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  • Megan Zamora

Digital Dopamine Detox

A girl suffering from turmoil and mental health issues caused by social media addiction.

We’ve all been there — sitting on our phones while scrolling through our Facebook feed or mindlessly swiping from one TikTok video to the next. The calm that comes from these actions is caused by the release of dopamine, which is a chemical in your brain involved in making you feel good. But we have all had negative reactions to this experience. We've felt depressed because we can’t compare to the picture-perfect, filtered face staring back at us from our screen, or we feel less accomplished because these videos depict people living their best and most exciting lives. A study links social media to self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.

Social Media's Effect on Mood

Social media is incredibly influential on your level of confidence and self-esteem. The constant dopamine fix from the never-ending scroll through our timeline floods our dopamine receptors with calm and enjoyment. Once the initial spark of joy has diminished, however, we're left with feelings of inadequacy in appearance, social status, or overall life progression.

“How come I can’t do my makeup like that? That girl is beautiful, I’ll never be that pretty.”

We experience major FOMO (fear of missing out) watching a video diary of someone’s cross country trip living in an RV. We feel lonely and isolated watching others supposedly living their best life while sitting in our pajamas working our way through a pint of ice cream. It becomes a compulsion, something we need to keep doing to keep scrolling. Social media apps encourage constant user engagement with fun music, cute filters, and quick videos to keep our attention. And we keep on scrolling.

Social and Productivity Implications

People who are "hooked" on social media apps often report that they don’t get out much, haven't seen their friends, or don’t have any, and avoid talking on the phone. Instead of in-person social interactions, they would rather sit and scroll than go outside for a stroll, read a book, or interact with the world around them. They can suddenly look up and realize that they need to finish their project or assignment and cannot figure out where their day went.

Modern-day smartphones will even provide a summarized report on how much time you’ve spent within different apps that week. When writing this post, I’ve already spent 7 hours and 53 minutes on Facebook alone since Sunday. According to my screentime summary, I open the Facebook app and other various social media platforms an average of eight times per day. That’s almost an entire workday spent peeking into other people's lives or searching for the next slightly amusing meme. Imagine what I could have done with those eight hours if I had just put my phone down!

What is a Digital Detox?

A digital detox is the process of stepping away from most if not all forms of technology for a period of time in order to reconnect with yourself, family and friends, and the world around you. It doesn't mean that you can't use a phone to make a call in the case of an emergency, but it does mean cutting out social media, video games, or any other digital distractions that are interfering with your life.

Benefits of a Digital Detox

  • Reduced stress

  • Better sleep patterns

  • More real-life interactions with others

  • Better use of time and time to explore new hobbies

  • Improved concentration

  • Feel more in control without digital dependencies

  • Better relationships with others

Signs You May Need A Digital Detox

Like with any addiction, it can be difficult to see that you have a problem with social media or other forms of addictive digital entertainment. A few warning signs that it may be time to cut the cord include:

  • You can’t leave your house, even for a quick errand, without your phone.

  • You feel compelled to check your phone often.

  • You eat with your phone at the table or fall asleep with your phone in your hand.

  • You feel obsessed over reading a text or checking to see how many likes you got or who responded to your post.

  • You are afraid you are missing out and often feel depressed or anxious after using social media.

How to Start Your Own Digital Detox

Getting started with a digital detox, like any restrictive process such as a diet, is sometimes difficult to start. If you aren't able to succeed on the first try, don't give up! Change is an active process that takes time and, usually, comes with a few bumps along the way. Here are a few quick and easy ways to help get you started:

  1. Decide how long you want your detox to last.

  2. Log out of social media platforms and delete the apps from your phone.

  3. Schedule times in your day to check and respond to your messages

  4. Set limits on how much time you will spend using technology throughout the day. Phones even offer to set time limits for you and remind you that you have used up your time for the day.

  5. Make a list of “real life” things you would like to accomplish

  6. If you absolutely cannot be without your phone, try setting it to airplane mode to limit distractions.

Moderating Future Social Media Usage

Unplugging and disconnecting can be beneficial in improving so many aspects of life. This act of self-care can improve your mood, sleep, and relationships. Take this time to connect with nature, try a new hobby, or reconnect with an old friend. Just like any addiction, it’ll be difficult to quit and miss out on that quick dopamine fix.

However, once successful, you might even decide to make your digital detox a recurring event several times per year or even once a month. Use this time as an opportunity to find other areas of enjoyment and you’ll be surprised with the results!

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