What I learned from digital detoxing

 

I’ve seen a lot of articles in the past year or so related to digital detoxes – why we should do it, how to do it, the benefits, etc.

It’s no surprise that people are writing about this topic because we have become reliant on technology and at an earlier and earlier age.  (Just this morning while walking through the beautiful trails near my home, I saw a parent riding a bicycle pulling a child in a basket while he/she played on a cell phone. Now I’m a parent so who am I to judge, but there seems to be something wrong with spending time in nature while staring at a screen!  And it’s not just kids!)

So, what exactly is a digital detox?  The Oxford Dictionaries Online added this definition in 2013:

a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world. 

e.g. "break free of your devices and go on a digital detox"

 

(Source:  Positively Present)

There are many reasons why people dive into digital detoxes but it’s mainly because of the need to regain some control over our time and connect in a meaningful way with others.

According to the U.S. organization Digital Detox (http://digitaldetox.org/):

  • 61% of people admit to being addicted to the internet and their devices
  • the average person dedicates 30% of leisure time to perusing the web
  • 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating (this was definitely the case when I taught at a college but I would say it was closer to 90% of students)
  • 33% of people admit to hiding from family and friends to check social media

And most disturbing –

95% of people use some type of electronics in the hour leading up to bed. 

This is especially problematic because artificial light from screens increases our alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin which negatively affects our sleep (and performance and mood the next day).

It's not just individuals looking to reduce time spent on devices but  businesses are starting to see the benefits of less screen time for employees.  According to Henry Williams in his article on business trends for 2019, there is a growing awareness of the negative effects of too much screen time.  Williams also mentions how some hotels are jumping on the bandwagon by prohibiting devices in rooms!

A few months ago, I starting to learn more about and actually practice mindfulness (and meditation) as part of my goal to take better care of myself after years of neglect.  It seemed like it was a good time to try to use my devices less and spend more time outdoors this summer and less time at my computer.  Initially, I thought I could go a full day (Sundays) without any devices but that wasn’t going to happen.   I’ve experimented with a few things and have found what works for me:

1. In April, I de-activated my Facebook account because I realized that I often scrolled through the feedback endlessly. This just didn’t seem like a good use of my time so when I re-activated it yesterday, I Marie Kondo’s my list paring it down to around 500 “friends” and reduced the number of groups I was in from 30 to 10. I changed all my privacy settings and I stopped following several organizations, schools, etc. that are not relevant to the work I do now. When I log in now, I do so for about 10 minutes – take a look around and then log off.  So far, so good. 

2. At night, my phone stays on my desk. This has been great for me because if I wake in the night, I’m not able to scroll on my phone when insomnia hits. Also, it’s not the first thing I grab when I wake up.  Nothing like looking at the sun beating through the window instead of a screen.

3. When I go to the gym or to yoga class, I leave my phone at home or put it in the locker. I let my mind wander while on the trend machine or bring a book or get completely focused on breathing and poses in yoga.

4. The same thing applies to my morning walk. The phone stays at home and helps me to focus on the lake, ducks, other people and the beauty of living near Lake Ontario.

Overall, these are not drastic changes and since I write for a living, I need to use my computer and social media.  What I have done is try to be mindful about what I’m doing with a device and how long I’m using it for (one of my other bad habits was to check social media while watching tv.  Now I just watch tv.).  I also use the Screen Time function on my iPhone.  So far today, I'm 18 minutes below my average usage probably because I have been writing this article!

Julie Montagu, author of Recharge – A Year of Self-Care to Focus on You (https://amzn.to/2Kt4BJG) suggests that if you are going to do a digital detox, follow these points:

1. schedule it (if you don’t, it’s unlikely it will happen)

2. let people know (I often think about my son who might be trying to reach me)

3. plan activities (in other words, be busy)

Looking for some ideas?  Here are some things that you could do instead of spending time on a device:

  1. read (not on a screen obviously)
  2. go for a walk preferably in nature
  3. meet a friend for a meal or coffee
  4. cook something new
  5. go to a farmer’s market (at this time of year in Ontario, Canada, it’s amazing!)
  6. play a board game
  7. watch a funny movie and laugh
  8. do nothing (when was the last time you just sat for 10 minutes and did nothing?)
  9. colour (lots of great colouring books in Dollarama)
  10. do a crossword or brain puzzle

It’s definitely a sign of the times when there are several books on the market that are specifically about digital detoxes.  Two good examples are from author Tanya Goodwin, OFF Your Digital Detox for a Better Life (https://amzn.to/2Ks2O7r 2071) and Stop Staring at Screens. A Digital Detox for the Whole Family (https://amzn.to/31xr4ei)

Digital Detox LLCC reminds us that “by disconnecting from our devices we reconnect with:

ourselves
each other
our communities
and the world around us…becoming more present, authentic, compassionate and understanding”.

That's a pretty nice outcome :)

What have I learned from my digital detoxing?  I think the key to any lifestyle change has to be motivation and finding what works for you.   It really wasn't that difficult to make these small changes.

What about you?  Have you attempted to try a digital detox?  What worked for you? 

Thanks for reading!  Patrice

References:

Digital Detox, LCC. (2019) THE FACTS: WHY DIGITAL DETOX® http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

Montagu, J. (2018).  Recharge – A Year of Self-Care to Focus on You. Piatkus Publishing, UK

Williams, H. (2019).  Business ideas for 2019: Digital detox. Startups: UK. https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas-digital-detox)

 

Bio

Patrice Palmer has more than 23 years’ experience as an ESL teacher, trainer and writer in Canada and spent seven amazing years in Hong Kong. She has an M.Ed., M.A. and certificates in Positive Psychology and Positive Education. Her personal experience with professional burn-out in 2015 prompted her to reflect on her own lack of self-care and adopt positive psychology interventions which she now shares with other educators and administrators. Patrice's next book on Teacher Self-Care will be out in October 2019. 

https://www.alphabetpublishingbooks.com/book/teacher-self-care-manual/

 

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