Addicted to your smart phone? It's time for a digital detox

  • Joanna Lobo, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 28, 2015 17:41 IST

* Mumbaiites Sahil Wavhal, 18, and his brother Kaushik, 24, aren't allowed to use their phones between 11 pm and 8 am. Their mother introduced this rule to break what she calls their addiction.

* Delhi college student Anjali Singhal, 22, would wake up every time her smartphone beeped at night. Her studies began to suffer, as did her relationship with her parents. She now switches off her phone from 11 pm to 9 am every day and spends more time studying and with her family.

* Kolkata-based blogger Amrita Das, 29, picks one Sunday every month when she keeps away from all screens and digital devices. She spends this time reading or listening to music.

Across the country, people are rebelling against the hold smartphones and gadgets have taken on their lives, mindspace and their use of free time.

It's called a digital detox, and it's being recommended by technology de-addiction and counselling clinics such as the one set up by Nimhans (the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) in Bangalore in April 2014.

"A virtual break gives people time to pursue other activities and realise that there is a life beyond the digital world," says Dr Manoj Sharma, additional professor of clinical psychology and coordinator at the SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) Clinic established as part of the Nimhans de-addiction facility in Bangalore.

"We're seeing a growing number of people making a conscious effort to reduce their dependence on smartphones and smart devices, even if it's something as small and simple as setting aside their phones while eating," adds Dr Sharma.

Take Singhal, for instance. She was so addicted to her phone that it had started to affect her studies and her relationship with her parents.

"I would spend all my time on my phone and not study enough. From being a consistently high scorer, I went to barely passing my exams. The lack of sleep also meant I was always irritable, even with my parents," she says.

Her mother told her it would help to focus on social work, so she joined Uday Foundation, an NGO that works to promote education and healthcare for underprivileged children.

Here, she found herself distracted from the incessant beeping of her phone. As she helped establish a reading room, and later began counselling the younger children on their studies, she eventually realised that she preferred being logged out.

She now checks her social networking accounts once a week and switches off her phone altogether every night.

"I can sleep in peace now," she says.

While Singhal was able to tackle the problem by herself, some are seeking professional help to detox.

"People are coming to us because they have realised how the addiction to smart devices can affect their lives," says Dr Samir Parikh, psychiatrist and director of mental health at Fortis Healthcare, Delhi, who says he has seen the number of people approaching him for help with such addiction double over the past year, from an average of five a month to 10.

It's not just adults seeking this change. The past 15 months has seen the opening of three technology de-addiction centres in India catering largely to children and young adults - the SHUT clinic in Bangalore, Hermitage in Amritsar, and Centre for Children in Internet and Technology Distress (CCITD) in Delhi.

Hermitage, for instance, has seen a total of 70 people enroll since it opened its internet addiction recovery centre last September. Of these, 50 were between the ages of 11 and 20.
And CCITD, started by Uday Foundation last July, has treated over 150 children, some as young as 7.

"Adults can understand their addiction. It is more difficult for children, and it often becomes serious because it starts affecting their studies and they don't know how to get out of it," says founder Rahul Verma.

The centre conducts games and other indoor and outdoor activities to help children spend their time productively and has counsellors on hand to help parents devise timetables to monitor their child's internet usage.

The SHUT clinic uses 'internet fasting' to tackle technology addiction.

"We decide what time of the day and for how long the patient can use the internet. We make the children keep a diary of their progress and how they feel about this abstinence," says Dr Sharma.

"Initially they feel like they cannot live without the internet and don't know how to spend their free time. As the days pass, they lose this dependency and rediscover screen-free ways to spend their time."

Dr Jagdeep Pal Singh Bhatia, neuro-psychiatrist and founder of the Hermitage de-addiction clinic in Amritsar, says, "In the first week of our one month de-addiction programme, patients cannot use technology at all. In the second week, they can have it around and only use it under supervision. In the third week, we get the family involved in group activities and counselling."

Ranveer Brar, 37

Brar was one of those people who had to respond to every email, call or message within 30 seconds. "Anything that came to my phone, I had to revert," he says.

Two months ago, he started switching off every other Sunday, turning off the phone from 9 am to 7 pm and spending the time he gained back with family and friends.

"Now, even when it's on, I no longer have that itch to respond immediately. I can engage in conversations without getting distracted by my phone," he says.


* Start small. Try occasionally leaving the house without your phone, or turn off email notifications (at least after 6 pm).

* Disable notifications for non-essential apps like Facebook or Instagram.

* Count the number of times you check Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts per day.

* Limit time spent per application to 20 minutes a day.

* Create gadget-free zones in your home; declare the bedroom a no-laptops zone, for instance.

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