“In order to live a healthy life it is essential to unplug from technology from time to time and live life in the real world,” says Jim Hjort, LCSM, founder of RightLife Project, an organization that helps people cultivate wellbeing in all areas of their lives. “Our lives revolve around social media, games and staying plugged into our email. Stress levels, depression levels and anxiety have increased because we don’t want to miss out on updates, emails and television.” Whether you want to learn how to reduce your use of digital media on a regular basis or you’re feeling like you need a more long-term detox from the digital world, you can use the following tips and tricks to help implement a plan that will help you successfully find a healthy balance between screen time and your life in the real world.
It might seem counterintuitive to use technology as a tool for disconnecting, but you can actually use digital programs to make your time spent disconnected non-negotiable. For example, Cold Turkey allows users to block certain websites or programs that they find distracting for specific periods of times. According to the program’s creator Felix Belzile, many students use it as a helpful study tool, but it can also be used, for example, to turn off your email while on vacation.
Both Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, professor at California State University, Channel Islands and founder of Get Kids Internet Safe, and Hjort recommend that you schedule specific times for disconnecting, as well as for catching up on digital media. “Set aside specific times in the day to read through social media updates instead of checking it all day long,” Hjort said. “Keep true office hours and stop checking your email all evening and weekend long.”
How many times have you been in the middle of a conversation with someone while also on your phone reading emails, checking Facebook or scrolling through Instagram? According to Bennett, a simple way to “detox digitally” on a regular basis is to practice making eye contact whenever you’re in a conversation.
Those who want to disconnect entirely for an extended period of time might consider planning a retreat or vacation that focuses on little to no use of digital media and technology. “Ideally the best way to [disconnect] is to travel and be in the nature where free Wi-Fi isn’t available,” says Tania Ho, owner and director of Museflower Retreat & Spa, an all-inclusive vegetarian retreat and spa center in northern Thailand. “A lot of retreat centers located in natural surroundings around the world only offer complimentary wireless Internet at public areas, or not at all, so retreat participants can concentrate on connecting with themselves, with nature and with other retreat participants the old-fashioned way.”
If you’re phone or another digital device happens to be a part of your regular morning and evening routines, Ho suggests phasing it out so that it’s not the first and last thing you engage with every day. “Be awake for one hour first without checking your phone for messages. You can meditate or stretch or do a couple of yoga poses,” she said. “In the evening, set the latest time that you will check emails so your work won't affect your sleep. The evenings are all about winding down." She suggests putting down and shutting off your phone 30 minutes to an hour before bed and reading a book or magazine instead. This may help you get a better night’s sleep so that you can feel more relaxed and refreshed the next day.
Like with any healthy habit, you should try phasing this one in slowly and incrementally instead of aiming to give up all digital media and technology at once. Similarly, you don’t need to take an all-or-nothing approach to the time that you do spend engaging with your phone, computer and other devices. “Pick your favorite medium and be active on it,” Hjort suggests. “If you’re trying to post to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube, etc., it leaves very little room in your life for real face to face relationships.”
When you’re ready, Hjort also suggests choosing one day per week when you can disconnect completely. “Be sure to plan other activities you enjoy like catching up with a good friend, reading that book that has been on your nightstand for a month, going for a bike ride or attending a yoga class,” he said. “That way your mind and body can experience the other ways life offers to connect with yourself, friends and family.”
“Many families communicate via email or text message throughout the day to stay in touch because no one is home at the same time,” Hjort explained. “Turn off the television and smartphones and focus on family at least one night a week. Take one night for being present with one another by having a family game or dinner night. Conversations over meal-time can keep everyone tuned into each other's lives.”
There’s a long list of health benefits associated with spending time and exercising outside and it’s also an easy way to naturally forget about your digital devices. “Life happens outside of the four walls of your home,” Hjort said. “Get out for a walk after dinner, take the kids to the park to play Frisbee or take a bike ride as a family. Staying active is a great way to burn off stress and manage weight.”
“Replace your technology time with something new,”Hjort suggested. “Take a dance class, an art class or join a book-reading class. Find new ways to enrich your life that don't involve being plugged in.”