WHEN, last year, Facebook put up its own blog post asking, ‘Is spending time on social media bad for us?’, it seemed a clear sign that the growing worry over what impact tech use was having on our mental health could no longer be ignored. The debate around this has only intensified since. Each week brings some new study or news article, whether it’s a study linking social media to body image anxiety, or the latest research from American academic Jean Twenge which found that teens who spent more than an hour or two a day interacting with their gadgets were less happy than those who had more 'real' time.

The 'digital detox', the need to cut back on time spent online, is on everyone’s minds. As the headline of a recent article in the New York Times last week put it, “Even the tech elite are worrying about tech addiction.” Along with this concern, has come, over the last few years, a whole new vocabulary for how we relate to our digital devices. Nomophobia, for instance, the fear of being without our phone. FOMO, the fear of missing out. And, perhaps, most common of all, the digital detox. We’ve all heard the phrase – by 2016 a third of us had already tried to do one – and even those that haven’t done one already are probably thinking about it.

As Rohan Gunatillake, the Glasgow-based tech guru behind the mindfulness app buddhify, points out, it’s as if there is literally a seven-year-itch in our relationship with social media. “We fell in love with these technologies all those years ago and they’re exciting, but actually people are saying this is not making me happy. I think we’re at the point where everyone’s had that and fallen out of love. The last few years have given us ample evidence, from Gamergate onwards, that there are problems with it. Everyone is now talking about digital detox.”

One of the reasons it has come to this, says Gunatillake, is not the general nature of technology itself, but of the particular type of communications apps which have evolved. “The digital business models that dominate are ones where they harvest our attention and sell it to third party advertisers," he said. He also pointed to how hit games like Candy Crush "trick us into buying gem purchases on games we don’t care about. They are essentially a distraction business. Then we wonder why as a culture we are so distracted, and kids are getting ADHD”.

But Gunatillake believes that a reckoning will soon come. People are becoming increasingly aware of what is happening and how it is impacting on us. “It’s growing as a public conversation. As day-to-day users we need to own the fact that it’s actually not our fault. We’re being trained in distraction, in the service of making some rich white guys tonnes of money.”

That, he says, is why so many of us seem so addicted to social media. And, as he points out, part of the problem is that the technology industry has designed its products to be addictive, then made us feel it’s our problem. “We’re made to think it’s our fault that we’re stressed out by products which are designed to give us social anxiety and come back again and again.”

But it's not. And what’s needed, he says, is change on an industry level. In the meantime, however, there are things that we can do on an individual level. We don't even necessarily have to go as far as a full digital detox. There are many approaches which can help us find a bit of headspace, connect with others and ourselves, and, fundamentally, get our lives back from the digital demon. Here, Gunatillake and others, give a series of top tips on how to be digitally careful, take a full detox, or just cut back on the tech apps that are giving you angst.

1. Attempt a full digital detox

That’s right. No phone whatsoever, or at least not one with any social media apps, email or web connection, preferably for quite a few days. Tanya Goodin, the author of OFF: Your Digital Detox For A Better Life runs digital detox retreats, in which people do exactly that. She observes that actually our relationship with technology is not a hard addiction to break. “I don’t see it as like drugs or alcohol. It’s more like food. It’s more about eating healthily for a while rather than binging on junk food.” For most of those who go on her retreats, she says, the anticipation is much worse than the reality. “Everyone is amazed at how quickly they adjust. At the end there’s at least two or three people who are saying I don’t want my phone back at all.” She herself tries to plan into her year several weeks when she is completely tech free. “Over Christmas and New Year I had ten days completely off. I often have weeks where, if I’m running digital detox retreats, I don’t use tech.”

2. Go on a 5:2 diet

Goodin also promotes a rhythm of regular time off tech - five days on, two days off. “I try not to use my phone at the weekend,” she says. “Of course that’s really difficult for people in some jobs, like the media. And I get a lot of people who work in the media who come on my retreats. Because the expectation is that you are 24/7 available.” Regular time off, she believes, is really vital. “I think families are suffering and stress levels are rising because of this expectation that everyone is constantly available. It’s just not sustainable. I think we have reached a bit of a tipping point.”

