Do You Need to Take a Digital Diet? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

Digital Diet – The How and Why

Internet Addiction Disorder, Electronic Screen Syndrome, Digital Detoxes, Digital Diets, etc. Have you heard these terms? They are subjects that are currently generating a lot of discussions.

It’s an interesting conversation and one I’m glad is occurring.

As far as personal experience goes, yes, it is true, I don’t own a smartphone myself. I am still using the archaic mode of communication…the flip phone.

However, I hear from many people who struggle with screen addictions or social media addictions to the point that it is adversely affecting their lives. So I understand the challenge from the stories they share and I’ve done my research to offer the best help I can. Listen to my call with Melissa:

Chances are you probably don’t think you have a problem. Right? I mean all your friends are just as obsessed with their devices as you are. Everyone you know checks their Instagram feed constantly, keeps 50 Snap Chat streaks alive every day, watches YouTube and Netflix for hours on end. You are just like everyone else. That may be true or maybe you are fooling yourself.

Here’s the kicker…there isn’t necessarily a specific amount of time spent online which determines if you have a problem. It’s more about how the time you spend online impacts you and your life.

Let me clearly state that I am NOT anti-technology, anti-smart phone or anti-social media. Just because I don’t have a smartphone, doesn’t mean I don’t see how it could be beneficial.  I also know that there are tremendous benefits and good uses for Social Media, etc.  It just concerns me when any online-related, compulsive behavior begins to interfere with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, and one’s work environment.

So do you want to take a test to see if you have a Screen Addiction?

Here is the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire developed by Dr. Kimberly Young. If you answer “yes” to 5 out of the 8 questions, it means you are addicted:

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about a previous online activity or anticipate the next online session)?

2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?

3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?

4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?

5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?

6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?

7. Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?

8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

How’d you do?  If after answering those questions you realize you may actually be addicted to the internet, perhaps you are now thinking “Well, what can I do about it? It’s not like I can just give up my phone.”

Don’t lose heart. You can break this addiction. And you don’t need to quit cold turkey to do it.

The Digital Diet

Think of a digital diet like a food diet.  There comes a time when you just need to make healthier choices to get to a healthier place.  A digital diet is about being mindful of what you are doing online and how much time you spend there.  It's about embracing the good it brings such as using it for work, school, and fun without over-consuming. It's about moderating yourself. 

So what might a digital diet look like?

Try these 5 things:

1. Schedule No-Device times in your day. For example, always put your phone away at mealtimes. Or establish a boundary for yourself to not look at your device past 10 pm. Or perhaps you get an hour of screen time after school and then you put it away for 2 hours. Figure out what works for you and then stick to it.  It will be tempting to pick it up…but like a diet…you’ll need a little willpower and in the long run you will be happier.

2. Don’t charge your phone/devices in your room at night. Is it the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed? Give your brain and eyes a rest. Plug your phone in somewhere else during the night to decrease the temptation. But you say, “It’s my alarm clock.”  You know what?  They do still make good old-fashioned alarm clocks for very little cost.

3. Avoid Push Notifications. If you have push notifications turned on for everything, your phone will never stop binging. Ask yourself if you really need to know every time someone updates their post or likes a picture or sends an e-mail? What push notifications could you turn off so that you are not inundated by bells and whistles? You can still find every new post and update it when you choose to go look at them. You just don’t need to be interrupted every time one comes in.

4. Limit the number of episodes or videos you watch. Do you find yourself binge-watching a show on Netflix? Or going from one YouTube video to the next? Set a limit for yourself. (You do tell yourself you can't eat the whole package of Oreo's don't you?) Tell yourself you will watch no more than 2 shows at a sitting.

5. Take a social media break. How often do you check your feeds or look at Snap Chat stories? Have you ever actually counted how many times you click on that little icon to see if there is anything new out there? I promise it wouldn’t kill you to take a break.

Maybe for a week give up social media or at least one bit of your social media. See how much more time you have. You might even find you are less stressed when you don’t have to try to stay on top of every feed. And when you start using it again, don’t go back to where you left off and try to get all the way through. Trust me you will live without seeing what your acquaintance ate for supper.

If you are still resistant to taking a digital diet because you are thinking, “Well, really, what’s the big deal? I’m not really hurting myself or anyone else, the truth is you could very likely be hurting yourself and your relationships with others.

Research shows that internet/screen addiction can damage your brain. Overstimulation can impair brain structure and function, especially when a person’s brain is not fully developed which doesn’t happen until the mid-twenties. The effects of this are vast but here are some examples:

  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Affects the ability to develop empathy and compassion for others
  • Can cause cravings similar to drug cravings
  • Poor impulse control
  • Cause anxiety or stress in small things

Here are some additional pitfalls of a screen addiction:

1. Superficial Relationships - With a social media addiction your superficial online relationships can start to take the place of real personal relationships.

2. Become irresponsible - You can waste so much time staring at a screen that, without even realizing it, you were sucked in for hours. During this time perhaps you should have been studying, sleeping, doing tasks around your home. Perhaps it’s even affecting your career. If you feel the need to check your phone at work all the time to keep up on social media or read your push notifications, you will be less productive. Period.

3. Missing out - You can be so engaged in the online world that you ignore the life that is happening around you. Did your parent, sibling, spouse try to have a conversation with you, but you ignored them to stare at your phone? Did someone ask you to go out, but you declined?

4. Trapped Inside - You can forget that there is an outdoors with adventures awaiting because your screen has become too tempting and you just can’t leave it.

5. Boredom – You simply don’t know how to create any fun or excitement in your life anymore. You can’t think creatively and discover things to do. Unless you are looking at a screen, you find life to be boring.

This doesn’t have to happen to you. Take the digital diet today! Do you think screen addiction is a serious problem for people today? Have you struggled yourself? Are there additional tips you can pass along for people addicted to their phones? Please leave a comment below.

For many more tips, videos, and information about screen addictions, please download our free eBook today.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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