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I Tried a Digital Detox & Here's What Happened

After reading about the pitfalls of overusing digital devices, I gave mine up for 24 hours. Here's what I learned, and my tips for trying a detox yourself.

By Sarah Lee, Freelance Writer

Person holding out their phone in front of them with both hands

Shutterstock / YUTTANA HONGTANSAWAT


It's officially summertime! Birds are chirping, the grass is green, and the sun sets past 7 p.m. Farmers markets are in full swing, and gardens are blooming like crazy.

Have you noticed these things...or are you distracted by incoming alerts and notifications? If so, you're not alone. According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, "About half of U.S smartphone owners check their devices several times an hour..." While technology has certainly made our lives easier and efficient in some ways, it's easy to get wrapped up in our digital lives (emails, calendar alerts, Facebook notifications, games, videos!) and neglect the real world.

More and more, we're learning that technology can negatively affect our health. Obviously, if we're on our laptops, we aren't moving our bodies or spending time in nature. Technology has other, more serious effects, too. According to a 2015 study conducted by PLOS, a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization, "The Internet problems were strongly related to all of the other psychological variables such as depression, anxiety, social isolation and sleep problems." Yikes.

Although I wasn't dealing with those symptoms, I was feeling overly glued to my own devices. I decided to take a step back and do a digital detox.


What's a Digital Detox?

A digital detox is a strict device-free period. Shut off all your devices, including phones, laptops, e-books and, yep, even the TV. You can do anything you want, other than stare at a screen.


How Long Does a Detox Last?

While it's tempting (if daunting) to consider a total retreat from the digital world, starting small sets you up for success. Twenty-four hours is a good goal, but for some people even a half-day will help them to de-stress. (Want to make it easier? Consider taking a vacation somewhere without Wi-Fi!)



Here's What Happened When I Tried a Digital Detox

As a writer, editor and millennial, I'm constantly checking my phone and working on the computer. I watch YouTube videos rather than read a book, and when I wash the dishes I listen to music through my phone. I noticed I depended on technology way too much and needed a break! I set aside 24 hours for my first digital detox. Sounds piddly, but I really noticed some changes. Here's the lowdown:


My Productivity Soared

All of a sudden, I wasn't clicking open a bunch of tabs, texting or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. Turns out those distractions added up to a lot of time. Without them, I was able to tackle my to-do list like a pro football player. Normally, I'd push back things like studying and laundry, but I no longer had an excuse. By the end of the day, I had checked everything off and felt extremely accomplished. (Got a little extra time? Here are some cleaning tasks you probably aren't doing enough.)


I Learned to Appreciate the Peace and Quiet

Because I'm so used to having background noise, washing the dishes and folding the laundry felt uncomfortable. Waiting in line: Torture! I definitely had to get used to it. Once I did, I realized that being in a completely quiet room was relaxing. I was much more present and mindful throughout the day, and let my thoughts wander. As a creative individual, I have ideas running through my mind all day. However, I rarely write them down or remember them. Now, because I had zero distractions, I felt more inspired.

Fun fact: Some of our best ideas develop when we're doing a single activity, such as taking a simple walk around the neighborhood. And there's evidence for this, too! According to a 2014 study conducted by Stanford researchers, "Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity."


I Did More Physical Activity

The Stanford research is a great reminder to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. The amount of time we spend on our devices is linked to how much time we aren't moving our bodies. If only texting and running at the same time were possible! Because I didn't have a GPS at my disposal, I felt compelled to walk instead of drive, and I was able to explore the world by foot. I also wasn't streaming shows after dinner, so I had time to take a stroll and enjoy how late it was staying light outside. I certainly didn't have a hard time getting in 10K steps that day.


I Felt Calmer and More Connected

By the end of the detox, I felt refreshed. I hadn't compared myself to anyone else that day through social media, so I didn't feel vaguely jealous or dissatisfied. Instead, I focused on my relationships in real life, and I also embraced the quiet of being alone. I even fell asleep faster, since the light from my phone was not there to confuse my body.

If you're interested in taking a digital detox, here are a few tips for success:


  • Mark it on your calendar and plan in advance. If you need your phone and laptop for work, take a detox over the weekend. This is a great opportunity to do things you haven't gotten around to (anything from doing the laundry or cleaning to visiting a museum or hosting a brunch). When you plan your day in advance, you'll feel more confident going in, and you're less likely to seek excuses (just have to check my email, or I just need to look up directions real fast...). Furthermore, make a commitment to your detox. Once it's marked in your calendar, stick to it!


  • Tell your friends and family. While it's great that you want to live offline for however long, it's wise to let your family, friends and colleagues know. It's never fun when we're trying to reach someone and their phone is turned off. If your significant other or whole family wants to join in the detox, why not enjoy a day of playing games, going to a park, or just hanging out at home?


  • Keep track of your digital detox. To remember your experience and keep track of any effects and benefits, journal about it. This is a great way to reflect, and it can inspire you to repeat the experience.


  • If you hit a wall, keep going! I certainly hit a few walls throughout my detox. At times I felt bored, and having zero background noise felt strange. If or when this happens, remind yourself that the detox is only temporary. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and think of creative ways to spend your time.


Here are some ideas:

• Open a neglected cookbook and try a new recipe.

• Write "Thinking of you" notes to friends, family and colleagues (or better yet, take someone out for lunch or coffee).

• Have a picnic in the park and bring a few books along.

• Wait for the sun to set and catch fireflies with your children.

• Take a nap in your backyard.


Finally, remember that a positive attitude will make your detox much easier. By the end of it, you'll feel like a brand new person! As Anne Lamott once said, "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."


Sources:

Gallup poll: https://www.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx

PLOS study: https://www.ncbi.ncbi.nih.gov/pubmed/26244339

Stanford study: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf