I believe multi-tasking is over-rated! Recently, I saw a study that said the average smartphone user checks their device about six times an hour. Small wonder so many people these days are feeling distracted and overwhelmed! Making matters worse is that we are the ones constantly interrupting ourselves, tapping that Pavlovian bell we call the smartphone, checking it when it’s buzzing and when it’s not. And what’s all that incoming information doing to us? It’s creating world of people who are stressed out, exhausted and perpetually teetering on the brink of a cold or worse, because their immune systems are similarly fried.
In short, our tech-tethered lives are making millions unwell. While that may be good news for Big Pharma, we in the sustainable wellness community have a better idea: try a digital detox — learn to cut the cord and take your life back from tech. In other words, give your overloaded, “always-on” brain a break. By doing so, you’ll be able to recharge your body and mind, re-connect with your creative side, improve your mood, boost concentration and make room for new intellectual connections you’d probably not have made had you been glued to a screen. Not convinced you may be a bit addicted? Put it this way: if you start your day by checking your email before you’ve even gotten out of bed, or worse, while you’re on the toilet, it’s time for a digital detox. Here’s how to start your dial-down:
1. Do Less Every Morning
Wake, meditate, shower, dress, have breakfast with the family, go through your morning routine – all without blaring TVs, radios, or flickering phones and computers competing for attention. Sure, the kids will probably hate it at first (you might also), but by lowering the decibel and distraction levels, you’ll help tame the early morning chaos, enabling all to focus on getting out of the house on time. To start, try doing this one day a week – call it Mellow Mondays – and add more days incrementally as the family gets used to the new routine. Another tip: If you’re the one holding everyone up in the morning, save precious minutes by not checking email until you’re belted into the passenger seat in the car-pool, then you can officially start your workday.
2. Send Your Brain on an All-expense Paid Vacation
There are numerous ways to disconnect from technology, some short-form and others, a bit more hard-core, but all have one thing in common: silence. Commit to a daily meditation practice even if it’s just for 10 minutes, as soon as you get up. If you can take another mediation break in the middle of the day, even better. The more opportunity you give your brain to calm down and refresh itself, the more productive and creative it will be – you just need to give it a little free time! If you’re ready to make a longer commitment, consider trying a silent retreat, one where meditation and quiet contemplation are the main events. Among the more popular retreat weekend programs are those offered by IMS/Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA.
3. You are the Boss of Your Weekend
Sure, your boss-from-hell delights in spending his entire Sunday firing off non-stop emails, but unless you’re in charge of national security or make your living as a fire-fighter, chances are you don’t actually need to respond until “normal” business hours on Monday morning. Don’t respond Sunday night unless you want the boss to think you’re always on call. It’s about boundaries, people, and in the digital age, we all need to set them.
4. When You’re Off Duty, Mean It!
Make weekends and vacations true relaxation times, not just lighter versions of your weekday workdays. Use the-out-of-office notification setting on your office email and resist the urge to respond to emails until just a few hours before your scheduled return. If not checking your email makes you nervous or puts your livelihood at risk, politely inform colleagues that you’ll be checking emails at specific times, for example 10 am, 3 pm and 7 pm, and will be able to respond only to the most truly time sensitive ones. If you value your off-hours, so will they.
5. Go a Bit Off the Grid
While not always feasible for everyone, I like the idea of occasionally going “off the grid,” and leaving technology behind. For example, when I travel, I lighten my digital and mental load by traveling with just my phone and leaving my laptop in the States. I have several patients who dial-down their digital dependence by spending time in places or situations where Internet service isn’t necessarily guaranteed – and they love the retro feeling they get from being able to step back in time, if only for a few days. One exec has a remote cabin in Quebec where the wifi is subject to the amount of cloud cover on a given day, thus limiting his access. Another simply refuses to connect to wifi on long-haul flights so she arrives mentally and physically rested – and ready to hit the ground running.
6. Make Yourself Digitally Incompatible
The simplest way to disconnect? Add activities to your life that are all but impossible to do with a digital device in hand. Three of my all-time favorites are meditation, yoga and hiking. The beauty of all of these three calming activities is that they are wonderfully head-clearing, fantastic for your body and utterly incompatible with electronic devices.
7. Be Where You Are
When you are texting, emailing, Facebooking etc., in the presence of others, you are not being where you are; you’re only partially engaged with the real world. Your tapping away in the presence of others announces that your mind is elsewhere, and suggests that they’re not as interesting as whatever is happening in your virtual world. If it seems family and friends seem annoyed with your lack of attention, the screen between you and them might be contributing to the problem. Learn to put the smartphone down and start giving people your full attention, you know, just like we used to do in the old days.
8. Go On a Digital Diet
Control some of the mayhem by curbing your enthusiasm for social media. Go on a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat diet. Cut down on the number of times a day you check in or are alerted to your friend’s status updates. Update your page every other day or so, instead of multiple times in a day. Are you brave enough to take it a few steps further? Then go rogue and shut down your Facebook account. You might be surprised by how much more time you’ll have to do the stuff you never used to have time for!
For more ideas on how to live better, sleep better and feel better with less technological interference, check out Terri Cole’s recent post on great reasons to unplug “Step Away From the Electronic Device”.