How to Chill Out This January (without even going to the beach)
I’ve been thinking a lot about 2004 lately. For me, it was personally an eventful year, with a move from Connecticut to the Midwest, and moving from my first teaching position after residency into private practice. Looking back at that time, it was very busy. But compared to how I spend time during a typical day in 2019, there were 2 big things missing: social media and a smartphone.
Honest appraisal time: How much time did you spend on social media or similar activities on your phone yesterday? Was it minutes, hours, or is your usage so seamlessly part of your day that you couldn’t even estimate? When was the last time you turned all that off, and felt OK with that—not a emptiness, a sense of guilt, or a serious FOMO? If it’s been awhile, then I’d suggest you read on about the Digital Detox!
Back Up a Bit
Imagine it’s 2004, and you’re waiting in line at the DMV. What did you do? I’m guessing if you’re like me, you didn’t do much. Maybe if you planned ahead, you brought a book. Otherwise, you probably complained with someone else in line or just zoned out. You weren’t text messaging a friend, online shopping, or checking your email. Actually, it’s difficult to remember what took up time on a computer prior to BS (before Smartphones). Email? Sure, it may have been a big part of your day at work. Video games. Online surfing. Chat rooms. You might have even spent a good deal of time with these activities. But think about the huge shift in accessibility and sheer data in the past decade. The accumulation of human knowledge is not only on your computer, it’s right in your pocket and almost instantly available. If that shift has left you feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.
Enter the Digital Detox. Now, I am not an anti-technology Luddite—there’s way too many advantages to the equipment we have available today. In my own life, Electronic Health Records alone saves major time—you wouldn’t believe how much time I spent charting before EHR--so like you all, I’ve come to depend on our modern technology. But I find that like most people, I benefit from reevaluation of my digital priorities every so often. With New Year resolutions right around the corner, I’d like to share ideas and suggestions for a Digital Detox.
Setting Up Your Digital Detox
Before embarking on any detox, cleanse, or resolution, it’s important to set up some guidelines. Most important is figuring out your purpose in doing the change. Are you looking for minor or major results? Do you have support, time, and resources? Answers to these questions will help you negotiate with yourself how strict or lenient you want to be, for how long, and other details. For more advice on creating and sticking to NY’s resolutions, read my blog post from last January.
Practically speaking, most of us need to use some level of technology for our daily lives, so a complete elimination is probably not possible. The good news is a complete purge isn’t even necessary to see a number of benefits. Even a 25% reduction in your consumption, when planned well, will provide better mental health, more time, improved mindfulness, or whatever your personal outcome is. Length of time is important to sustain lasting effects though. I usually recommend a Digital Detox for at least a month, to make sure you have enough time to develop a new positive habit to replace the old.
Engaging support is also critical to a successful detox of any kind. Informing others who you have regular contact with about your decision may not only help keep you accountable, but encourage others to reduce their consumption, as well. And if you can get someone to detox along with you, it’s always easier to help you both stay on target when you may be struggling.
8 Suggestions for a Digital Detox
Once you’ve settled on your own details, here’s 8 areas to consider working on:
Put your bedroom on lock down. A growing issue is tech-compromised sleep. Keeping your devices out of your resting space is the best way to avoid this problem. If they are there, even if they’re off, the temptation to just check one more thing can be hard to ignore. For even bigger benefit, keep the TV off or out as well.
Tame the email tiger. While your inbox is not going away, most people can set limits on email time and regain some control. The simplest tip is to turn off your notifications on your computer, smartphone, and tablet. Then set a few times a day to check email and a reasonable amount of time to respond to it. Set timers and reminders if needed.
And by extension, turn off your pings. Do you really need to be notified every time you get an email? Probably not. Save the notifications for only what’s essential.
Set limits. This is a great tip because you get to decide on the specifics. Time limits or circumstance limits can both work well. Set limits for your social media use, email, new consumption, or whatever you’d like. For ease, start with the low-hanging fruit (not checking your phone during dinner, for instance). For maximum effect, start with most challenging (like the aforementioned waiting in line when you’re bored).
Sign out. This one is a weird trick I’ve discovered myself that actually works. I’ve not been a heavy Facebook or twitter user, but there was a point when I felt like I was looking at it too often. Turning off notifications wasn’t enough, so I decided to sign out of them on all my devices. I changed my passwords but wrote them down elsewhere instead of saving them automatically on the devices. When I went to go back in, it wasn’t so easy, so it preventing those mindless quick checks when I got bored or had a spare moment. Since this makes you at least think about your usage, you may find that checking social media is not so necessary at all.
Unsubscribe. I get the irony of asking you to do this in a blog, maybe through a linked email. But I hope like any service, you only keep reading if this helps you. I suggest choosing periodic times to purge your email list. Keep only what you find useful and interesting. I just unsubscribed from 12 email lists earlier today, and usually do that once every couple months. While interesting, that information just wasn’t serving me well anymore. Deleting those emails is quick, but you still read the subject line, so this is more about saving your headspace than simply your time.
Track your time savings. This can be very motivating for many. Even better, reflect on your experience with doing a Digital Detox. A paper journal is recommended, of course!
Find alternatives. Ideally, with an alternate low-tech activity that you enjoy. Face to face time with a friend or a phone chat, a treat or outing are all good choices to either use your new free time or reward yourself for accomplishing your goal. If the alternative is a new healthy habit, like exercise, mediation, or self-care, even better!
If you’re still not convinced or confused with where to start, here’s a couple of suggestions to get you started:
For the news junky: Did you ever go on vacation to a country where you didn’t understand the language, so you couldn’t really watch the national and regional news? It was a bit of a relief, right? That’s what we’re going for here. I know you care about the world, but take some time to care more about yourself. If you can’t opt out of everything, start with your most troubling news sources, eliminate those first, and see how you do.
For the social media addict: #3, 4 and 5 are for you. The dopamine rush payoff of social media is similar with all types, so your best bet is to restrict all social media if this is your issue. Otherwise one, you’ll probably just trade one app for another. It may be easier to set limits of time or circumstance instead.
For further advice, here’s some helpful resources:
You can even find an Adult Summer Camp to get grounded at Digital Detox
There are as many different ways to complete a Digital Detox as there are reasons to do one, so find what works best for you. Let us know how you are doing with the detox and share your suggestions on our Facebook page.
Here’s to a safe and peaceful New Year!