Do you check your iPhone as soon as you wake up in the morning? Are you hunched over your laptop after work? Glued to the Ipad during your commute? You might be a good candidate for a digital detox.
Even if you don't get twitchy when your gadgets start running out of juice, and aren't troubled by eyestrain, headaches or neck problems, it still might be time to take a break.
By periodically unplugging, you can start reclaiming the real life experiences that all those gadgets steal from us daily (albeit with our full permission). Sure, cutting digital consumption may sting a bit at first, but reconnecting with the people and things in life that really matter will allow your body, soul and mind to soar far higher than another peek at the 7-day weather forecast ever will. Sound interesting? Willing to give it a whirl?
To get into an unplugged groove, start by taking baby steps and keep challenging yourself to cut the cord a bit further every day without, of course, endangering your livelihood or life. Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Get help if you need it.
If you, or perhaps those close to you, feel you may be on the verge of crossing into digital addiction, don't get testy, get help. In the past year or two, an entire industry has emerged to help the over-connected dial-down their digital reliance.
There are digital detox courses and camps, books and seminars, and even facilities with treatment programs akin to those originally designed for substance abuse. Yes, all that connectivity can come at a high price, but a least now there are help and treatment options, as well as apps (!) to help cut the digital cord.
2. Re-learn how to entertain yourself without the glow of a screen.
Or take a step the Zen direction and learn how to not entertain yourself at all. Instead, learn how to be still and quiet the mind. Meditation, without the help of an app, is a great way to clear your head, as is simply "spacing out." Refresh your brain by giving it a few moments throughout the day to wander, to take in the surroundings and appreciate where you are in the moment in the real world, not the digital one.
3. In the evenings, say "lights out" and actually mean it.
You simply must create a nightly digital sundown to support your physical and mental health. Think screens before bed aren't really that big a deal? Harvard researchers would tell you otherwise: they recently found that those infernal machines we love so much can disrupt melatonin production, sleep quality and mood.
Consequently, our constant connectivity can cause us to sleep less and poorly which over time can encourage the development of a host of life-altering health problems. To help your body achieve the rest it needs, embrace the darkness — as in detox nightly, simply by banishing all electronics from the bedroom.
4. Go back to your old friends, pen and paper.
How to give your brain, eyes, wrists and fingers a much-needed rest? Step away from the blue-light-beaming screen and go old school: pen and paper every now and then!
It may seem strange at first, but doing so will give your exhausted faculties a workout different from what they've grown accustomed to — and may help develop a few new neural pathways to boot. Make notes, doodle during dull meetings, write a love song or start sketching — whatever moves you. Using pen and paper instead of feverishly typing and tapping can help liberate body and soul, giving you a sense of physical and mental freedom the digital world cannot.
5. Get a little less social.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media may keep us all connected and make us feel a part of the larger community, but they are also major time and attention sucks. If you want to regain more control over your digital life, slash your social media time. Check-in in the morning and again at night, and call it a day.
6. Put the brakes on your email.
One of my patients who routinely read 200 to 300 emails a day half-jokingly mentioned that she felt she'd developed what she called "adult-onset attention deficit disorder." She felt she was constantly stressed and falling behind at work because she could barely think straight between incoming mail pings.
How to combat the influx? Some ideas:
- Put on the out-of-office notification for a few hours a day, instructing colleagues to call you if it's urgent.
- Turn off incoming email audio pings and alerts.
- Set email preferences to receive emails hourly instead of as they happen.
- Set a timer to remind you to check email once or twice an hour.
7. Read like a kid at sleepaway camp.
If you're going to read in bed at night, read an old-fashioned book on paper, in low amber light or with a non-LED flashlight, to keep the blue light at bay and make reading in bed less disruptive to sleep. If LEDs are all you've got, then try wearing blue-blocker or amber glasses in the evenings to help your brain power down.
8. Hide your smart phone.
If you've dropped your landline but still need to be able to receive a late night call from the kids, keep the phone close enough so you can hear it ring but keep it face down or covered so the screen doesn't wake you up when someone emails you in the middle of the night.
9. Get a "dumb" watch, not a smart phone.
An old-fashioned watch will give you one less reason to constantly check your phone.
10. Spend time in places where cell phone use is frowned upon.
Yoga class, group meditation events, houses of worship, the lap lane at the local pool, knitting and quilting circles, you get the picture. None of these activities are compatible with the use of digital devices — so it's time to check 'em out!
11. Put it on the calendar.
Make time for periods of digital detox, and write them down as you would any other appointment. Use Outlook, a retro Filofax or a good old wall calendar, and mark it down just as you would any other appointment.
Set a nightly electronic sunset time for yourself and your family and stick to it. Commit to a weekly digital "Sabbath," and try doing a weekend, completely unplugged. From there, it's just a hop-skip to a week-long digital sabbatical ... or what we used to call "a vacation"!
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