Does this sound like you?
You’re walking somewhere — from your car into the grocery store or for exercise, for example — at the same time you’re checking your cell phone. You wake up in the middle of the night, and grab your cell phone to see if you have any missed texts or if there are any posts or messages in your social media accounts. Your kids or significant other are telling you about their day, but you have your eyes glued to a screen and what they’re saying to you barely penetrates.
These are common scenarios in our world today. Many of us are recognizing that the dominance of technical devices like smartphones and tablets in our lives is not benefitting us. In some cases, it may even be detrimental to our health and relationships. That realization is causing more and more of us to do digital detoxes.
What is a digital detox? It is a period of time — a day, an hour, a weekend, a week — in which you go without accessing your devices. That means no checking your email, no text messaging, no posting photos on social media, no playing games on your tablet or gaming console.
But you know what? It may not be as painful as you think, and that’s because you can tailor your digital detox to your needs and lifestyle, say lifestyle experts. And, given the chance, the benefits will outweigh the discomfort.
Prepare for Detox
In order to get yourself into the frame of mind to do a digital detox, think about the potential negative impacts digital use may have on your life. “What constitutes ‘too much’ [digital usage] will always be up to the individual to assess and determine,” said Elenna Mosoff, a Canadian life and leadership coach who specializes in digital detoxes, but some of the negative impacts you may notice include:
- Comparison syndrome (you feel you’re not as good as others), depression, stress, anxiety and fear of missing out (FOMO);
- Inability to focus;
- Lack of connection or intimacy with people in your real-life relationships;
- Eye strain, dry eye, back and neck strain, repetitive stress injuries;
- Sleep disturbances or insomnia, which can be caused by the blue light emitted from screened devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Blue light is a wavelength of light that is stimulating. We get most of our blue light exposure from sunlight, when most of us are awake and need that stimulation to power whatever tasks, school or work, for example, are before us.
But when we introduce blue light via our devices at night, that stimulation can play havoc with our bodies’ natural sleep patterns. A number of academic studies have shown that blue light suppresses the body’s creation of melatonin, a hormone that alerts our bodies that it’s time for sleep.
The Digital Detox
If you are noticing some of these negative impacts in your life, a digital detox may be in order.
“Understanding why you need a break, setting realistic goals for a digital detox and understanding that it is not easy is essential,” said Deborah Smith, a Pennsylvania-based life coach for women. “Focusing on a goal of being more present in the moment, more present to the people directly in your life, and more aware of your actual and not filtered self-worth is a great way to prepare for the detox.”
Once you’ve convinced yourself that you can do a digital detox (and maybe, should do one), how do you do it? “It can vary,” said Laurin Seiden, a California- and Colorado-based life coach. “It ranges from whatever it means to you, to having an experience where you can connect to yourself in a deeper way.”
A digital detox could look like this:
• Not checking your phone until 10 in the morning and turning it off after 7 in the evening.
• Set and publicize specific business hours and only reply to business messages during those hours.
• Put your devices in “jail” — put them away in a drawer, storage container or other location where you don’t have easy access for whatever period of time you designate as the no-device usage period.
• Select a specific slice of your digital life to detox from. Maybe one week you want to restrict or not use at all your gaming system and another week you do the same for your smartphone.
• Designate digital-free time, such as you won’t use digital devices or social media for one entire hour each day or for an entire weekend or one day a week or at the dinner table during family meal times.
There are no rules for how to do a digital detox, said Elenna Mosoff. Experiment and have fun with it, she said. Use your digital-free time to connect with the people who are important to you, and to yourself. Go for a walk. Make cookies with your kids. Take that adult education class you’ve been wanting to enroll in.
“Our devices are amazing tools,” said Laurin Seiden, “but at the same time, we have to be more and more conscious of how we use [them] to serve our lives so that [they’re] an asset instead of something that’s distracting. We want to lead a meaningful life.”
Leading a meaningful life is exactly what Houston, Texas-based massage therapist Lisa Martinez, LMT, wants for herself and her barber husband, Bo.
Both are small business owners who understand the business importance of digital devices, the internet and social media. It would be only too easy to have their non-working hours consumed with answering emails and text messages from clients wanting or rescheduling appointments. That’s why she’s set boundaries on their digital usage.
She checks her personal email once or twice a day and has turned off all notifications, other than from her business website, and maintains just two social media accounts for business purposes only.
She set up a website for her massage business, Praise LLC, to establish an internet presence, but also so that clients can book appointments online, which reduces her need to feel like she has to be available all the time or respond immediately.
“If I do miss them (a client or potential client) because I didn’t answer my phone right away or an email right away, then I feel like they were probably not meant for me in the first place,” she said.
Andrew Touzel, LMT, a massage therapist who owns his own massage business in South Carolina, says that the scarcity mindset massage therapists can fall prey to can be a huge impediment to reducing digital usage, but he has found through experience that setting digital usage boundaries, and taking time away from his devices, enhances not only his personal life (more time to hit the beach or head to the mountains), but his working one, too.
“Early on in my career, I definitely felt that scarcity mindset,” he said. “As I’ve grown as a therapist and a business owner, I realized it is just unsustainable to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Like Martinez, he’s instituted online scheduling and he only replies to voice and text messages during his established business hours. “There’s always going to be other businesses that can snatch up those clients, but really, what you want to do is focus on getting quality clients,” he said. And, believe it or not, setting digital boundaries can facilitate that.
About the Author
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, and her articles include “Corporate Massage of the Future: Wellness Programs are Revolutionizing On-Site Services” and “Become a Sleep Warrior and Reap the Benefits of Deep Rest.”