Digital Detox: Top Tips!

We live in a connected world. That is, the Digital World! Never in human history have we been so connected to one another. We benefit from instant news, media, programmes, games, online shopping, online banking, online working! Most of this is from the device that we can fit into our own pockets – the mobile phone!

And yet, despite all this connectivity, we have become disconnected….disconnected with ourselves, our wellbeing and being present with those who physically surround us. We are constantly connected to an online world that we often forget what it was like to just be present in the present!

In this blog, I will give some top tips on how to minimise the use of mobile phones to help become better connected.

Disconnect to Reconnect! This is my own personal experience so it may differ from other experiences, but I hope you find it useful and informative.

Minimise is the key to success!

A digital detox should not be a full detox with complete elimination of devices – chances are it will not last long. A digital detox is most effective if it is sustainable over a long period of time. Being aware of your digital habits is key to success. Once you are aware, you can incorporate daily habits that can help minimise your digital consumption. The key message here is minimise – not eliminate!

1. Screen Time

Of all the digital technologies that exist, the mobile phone is arguably one of the most prevalent devices that has completely dominated the digital world. It could be argued that we use our mobile phones more than any other piece of hardware, so it is no surprise that “screen time” has developed as a monitoring tool. Most mobile phones come with a “screen time” feature that records your number of notifications, pick ups, apps used and the hours and minutes you spend on your phone each day. This compares your daily, weekly and monthly use on the mobile phones and sometimes the data can be surprising.

Awareness is key. If we are aware of how much time we are spending on our phones, we can begin to minimise. Recently, I did an experiment with my first year students. All students recorded their screen time over a 5 day period using a screen time diary Our aim was to reduce screen time on average. Once students made a significant effort to reduce their screen tiem, they could see the benefits. The key here was to minimise – not fully eliminate. Students reported it was difficult to leave their phone behind if they left home or to see their friends initially, but overall they reported feeling better with less screen time each day.

2. Turn off Notifications

Notifications – the constant bling, blips and pings that we have all become familiar with. I think we even know the apps which the notifications are coming from based on the sounds alone! One simple strategy is to turn off the notifications for the apps that you are not actively using, for example, turning off social media notifications when in work, or turning off email notifications outside of work hours. This also helps to have a healthy balance between online and offline. Chances are, if you do not get a notification, it can reduce the urge to actually pick up the phone and scroll, which in turn leads to increased screen time. For me, this was great as with less notifications I only scrolled on my phone when it suited me, rather than when the app sent a notification.

3. Designate “tech-free” hours!

This may seem simple, but it is highly effective. Designating an hour with no phones can be effective in terms of productivity, mindfulness and wellbeing. Setting an alarm for 30 minutes, or 60 minutes can have added benefits as you are aware of the time and it avoids procastination if you have certain tasks to complete and the phone is a distration!

Adding to this, there are apps which can help! The Forest App allows you to plant a virtual forest, but it has a catch! Each tree takes a certain amount of time to grow, from as little as 2 minutes and up to 4 hours and beyond! During this time, the app will not allow you to leave the app until the selected plant has grown. If you do decide to leave the app, it plants a dead tree in the forest which cannot be removed. This app actually helped me remain focused for my Masters degree during lockdown as my phone was a constant distraction. I would compare the app and my forest with my classmates to prove that I could stay off my phone. In fact, I have used this a study technique for some Leaving Cert students this year whereby we all compare our forests at the end of each week or month. This works very well and students have given great feedback on how it keeps them focused for study, even for 30 minutes. We avoid long periods of study as rest breaks are important too, but the 30 minute tree targets are very popular.

The Forest App, available to download on App Store

4. Consume breakfast before consuming media!

For the majority of us, I would imagine the first thing we do in the morning is reach for our phones – mainly because we use our phones for alarm clocks. But, we often check our social media accounts before we have even gotten oursevles ready for the day. We literally consume social media before we consume breakfast!

This can have different effects – if we are consuming negative media on social media, it can impact our mood and may even determine the outcome of the morning. One simple strategy is to remove the mobile phone from the bedroom, or do not conusme media before breakfast. This allows your brain time to organise itself for the day ahead, to think of your intentions of the day and get yourself ready, rather that consuming media mindlessly and instantly.

Easier said than done, I know!

These are only a few tips that have personally worked for me. It is not perfect – far from it, in fact. There are lots of literature, research articles and studies that have been conducted on the effect of social media and mobile phones on brain development, brain function and how it can contribute to mindfulness. But this blog was more of a personal note on my own experiences. In general, I am actively trying to reduce my screen time on my phone. Being aware of it is the first thing – trying to minimise is the second. But by incorporating these simple strategies over the last year, I have noticied a significant difference in screen time and my urge to use my phone for endless scrolling has decresed (not eliminated however, but it is a step in the right direction).

For a more scientific perspective, Professor Barbara Jennings talks about the effect of mobile phone use has on brain development, dopamine levels and anxiety associated with mobile phone use.

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