favourite things to do, and many of the guests on Connect Retreats decide to leave their phone behind on our three-day hike.
Be kind to yourself – Don’t make this another thing to feel guilty about. If you set yourself the goal of not using your phone on the weekend, but give in and use it after 24 hours, then move on. Don’t feel guilty about it. The goal is to improve your relationship with your phone, not put extra pressure and guilt on you.
What do you do to replace the time?
Once you start incorporating Digital Fasting, you will soon see that you have a lot more free time on your hands! You now have the perfect time to start doing something productive, something that is going to have a positive effect on your physical or mental health or get you closer to a personal goal.
Here are some of the things that I have incorporated; of course, you might find activities specific to you.
I’m learning French
I started meditating
I work on my flexibility
I started journaling
I sleep more
I catch up with friends
I read more
The possibility are endless!
You may think that you don’t need to incorporate Digital Fasting and that you have a good relationship with your phone. I felt the same. It’s only once I started to reduce my screen time did I realise the adverse side effects.
Just like with regular intermittent fasting, start small and work your way up to practising longer fasts. I am pretty confident that you will notice some profound benefits that translate into every aspect of your life.
Video taken from The Human Window by Martin Caparrotta
READ MORE: What Breaks Your Fast?