Digital detox – the best tips for a digital time-out


Young woman with dog reads a book in nature during a digital detox
Key facts about digital detox

reading time: ca. 7 minutes

  • The so-called ‘digital detox’ refers to media-free periods in which you deliberately avoid the internet, social media, and other digital technologies. This improves both mental and physical well-being.
  • To make your digital detox a success, you should prepare your offline days well. Inform your friends and find useful alternatives for your newly gained free time. Plus, be sure to reflect afterwards and establish long-term changes that permanently reduce your digital stress.
  • A few tips will make it easier to create a healthy digital balance in everyday life. These include, for example, regular smartphone-free breaks, switching off push notifications, and socialising with like-minded people.
  • Certain apps can help you to raise your awareness of your own screen time.

We wake up with our smartphones in the morning and fall asleep in front of our laptops at night: It is normal now for modern technologies to accompany us throughout the day. However, the "always-on" mentality causes stress, poor concentration, and sleep issues. That's why it makes sense to consciously take a digital break from time to time and avoid mobile phones, tablets, and other devices for a while.

Digital technologies are part of our everyday lives. They simplify a lot of things, both professionally and in our private lives. The problem is: In our modern and digital world, usage quickly gets out of hand. On average, we look at our mobile phones more than 200 times a day. Being constantly exposed to smartphones, laptops, and television is not healthy for us and our bodies in the long term.

If the brain is constantly distracted by media stimuli, it can no longer process new information and form neuronal connections. We need these, for example, when we are learning something new. In addition, our brain doesn't get enough breaks and regeneration – and this leads to constant stress and overstimulation.

Digital detox is a conscious decision to do without electronic media for a while. The newly gained time can be used for many other valuable things. If you aim to live a healthier life in the long term, you don't return to your old behaviour, but develop better media habits in everyday life. The key: finding your digital balance!

What is a digital detox and how useful is it?

Digital detox means very deliberately foregoing digital devices for a while. The extent of the break can vary greatly. Whether you radically cut out all screens or just some aspects of the digital world is up to you.

According to a YouGov study, one in five people have resolved to spend less time on screens in 2023. Almost one in ten even wanted to do completely without digital devices for a while.

But is such a detox even worth it? Researchers say yes. Neck pain, increased strain on the eyes, reduced attention span, stress, and depression – all those are symptoms of excessive technology consumption.

Our sleeping habits are affected, too. Blue light from screens prevents the body from forming melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone. If you always have the internet at your fingertips, your problem-solving skills might also suffer. Why try to figure something out if you can just google it?

A study by the University of Bochum has shown that a screen break has many positive effects:

  • It reduced the risk of depression and anxiety disorders.
  • It increased life satisfaction and physical activity.
  • Overall, it led to greater well-being and a healthier lifestyle.

Regardless of whether it was complete abstinence or just a reduction in media time – in both cases, the participants felt significantly better than before after a short time.

5 good reasons for a digital detox

  1. You can concentrate more easily, are less distracted, and more productive.
  2. You improve your physical and mental health.
  3. You have less stress and find it easier to relax.
  4. You sleep better and feel more recovered.
  5. You have more time for other things you enjoy.

Perhaps the biggest positive effect: a digital detox creates a better awareness of how to interact with media in a healthy way – and often leads to reduced screen time after the detox.

Signs that you need a digital detox

When permanent screen use gets too much, the body and mind react with certain symptoms. The most important signs of digital overload are:

  • Tiredness
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Sleep issues
  • Increased stress levels
  • Headaches, eye and neck pain
  • Lower productivity
  • Neglect of social relationships, exercise, and hobbies
Stressed woman leans her head on her hands
“The challenge for a human now is to be more interesting to another than his or her smartphone.”

Alain de Botton, British-Swiss author

How to make your digital detox a success

To make your screen break a success, you should be well prepared.

Afterwards, establish good habits for the future to lead a healthier life in the long term.

  • Step 1: Set clear goals and plan properly.
  • Step 2: Inform your family and friends.
  • Step 3: Use free time well and find alternatives.
  • Step 4: Reflect and plan long-term habits.
4 steps for your digital detox

Step 1: Set clear goals and plan properly

Think about why you want to carry out a digital detox beforehand. What positive changes do you wish for? How will it change and improve your everyday life? Everything is easier when you have clear goals in mind.

To plan properly, you should also ask yourself the following questions:

  • How long should the break last?
  • Can I do without all media, or do I need exceptions, for example for professional reasons?
  • How will I keep in touch with others?
  • Can I continue with my job during this time?
  • How do I use the time I have gained?
  • How do I prevent a relapse?

Step 2: Inform your family and friends

It is important to inform others around you in advance. This will let your friends and family know that you won't be answering messages or calls for a while.

You also need to prepare your work accordingly. Depending on your job, it may be possible to carry out other (analogue) tasks during the digital break. If this is not an option, you should take a few days off. Or limit yourself to the weekends. Even short periods of time can have a significant impact.

Set up out-of-office notifications, a note in your status, or a message on your voicemail. This reminds your contacts that you can only be reached offline.

Step 3: Use free time well and find alternatives

Here we go: the digital break begins!

Switch off all devices and put them out of reach to avoid temptation.

