Many of us are familiar with the notion of detoxing – taking time out to redress the balance of all the nasties we put in our bodies, breathe in, and apply onto our skin.

Now, there is an urgent and increasing need for another kind of detoxing, without which research shows we risk rising levels of stress, anxiety, burnout and depression – digital detoxing. The WHO predict that stress and depression will be the biggest causes of ill health by 2020, and digital overload is a major contributor. We are spending at least 30% of our leisure time on the internet, which leaves us 2.5 times more likely to suffer depression. Multitasking and information overload are literally driving us crazy.

Think of all the things we can do with a few flicks of our thumbs. Check and send emails, connect via social media, make videos, take photos of all our activities, instantly gather information on virtually anything, do our weekly grocery shop and buy a complete outfit for the event we just bought tickets for (having checked your bank balance online first of course). Fabulous!

And …… not so fabulous.

Being constantly “on” in this way has damaging consequences for our physical, mental and emotional health. In my one to one work and eight week Mind Mood Mastery mindfulness course, we unpick some of the science behind this, and learn ways to dial down stress, increase personal choice, and counteract the anxiety and habit that keep us plugged in.

It’s a question of balance. The key word is “choice”. Choose when to use your digital devices and when not to. The thing is, can you exercise this choice?

The average person checks their smart phone every 6.5 minutes, and 73% of us would struggle to get through a single day without it. One in four of us spends longer on line than asleep. All of which spells one thing – addiction.

Every time we get a hit on Facebook or Twitter, we get a small spritz of dopamine, a chemical that activates the reward/addiction centres in our brains, in the same way as with other more familiar forms of addiction. It creeps up on us. Think back five years and look how your behaviour has changed as a result of digital technology.

When our inbox “pings” the arrival of a new email, our stress level goes up and we stop breathing momentarily – email apnoea. Chemical changes drive a feeling of anxiety, making us less able to step away from replying instantly. We hop from one digital activity to another,  even when queuing for coffee or meeting with friends.

Why?

It’s a vicious cycle. The more we “do”, the more driven we become to do. Status Anxietus becomes normal. We become less effective, the realisation of which makes us more stressed. Our brains get jammed with all the input. This  alters our perception of things, so we feel more driven to keep checking, texting, googling. Our sense of time contracts. Our attention span is increasingly fragmented, damaging our ability to focus.

We need regularly to take time out, unwind, step off the merry-go-round, gain perspective and look at the bigger picture, time to breathe, and just enjoy being.

Rather than getting data and information almost instantly, which turns us into “surface thinkers”, skimming for unnecessary facts and factoids, we would be better off to dig deeper, reflect and think for ourselves.

Next time you leave your office or home, leave your phone in your pocket or bag for half an hour.

Try it. Talk to the people around you or simply watch what’s going on. Take a few deep breaths and bring yourself into the present moment. Just be. Feel the ripples of relaxation as you chose to unplug and refresh, rather than feed the monster of constant do-ing. You stand to gain hugely in wellbeing and equanimity.

Here are ten ways to regularly digitally detox:

  1. Block out one hour a day and one evening a week to be digital device-free.
  2. Leave all electronic devices aside at least half an hour before bed and leave them outside the bedroom. (Buy an alarm clock!)
  3. Make mealtime a digital-free zone. Leave all devices in another room.
  4. Curate your newsletters so you only receive ones you really want. Unsubscribe from the rest.
  5. Set aside 10-20 mins a day to sit in quiet contemplation, just being, not doing. Learn mindfulness, an essential life skill which reduces the risk of addictions.
  6. Get out in nature. Go for walks without your phone. Instead of being busy photographing, tweeting, instagramming everything you do, experience it fully, now.
  7. Meet with friends in person and ban digital devices whilst you talk.
  8. Suggest that the first person to reach for their smart phone pays the bill!
  9. Ignite an old hobby and spend digital-free time doing this e.g. reading, cooking, singing, sport, tinkering with DIY, painting, writing poetry, horse-riding, knitting…..
  10. When you go on holiday take a cheap handset with you to receive emergency calls and texts, and leave the all-singing and dancing version at home.

It Hurts

As a seven year old, I had a dream. I imagined that it was possible to heal people by touching them with my magic finger. Later, as a doctor, then acupuncturist , educator, mindfulness coach and course leader that dream is still my passion. It hurts me to know that mental illness is still stigmatised, hidden ...

Eight Steps to Mental Wellbeing at Work

A growing number of powerful reports from highly reputable organisations have repeatedly spelled out the costs to people, business and nation of mental ill health. Excellent research has outlined the main factors that impact people’s mental health at work, what causes stress, leads to burnout and increases the risk of illness. In recent years courses ...