If you recognize these 5 signs, you desperately need a digital detox

We all know how addictive our phones are. We’re all guilty of sneaking glances at social media when we should be working, studying, or speaking to our spouse. 

Even celebs aren’t immune to the lure of being online. 

In September 2021, when actress Jennifer Love Hewitt revealed the birth of their third child, she also announced in an Instagram story that she would be taking a break from social media and the internet: 

“I am also starting at least a week, maybe two away from social media tomm [tomorrow],” she wrote. “I need to reset. I need to take my scrolling time and make it active time. Workout, breathing, manifesting, time with my kids and husband. All of it.”

Similarly, in August 2022, Spider-Man star Tom Holland said in a video that he was going incognito from the internet for a while:

“I have taken a break from social media for mental health, because I find Instagram and Twitter to be overstimulating, to be overwhelming.”

You don’t have to be a celeb to relate to the need to take yourself offline once in a while. Even if you don’t realize it, your body might be trying to clue you in a bunch of different ways. 

Here are five signs that you desperately need a digital detox. 

1) You feel like social media is hijacking your brain  

You’re working from home and you’re on a deadline to submit a draft of a story, project, report, or what-have-you. 

You hear that all-too-satisfying Instagram notification sound, so you steal a quick glance. Before you know it, following the notification has compelled you to scroll, scroll a little more, and then scroll some more.

Before you know it 30 minutes (or maybe more) have flown by. 

How did this happen? you ask yourself. 

How it always happens, your subconscious tells you. 

Social media pretty much hijacked your brain, says 

University of Virginia researcher and assistant professor of philosophy, Zachary Irving

“Our minds used to wander during idle times, like riding a bus or walking,” he says. “Digital distractions are instead designed to leave us ‘stuck’ on a salient topic.’”

Irving says that what might have resulted in creative thought is instead replaced by things like moral outrage or “doomscrolling”.

As a journalist, when I am working on an unrelated story, it is hard for me not to get sidetracked by Twitter (“X”) and become engrossed with what is happening in the world—particularly the immense suffering in Gaza. 

If you feel like your brain is getting hijacked by the Internet, you might have to lay down some ground rules for yourself. Such as absolutely no scrolling during the day. Or only during pre-planned breaks. 

Your brain will thank you. 

2) You’re sneaking over to social media when you’re supposed to be sleeping 

We’ve all been there. You wake up for your  middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom. Back in bed, you don’t see the harm in just scanning for any texts, emails, and notifications that might have come in the last few hours (it can happen, you tell yourself). 

Nothing. So you sneak over to Instagram. Then Facebook. Then Twitter. Maybe even the new social media platform, “Threads”.

Suddenly 20 minutes have passed. You put your mind phone away but now you’re wide awake. 

You can see that it’s going to be another night of not being able to fall back asleep until just before the alarm is about to go off. 

How does this happen? 

You might also be engaging in something called revenge bedtime procrastination, says the team at Calm

“Revenge bedtime procrastination is an increasingly common way people try and reclaim some personal time, even at the cost of their sleep.”

It’s natural to want to have time for yourself at the end of a hectic day, but the staff at Calm says if it’s beginning to affect your overall well-being, “it may be time to rethink your scrolling.”

Some signs of revenge sleep procrastination include mindlessly scrolling on social media past your bedtime. 

“You might not even be engaged in the content you’re viewing, but the act of ‘catching up’ on what you feel you missed throughout the day reigns supreme over getting rest.”

It’s not just social media. This could refer to binging “one more episode” of something on Netflix or the like. It could be playing video games into the wee hours. 

The staff at Calm say that when there’s no crying baby to console or some kind of work emergency keeping you up, staying awake well into the night becomes a personal choice. Unless of course, you suffer from a medical condition or have insomnia. 

“[But] when an external factor is keeping you awake, it’s important to look inward and ask yourself why you feel the need to stay up late.”

If you’re noticing that you’re in the habit of putting off the need to rest, then it’s time to work on breaking this habit and developing some healthy sleep routines—perhaps with the guidance of a professional.

3) Social media is making you socially drained 

unique characteristics all socially intelligent people possess If you recognize these 5 signs, you desperately need a digital detox

One Quora user asked the question: “Why do I often get socially drained by social media?”

I thought that Laura Vanderhye’s (owner at LC Media Consultants) response was interesting. She said that the feeling of being socially drained could really actually allude to being  spiritually drained.

“Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you that what you really need is a more honest, genuine connection with others.”

She continued:

“You may find that the people/groups/interests you interact with on social media are not filling up that empty space for you, stealing your energy, so simply just not serving you.”

We know that even before the pandemic, many people were relying more and more on social media as their main form of socialization.

Then, when the pandemic hit and we couldn’t physically socialize, relying on social media became even more the norm. 

“Research has shown that prolonged internet use can lead to a decrease in face-to-face communication and social interactions,” says Olivia Surtees from With Juno

This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation

“This lack of social support can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, making it crucial to limit our time spent online.”

If you feel that social media is replacing your in-person social life, then it’s time to take a look at how you can change that. 

4) Even your eyes are tired 

I have a habit of working on my phone more than my laptop. It’s convenient because I don’t have to haul my computer everywhere and I can work while I’m on the go. 

I’m responding to emails in the grocery checkout line. I’m talking to sources for my journalism stories on the phone on my afternoon walks—usually on speaker so that I can jot down notes, again, on my phone. 

Problem is both my work and my social media, and personal calls and texts are all attached to my phone. 

I know there are a lot of people like me. I even know of one high-profile woman who wrote her entire memoir on her phone!

A smartphone is just that: smart. It’s also highly efficient. 

Thing is, it isn’t easy on the eyes. I know when my eyes have had enough by the pressure I feel from being on my phone for too long a stretch.

I’m trying to take more frequent breaks from my phone but this makes me less efficient so it’s not something I stick to doing.

If anyone has a solution, let me know, because I don’t have one.

All I can say is don’t rely so much on your phone. Except I’m guilty of doing just that. 

I’m also a work in progress.

5) Your digital fix is making you depressed 

Many people will tell you that being online for prolonged periods of time can make you feel down

Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself. 

I follow a singer on Instagram who periodically announces that she’s going offline for a while because she’s falling into a mental slump from it. 

Excessive internet use has been consistently linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression, says Ahmed Zayed, MD, from The Diamond, a luxury rehab facility in Thailand. 

“Spending excessive amounts of time online, especially on social media platforms, can lead to feelings of comparison, inadequacy, and social isolation.”

Ahmed says that spending too much time online can cause a number of disorders including:

  • disrupted social interactions (as we mentioned above)
  • diminished emotional regulation
  • heightened susceptibility to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • impaired cognitive functioning
  • reduced academic and occupational performance
  • an overall compromised quality of life

He says that treatments for mental health issues that stem from internet addiction can be things like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, inpatient treatment programs, “and in severe cases, medication.”

Some healthy tips to help you improve how you show up in your digital world

Regularly replace your digital fix for more mindful activities. This could be meditation, reading, walking, painting, baking, or playing with your dog, says psychotherapist Emmy Brunner, CEO of the Recover Clinic.

“[Also] check in with yourself and your use of technology regularly. Take a moment to ask yourself how you feel.”

You might then realize you’re mindlessly scrolling and it will compel you to log off. 

Make a detox game out of it. See if you can go one weekend without scrolling social media or watching Netflix. Only use your phone for texts, talking, and emailing when you need to. 

I know that whenever I go offline for a period of time I don’t miss it. I even forget about it until I’m back on. 

One more pertinent piece of advice from Brunner: “Talk to your GP if you feel your relationship with the internet is out of control.”




Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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