With the explosion of opportunities to spend time online, the digital detox has become a popular antidote to the temptations of technology. In 2018, 89% of adults in Great Britain used the internet at least weekly (up from 51% in 2006). Our smartphones and computers plug us into the digital world. Our devices are gateways to instant information, entertainment, online shops and services. Email and social media connect us to friends, family, colleagues and public figures. Boards, groups, and games allow us to share common interests with people around the world.
But when do internet habits become an addiction to being online? And how do we know if we need internet addiction treatment?
Let’s look at five key questions about the signs of internet addiction. We’ll give our five suggestions for a self-managed digital detox if you need a bit more balance.
When Do We Need Internet Addiction Treatment?
Can using the internet be addictive? It may seem like a strange or futuristic notion that people today are seeking out internet addiction treatment. If you’re overdoing your time online, surely you just cut down or switch off?
For many people, a digital detox can be the start of better habits. For internet addicts, however, their online activities are connected to health problems, relationship difficulties, co-existing addictions or mental illness, risky behaviours or harmful consequences.
Here are five simple questions you can ask yourself to identify if you’re addicted to the internet.
Question 1: How do you feel when you’re not using the internet?
This is the first question to ask yourself because it’s often the most telling when it comes to internet addiction. How do you feel about yourself and your life when you’re not online?
Does your life feel as interesting or significant when you’re offline? Or do you feel something is lacking? Do you fear missing out when you’re not online? Do you feel very anxious or irritable if you can’t get an internet connection? If your internet use is healthy, your time offline won’t feel second-rate or meaningless.
Question 2: Do you know how much you use the internet and what for?
As internet addiction sets in, it may be surprising to discover how much you turn to the internet for comfort, connection or a sense of purpose.
Try keeping note of when you reach for your phone or computer. In a typical week, how much time do you spend online and what do you do? How intense are your cravings to check messages or content? Do you feel compulsive or desperate to make online purchases or play games? Do you feel relief when you use the internet, which quickly wears off?
Question 3: Is your internet use affecting your health?
Here we reach a vital checkpoint – how is your health, specifically in connection to your internet use?
Firstly, think about your mental health. Are you depressed or anxious? Have you ever self-harmed? Does using the internet temporarily make you feel better about yourself or your life? But is there a sense that it’s never enough? Or does social media make you feel worse? Do you go online for comfort but often end up disappointed or down? Do you feel lonely, despite always communicating online?
If you’ve ever felt seriously unwell or suicidal in connection to your internet use, please speak to UKAT or another trusted person today. There is an effective treatment for internet addiction, including when you have a dual diagnosis. Recovery is possible and much more likely if you seek help.
Secondly, think about your physical health. Do you miss out on movement and fresh air because you’re online so much of the time? Do you have another physical health condition that’s made worse by excessive internet use? Is it hard to stop using the internet, despite eye strain or insomnia or RSI? Have you had an accident because you were distracted by your phone?
Question 4: Is your internet use connected to another addiction?
The internet is the gateway to many interests and activities people enjoy – but does the internet give you fast access to another addiction?
Role-playing online games are highly addictive for some users. Gaming addicts often play for many hours or through the night without taking breaks. Eating, sleeping and personal hygiene can also suffer, as well as relationships with family and friends.
Internet gambling, porn, webcam sex and shopping can also become addictive. Even certain types of food addictions like orthorexia or anorexia can be exacerbated by images or content online.
Question 5: Is your internet use risky or harmful?
Do you text while driving? Or even take photos or video to share online? Do you think it’s okay to check your social media while you’re driving slowly in traffic? These risks on the road indicate compulsive internet use – and if you do it, you’re certainly not alone. In 2016, the RAC found that 19% of drivers admitted to sending a text, email or posting on social media. 14% of drivers said they had taken a photo or video while driving.
How about your job or studies? Is it hard to stay focused on your work? Have you lost a job or failed a course because you were too distracted by the internet?
Think about your relationships too. Have you lost an important relationship because of your internet use? Are you in conflict with your partner or spouse because of how much you go online?
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know, please call UKAT for a confidential assessment and the options for internet addiction treatment.
Five Ideas for Your Digital Detox
If you’re just looking to create some healthier online habits this year, here are 5 simple ideas for a digital detox.
1. The no-scroll Sunday
If you have to be online during the working week, how about switching off on Sundays? If you work on Sundays, try a time-out Tuesday or a phone-free Friday instead.
Giving yourself one day a week for offline activities could be just the thing for you. Play outside with the kids in the morning, meet friends for lunch and go to the cinema in the evening (or just catch up on some sleep!).
2. Clock your logons
If spending a whole day offline feels unachievable, then you could set a daily time limit to your personal internet usage.
How does an hour a day sound? Enough time to surf and socialise without sacrificing other important parts of life. For the daring, how about 15 minutes of non-work, non-study internet access? Could you try it for a month, to see what else you get done?
Check the time before you go online. Stop using the internet once you’ve reached your daily limit. Use your allowance in one go or split it up throughout the day.
If it’s impossible to stick to your goal, how do you feel about that?
3. Outsmart your fear of missing out
Internet addiction is often connected to the fear of missing out. It feels like you have to be online because that’s where exciting or interesting things seem to happen.
So plan some great activities in the real world instead. Invite friends to a house party. Go to the beach. Set up a tent in the garden under the stars. Cook and eat, slowly.
For the really committed, don’t post any pictures online of what you get up to – especially while you’re enjoying the fun!
4. The power of one thing at a time
The internet gives us extraordinary access to content on every subject, in hundreds of languages, 24 hours a day. We can be part of multiple conversations online for work, domestic and recreational purposes.
If you’re one of those people who has 14 windows open at once – flicking between emails, social media apps, stores, games or messages – how about a new practice of doing just one thing at a time online? Does it make you feel calmer or more productive?
3. Keep it real on social media
If social media leads to great conversations and enjoyment for you, then there’s no need to cut it off. But if you find yourself comparing yourself to others on social media, wishing your life was different or more exciting, then it may be time for a rethink.
If you’re feeling down or unwell, don’t be afraid to send an honest message to friends on social media. Or when Facebook asks ‘what’s on your mind?’ – tell it like it is!
Of course, you don’t have to share anything online that makes you feel uncomfortable or exposed – but opening up a bit about what’s going on might bring unexpected help or connection.
If you’re doing a digital detox, good luck! If you have a more serious addiction, please contact UKAT for confidential advice on internet addiction treatment.