3. Switch off notifications

“Turning off notifications on your phone,” says Goodin, “is my favourite tip. Given the number of apps the average person has installed now, when you think about all the notifications, I don’t understand how anyone gets anything done.” Disabling notifications is also one of the big tips given by Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In fact, almost any technology or mental health expert seems to advise this. It's also already being taken up rapidly by many of us. A quick straw poll I did over Facebook - yes, I am aware of the irony - showed that barely anyone had them still turned on.

4. Keep it out of the bedroom and the bathroom

Digital detox expert Tanya Goodin encourages people to go back to the old-fashioned alarm clock, and not to sleep with phones in their bedrooms. She also suggests we stop taking them into the toilet with us. “Apparently over 60% of us say we do. I think the other 40% are lying. You know if you work in an office everyone takes their phone into the loo. And when I say that to children and adults they all laugh with recognition. So I suggest not doing that could be something they could try. That could be a screen free break right there.”

5. Delete your problem apps

One way not to get too easily distracted by social media is to take the apps off your phone. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take them all of. What you really need to do is identify what your problem app is. Rohan Gunatillake, for instance, confesses, he has been “through the darkness” of an addiction to Twitter. Hence, one of his answers has been tor remove the Twitter app from his phone. His advice is that we examine which are the apps that we are compulsively checking, yet finding little real satisfaction in. “Which ones are we going to out of habit? Because one of the key rules of mindfulness is that the more aware we are of our habits the less control they have over us. Identify which is the one thing, whether it’s email or Facebook or Instagram or Youtube or Twitter, that your mind just defaults into when it’s lazy and looking for distraction."

Also, going cold turkey at the level of an app is not quite as extreme as going cold turkey at the level of the phone.

6. Practice mindful phone use

Mindfulness apps may be useful, but, advises Gunatillake, it is far better just to start taking a mindful approach to using your phone. “If you go to a meditation class,” he says, “the first thing you’ll do is some kind of body awareness practice, something like pay attention to your breathing. Well, you can do exactly the same technique while holding your phone. So when you’re checking your email, if you are the same time aware of what it feels like to hold your phone while you use it, part of you is present.” That way, he says, almost every app becomes a mindfulness app.

7. Prune your friends

Dr Petya Eckler is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Strathclyde who has done research into social media use and body image. One of her pieces of advice is one she follows herself. Several years ago, she decided that, since quite a lot of people she had as friends on Facebook weren’t really what she would properly call friends, she would get rid of some of them – almost half of the five hundred 'friends' she had. “I cleaned up my friends list quite a bit a few years back, and actually continue to do it regularly. I want to make sure that the people I’m talking to are the people I want to talk to and that I want to hear back from.” Having too many Facebook friends, she observes, can actually stop you from seeing posts from the people you really do care about. “That’s the way that newsfeeds works, the more people you have the less you see from each one of them.”

8. Reshape your algorithm

Your social media content is driven by what you’ve already shown an interest in. So if you don’t like how it’s making you feel, one option is to try to reshape it. “Be aware of your own algorithm,” says Eckler. “Because what Facebook or other platforms show you is based on your previous behaviours on that platform. You can change your algorithm by changing your behaviour. If you like certain content more of that will show up. Start asking yourself what kind of content do you like? What do you click on, what people do you follow and is any of that making you feel the way you feel?”

9. Cultivate JOMO, not FOMO

One of the big issues, particularly for young people, says Eckler, is fear of missing out, or FOMO, as it’s been dubbed. “Young people worry what is going to happen if I’m not online. Well, nothing is going to happen.” Last year she did a talk at a secondary school where one young person talked about a revelation she had had over this fear. “The person said, 'You’re on your phone at 3am and there’s this huge storm going on on your phone and eventually you realise it’s just a storm in a tea-cup. Nothing really is going on, besides you being in your room and freaking out at 3am, and if you switch that off nothing is going to change around you'.” Ah, the Joy of Missing Out. Find the pleasure in being disconnected.

10. If all of the above sounds a bit touchy-feely and you'd like to return to the physical world in a suitably physical way, they you can always just take all your screens into the garden, along with a hammer and beat them into a pulp of plastic. Now, go and talk to some real people, and look at the world around you before it's too late.