A guide to digital detox

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The widespread availability and usage of tablets, smartphones, voice-activated speakers and social media sites make it easy—and expected—for most of us to live lives that revolve around digital devices. However, have you considered the possibility you’re spending more time online than doing other necessities?

A survey released in 2017 found the average person will spend more than five years during a lifetime using social media. That’s more than the time devoted to eating, drinking or socializing through in-person means.

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A guide to digital detox | Mindfulness | Hello Brio

Technology facilitates reducing face-to-face contact with people, too. We can attend conferences, shop for groceries, or even chat with psychologists or other professionals without ever leaving home or having physical contact with other members of society. Digital dependence isn’t always a good thing. After understanding that reality, many people decide to do digital detoxes. 

What Is a Digital Detox?

A digital detox is a period when a person chooses to stop using digital devices such as smartphones and computers. When it happens, individuals often decide to get involved in activities that get sacrificed because of technology, such as dinners with friends and relatives or walks in nature. 

Digital Devices Could Deprive Your Body of Adequate Oxygen

You might feel compelled to take part in a digital detox to benefit your physical, mental and emotional health. Various studies indicate that although digital devices are convenient, they often aren’t healthy.

Linda Stone, a former Microsoft and Apple executive, did research that showed most people hold their breath or breathe shallowly while using the computer or a smartphone. She termed the phenomenon email apnea or screen apnea.

When people hold their breath instead of breathing properly, their bodies are at a higher risk of stress-related diseases and a compromised immune system. Holding the breath can also cause an unnecessary fight-or-flight response, resulting in a prolonged period of emergency breathing.

Mindfulness experts recommend counteracting those adverse effects by consciously taking slow, deep breaths while using digital devices.

Constantly Checking Devices Raises Stress Levels

Most of the apps people use regularly deliver notifications of new activity. Those alerts are supposed to be handy, but they also gave rise to people identified as constant checkers. Statistics show 86 percent of American adults fall into that category and look for new text messages, emails, social media updates and similar content with obsessive frequency.

Research reveals constant checkers are more stressed than people who look for new material less frequently. Moreover, they have more concerns about technology’s impact on their physical and mental health compared to less frequent checkers.

Heavy Device Usage Linked to Anxiety and Depression

Scientists at the University of Illinois wanted to find out if above-average levels of smartphone and internet use contributed to poor mental health in college students. They surveyed several hundred of them and discovered that those who showed addictive tendencies in their usage patterns or relied on the devices to escape reality were more likely to give responses to survey questions that suggested anxiety or depression issues compared to peers. 

Notably though, when people only went online to prevent being bored, they didn’t show the same associations with those mental health problems. Researchers concluded a person’s motivation for going online affects potential psychological health outcomes. 

Digital Connections Don’t Necessarily Bring Contentment

Modern people live in a society where it’s possible to stay in touch with friends and family from around the world by using communication apps. It may surprise you that studies highlight increasing levels of loneliness despite all those opportunities to connect. 

Lonely people are more likely to have chronic illnesses, suffer from poor sleep quality and die sooner than those who have rich, ongoing social interactions with others. Researchers argue digital devices merely give the illusion of connecting with others and make people feel they aren’t necessary parts of their communities.

How to Do Your Digital Detox

Given the vast amount of research about how digital devices harm well-being, you might decide there’s no better time to make good on an intention to start a digital detox. Use this step-by-step guide for good results. 

1. Recognize Your Unhealthy Habits

You’ll probably realize not all your digital device usage is unhealthy. For example, someone who watches many hours of TV per day might decide it’s time to cut back, but it’s OK to watch a show to stay entertained while working out.

Take stock of your habits and determine which digital-related ones are the worst for your health. Then, focus on those. 

2. Get Friends to Join You—or at Least Give Encouragement

There are several types of motivation you may experience while cutting your ties with the digital realm. One is social motivation. It occurs when you feel a desire to be part of a group and fit in with others.

Consider asking a couple of friends to take part in digital detoxes too. You can support each other and provide reasons to persevere when sticking to your plan becomes harder than expected. If you can’t get friends to join in, at least ask them to respect your decision. They could help lift your spirits if you become discouraged.

3. Set Expectations for Others

You may have a career that requires you to use your smartphone and computer throughout the day. If so, it’s likely not manageable for you to do a total digital detox. Instead, use tools like auto-responder messages to let people know you won’t respond to emails or check your phone for one two-hour block each day or something similar. 

Alternatively, think about doing your digital detox when you’re on vacation. You might purposefully stay at a resort that has extraordinarily expensive Wi-Fi access fees, or not bring your phone charger with you on a weeklong adventure. Many people already expect you won’t be checking your email and apps as often when on vacation, making a short-term digital detox theoretically easier to achieve than it might be otherwise. 

4. Don’t Berate Yourself Over Perceived Failures

Despite your best intentions, it may become clear that sticking to a digital detox will be harder than you thought. You might slip up and use a device even though you’d sworn it off for the day. In that case, remember you’re human, and someone who’s likely accustomed to using digital inventions almost continually. It’s not beneficial to get angry with yourself and fill your head with self-defeating thoughts.

Conversely, it’s OK to occasionally make mistakes and experience momentary lapses in willpower. If those things happen, focus on the progress you’ve made, not your blunder. Then, recommit yourself to your original digital detox plan as soon as possible.

Persistence Pays Off

Regardless of whether you’ve noticed some of the adverse symptoms associated with digital devices described above, reducing your usage could help you have more meaningful connections with others, reduce your stress and give you higher levels of overall wellness. Following through with a digital detox might be tough—especially in the early stages—but sticking to it could be one of the best things you do for yourself.

Have you done a digital detox? Or do you think you need to do one?

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