You'll be surprised how much more time you suddenly have at your disposal.

Use the new free time for activities you enjoy, for example:

Young woman holding a book in front of her face
  • Going for a walk
  • Physical exercise
  • Self-care, relaxation exercises, or wellness
  • Meeting friends
  • Getting creative
  • Making music
  • Reading
  • Playing board games
  • Cooking

Instead of a smartphone, you wake up to an analogue alarm clock; instead of search engines and Google Maps, you use books and city maps.

How does this slow down your everyday life? Perhaps you keep one or two analogue alternatives for the long term instead of always picking up your smartphone straight away?

Step 4: Reflect and plan long-term habits

At the end, you should reflect on your detox. Answer the following questions for yourself:

  • What worked well, and what didn't?
  • What have I learnt for the future?
  • What positive changes have I noticed?
  • In which fields or situations did I particularly miss digital devices?
  • The other way round: In which fields or situations did I manage perfectly well without them?
  • What new habits would I like to adopt in the long term?

A digital time-out is good, but a healthy approach to digital media in the long term is even better.

The detox helps you lead a more conscious digital life. The aim should be to find the right balance between online and offline permanently.

Experiencing digital detox: Six weeks without Instagram

Portrait of Nathalie at OVB

What does a detox look like in practice? Our colleague Nathalie from our Product Management department tried it out for herself.

However, she limited herself to Instagram: “I realised that I spend a lot of time on Instagram and consume plenty of content that isn't actually interesting or useful at all. A friend and I then made a bet: Who can go six weeks without Instagram?”

To avoid a relapse, Nathalie deactivated her profile and deleted the app. “The first day was difficult and the social pressure from others was high,” she reveals. “After a few days, that eased considerably. I started trying out recipes, bought two recipe books, and cooked fresh meals instead of spending hours looking at useless reels.”

The result: Nathalie not only won the bet – she didn't reactivate her profile even after the six weeks. “I don't feel the need to use Instagram again for now. I don't miss it and I can use the time for more meaningful things.”

Nathalie's most important tips from her detox experience are simple: make the barrier as big as possible (for example by deleting the app), find an alternative activity or outlet, and create an incentive – in her case, a joint challenge with a friend.

9 tips for your digital balance in everyday life

Just one hour less of screen time per day greatly improves well-being and health. So don't leave it at a single digital detox, but improve your digital balance in general.

1. Screen-free spaces

Define places where you do not use digital devices. At the top of the list: the bedroom. Checking messages before going to bed, reading a few emails, a quick look at Facebook... All this prevents much-needed relaxation. Better: ban the mobile phone from the bedroom.

2. Analogue alternatives

To reduce smartphone usage significantly, create analogue alternatives. An alarm clock, wristwatch, electric torch, notepad, and city map make it unnecessary to constantly reach for your smartphone. This allows you to leave your mobile phone at home more often, for example when shopping or going for a walk.

3. Media breaks

To clear your head from time to time, it's useful to have regular offline time. This could be one media-free evening a week, for example. Or every evening after 8 p.m. – this also improves your sleep. Another good idea is to consciously start the morning without a smartphone and begin the day in a natural and analogue way.

4. New habits

We all know those moments when we automatically pull out our mobile phones. This could be when we wake up in the morning, on the train, or while waiting at the bus stop. Replace looking at the display with analogue habits, such as practising mindfulness, reading, or simply relaxing.

5. Social closeness

Very important: put your mobile phone away when you are with other people. Whether it's with friends in a restaurant, at a family meal, or at breakfast with your partner – the smartphone doesn't belong on the table. You will see that you enjoy socialising much more and your relationships will improve.

6. No push notifications

When your smartphone alerts you to every incoming email or message, you feel the urge to check it all the time. This distracts you again and again from what you actually wanted to do. So it's better to turn off notifications and only check messages when you really have the time.

7. Fixed usage times

If you find it difficult to avoid looking at your mobile phone all the time, fixed usage times may help. Schedule time periods, for example twice a day, in which you check and reply to messages, social media, and emails. Outside these times, switch the device to sleep or flight mode.

8. Useful apps

This sounds like a contradiction but it can really help: Many apps support your digital well-being. Some apps automatically switch the smartphone to flight mode for a while. Other apps record your mobile phone unlocks and screen time. This creates an awareness of your own media usage.

9. Exchange

As with all resolutions and habits, it's easier to do it together. Talk to family, friends, or like-minded people and agree to reduce your screen time collectively. Not only will you motivate each other, but you can also share useful tips and experiences.

Digital detox is trending

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of a digital time-out. More and more people are planning to reduce their screen time or go on a digital detox.

If a few hours without smartphone are not enough for you, you might like the holiday trend from the US: So-called detox holidays combine internet withdrawal with wellness. The program features massages, facial masks, yoga, and meditation. The rule is: “No smartphones allowed!”

But even over here, offline holidays are becoming more and more popular and are now offered in a wide variety of destinations, from Wi-Fi-free forest huts, remote mountain villages, and old monasteries to total radio silence in jungle or desert camps. In some resorts, there is even no electricity at all. You really can't get more digital detox than that!

Find your balance on the job as well

Discover your career opportunities at OVB and become part of a team that values your health and well-being.

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