Picture / Babiche Martens.

Why You Should Do a Digital Detox

How our Viva wellbeing editor got over her phone addiction

As a High St shopgirl in the 90s, I spent an inordinate amount of time smoking. Afforded two 10-minute breaks a day, I would sit outside my kingdom wafting billowing amounts of vile air, serene in silent contemplation.

Life in Auckland played out before me like a live action issue of The Face magazine in glorious technicolour — albeit with an odorous nicotine-tinged filter — and I drank it all in; inhale, exhale and repeat.

My smoking days are (thankfully) long behind me but it occurred to me recently that I am deep in the throes of another addiction: my iPhone.

Always being plugged in is a perilous business. Where smoking, for all its admittedly extreme faults, went someway towards stress relief (it wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I realised so much of what I missed about smoking was the Pranayama-esque breathing patterns) my phone addiction just aggravates it. I seek no solace in it, rather it taunts.

So I quit.

Just for a week. (For full disclosure, work commitments meant I had to use my computer for emails, but only during work hours.)

Like a septic lover it’s amazing how quickly I got over my phone as soon as I experienced life without it. The physical agitation was the hardest — the literally not knowing what to do with myself. But once that passed I noticed the signs of dependency in those around me.

Instagramming moments instead of living them, desperation to Google information not entirely necessary, just to touch it.

Checking emails while casually shopping, when we all know they’re not that important.

A week on, I’d happily never have a phone again; like a reformed smoker I want to preach the joy I found.

Three non-surprising revelations that still surprised me:

• I slept like a baby. Instead of scrolling Instagram and Facebook and checking my emails right up until lights out, I stopped screen time at the end of the work day. I slept with the curtains open in lieu of an alarm clock and in the mornings I read a book for 10 minutes when I woke, rather than the blogs, news sites, social media and emails I would usually do. I hadn’t slept so well in years.

• I achieved so much more at work that week. I thought that the inability to check and answer emails on the run would hinder my effectiveness at work.
Not surprisingly though, take away social media, apps, text messaging and other distractions and your workday suddenly gets a whole lot more productive.

• My stress level reduced drastically and I was happier. Clinical psychologist Dr Vicki Connop cautions that, “when we’re continually distracted we’re missing the present moment of our lives”. I certainly felt calmer and more present in everything I did.

I also greatly appreciated the separation between my home and work life once I suddenly realised how blurred they’d become. It was revelatory how much calmer and more focused I was when only checking emails at set times, rather than constantly doing so even when I had no chance to answer them (like at traffic lights, or during a school pick up).

Hints when undergoing a digital detox:

• Keep it achievable. Start with a weekend of pure detox (computer and phone) or perhaps a week of no phone, allowing the use of email and computer during business hours.

• Be organised. Write out your diary for the week so you don’t need to access a device to check it. When going places allow plenty of time so you can find them without GPS. Remember, if you’re running late you’ll be unable to let the person know.

• Practice breathing whenever you miss your device (when stuck in traffic, waiting for a friend in a cafe, the doctor’s waiting room). Dr Libby speaks of the importance of diaphragmatic breathing and how it’s the singular best thing we can do for ourselves because of its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing our bodies to go into rest and repair mode. When you feel anxious about missing your phone inhale deeply through your nose, feel your belly rise, hold the breath and then release while the belly distends.

• Get an alarm clock so you don’t have to sleep with your device in the room.

• Treat yourself. Detox your body at the same time — book a massage, schedule some yoga or gentle walking or try an infrared sauna.

• Don’t fall back into old habits once your detox is over; instill strict rules around it. Leave it behind if you’re going to the gym/ yoga/ for a walk.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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