Staying connected can sometimes leave you disconnected.
A recent study of 1800 adults found that they spend an average of nine hours and 22 minutes every day in front of screens (of which nearly eight hours are for personal use, not work). All of that screen-time has a significant effect on the brain and body, often with obvious effects such as disturbed sleep, pain in the fingers, wrists, neck and back, and even narrowed blood vessels in the eyes.
It goes without saying, then, that dragging yourself away from your screens for a digital detox is a very good idea.
What is a digital detox?
A digital detox, put simply, is a spell spent away from any digital devices and screens. This might mean spending a few days or more at a digital detox retreat, or just setting aside a few hours each day during which you don’t use any digital devices. If you’re required to look at a screen because of your professional life, then you might find an enforced break particularly beneficial.
What are the benefits of a digital detox?
So why do a digital detox? Well, having constant access to brand new information isn’t always a good thing. If you’ve ever spent time compulsively checking Twitter to see what’s happened in the past few seconds, then you’ll be aware of the slot-machine power of social media. New stimulus promotes the creation of dopamine, resulting in the same cravings that many of us get for sugars, nicotine, and alcohol. A growing body of evidence suggests that the long-term effects of this on the brain are far from pleasant.
Unplugging will also improve your social life. Of course, in the absence of being able to nose on what friends, family, colleagues and celebrities have been posting, we’ll all be forced to do the unthinkable: have real, face-to-face conversations with other human beings. Such conversations might not be as compulsive, but they’re usually much more rewarding, as a sizeable portion of human interaction comes in the form of body language, facial expressions, and subtle changes of intonation that are absent from text-based interaction.
Then there’s productivity. Is it any wonder that so many workplaces block sites like YouTube and Facebook? They’re not doing it out of spite; it’s just better for everyone if their staff don’t have to deal with the temptation to spend their day looking at cat videos instead of spreadsheets and reports.
This principle holds true outside the office, too. If you’re working at home, then you might find it difficult to resist the urge to spend a few minutes distracted by reddit – but those few minutes can quickly turn into hours – and before you know it, whole working days disappear. Being more productive with your time is arguably the most concrete and immediate benefit of a digital detox.
We should also bear in mind the physiological effects of all that time spent staring at a screen. Aching shoulders, lower backs, and fingers are all symptoms of too much time slumped in front of desks. Without that tiny screen sucking up all of your attention, you’ll be more inclined to exercise, as you really should!
How can I get through a digital detox?
As with most sorts of ‘detox’, withdrawal symptoms can rear their heads early on. This is a good sign. It means that your digital behaviour had gotten to the stage where it’s compulsive and vindicates your digital detox activities. If you didn’t feel the urge to whip out your phone and see what reddit has to say, then there wouldn’t be a problem, would there?
Going cold-turkey is likely to be painful. Relapses are common, and often demoralising. For this reason, begin by taking baby steps. Eliminate smartphone use from small chunks of your day. If you’re on your lunch hour, for example, then commit to spending at least half of it offline. Eventually, you can chip away at the compulsion until you’re not spending any time online at all.
Make bedtime screen-free
Obviously, it’s best to prioritize your efforts. Unplug yourself specifically, just before bed.
All that information will stimulate your brain, and prevent you from properly winding down. At the same time, bright lights will send a signal to your body that it’s time to wake up. Set aside an hour or so before bedtime, during which you won’t look at any sort of screen.
Stack your phone
When you’re socializing, you don’t want to have to deal with other people looking at their phone; that’ll just remind you of what you’re missing. Ask friends to help you detox and stack phones in the center of the table during mealtime. The first one to reach for theirs must perform a forfeit. If you’re in a restaurant, this might mean picking up the entire bill. At home, it might mean doing the dishes.
Getting away from the digital world every once in a while is a worthwhile endeavor. Addiction to social media can trigger a ton of emotions, impacts your productivity and general health. If you spend much of your day glued to a screen, then you’ll benefit from making a conscious effort every so often to unplug yourself!