Something weird happened at my family’s Christmas gathering this year.
My dad and his five siblings each have at least two kids—and it’s safe to say none of us have a shy bone in our body. And typically, when you cram the nearly 35 of us into a house and add copious amounts of wine, trays of fresh lasagna, and holiday cheer, it gets out-of-control loud.
So I was sort of surprised when, in the midst of gift-opening, I walked into the quiet den to find six of my most outgoing cousins sitting mute on the couch, heads bowed, fingers scrolling, eyes glued to their respective iPhones.
We’re all guilty of the same thing: Being “plugged in” is the new normal. And that’s not necessarily bad—but relying on technology so much could be more inhibiting than you realize. Shaking your head like, “Nah, I can quit whenever I want”? Consider whether you identify with any of these traits:
- Is it hard for you to pay attention while engaged in a task?
- Do you have trouble listening when someone is talking to you directly?
- Is it challenging for you to organize tasks and activities, like plan and schedule your day?
- Do you avoid or are you reluctant to start tasks that require sustained mental effort over an extended period of time?
- Are you easily distracted by something like an email or a text message when you’re working?
- Do you get nervous when your phone or computer is about to die?
- When you’re bored, do you find yourself checking in on what’s happening on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter?
If any of these resonate with you, you’re a perfect candidate for a digital detox.
What’s a digital detox?
A self-imposed digital detox means ditching the cellphone and computer and waving goodbye to social media and email for a while to relax and recharge. Does the mere idea of it make you break out into a cold sweat? You’re not alone. In one study from Anxiety UK, 45 percent of people felt worried or uncomfortable as a result of not being able to access their social networks or email. And nomophobia—fear of being without a mobile phone—affects over 66 percent of the population, according to 2012 findings.
Why try it?
Interested in finding out what would happen if they were cut off from all electronic technology, neuroscientists studied 35 people ranging from CEOs to entrepreneurs who bid adieu to their phones for four days. The results were striking. Participants...
- ...changed physically in terms of posture. Their shoulders rolled back, their chests opened up more, and they made longer, sustained eye contact with others while talking.
- ...were more likely to remember details and had improved memory after just a few days; researchers believe this is because they were more engaged in their conversations.
- ....felt stronger friendships, bonds, and inside jokes. Again, it might have to do with deeper conversations—researchers noted specifically that because participants couldn’t Google every question, they told more stories and talked more in depth as they tried to figure out an answer.
- ...felt more rested and rejuvenated after a night of sleep, and noted that they needed less sleep than normal. This could be due to the fact that blue light that emanates from screens has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns.
Perhaps most importantly, participants reported that they had made creative breakthroughs during their time away from technology. Instead of immediately hopping on the Facebook app as soon as they were bored, they were forced to let their minds wander and entertain themselves—wifi-less.
How does it work?
Even though it might seem a little daunting, the last few days of the year might be the perfect time to turn off the phone and set an out-of-office reply on your email. Make sure you plan the time that you want to be offline, and then let people know that you haven’t dropped dead—but your phone has. Telling coworkers, family, and friends about your intentions will prevent them from flooding your inbox too much while you’re off the grid. Whether you unplug for ten hours or ten days, it’s still beneficial to give yourself a break. You can make your own rules here, but most people turn off all electronic devices.
So then what…?
Now that perusing the internet is off-limits, you might find that you’ve got a lot more extra time than you realized! Chris Kresser, who does his own digital detox every year, typically journals, writes, meditates, goes for long walks, and gets a lot of physical activity. Before diving in, he suggests thinking of some ways to occupy yourself during all that time you used to spend checking email and social media: "I think it’s also a good idea to have some ideas for how you’re going to spend all that time that you used to spend checking email and social media and all that stuff. For me, as I said, I was journaling and writing and meditating, taking lots of long walks and lots of physical activity. It’s a great time to start learning a new hobby or start doing some new creative activity, brainstorming, hanging out with friends, spending more time with your partner or your kids."
Have some things to do that will really engage your senses in a way that you don’t typically do.
Finally, during the big unplug just try to be present. Even if you don’t feel totally at ease while your iPhone is out of sight, remember that it’s only a for a short period of time. Enjoy spending time with those around you, exploring your own thoughts, or just taking a second to truly do nothing. You might be surprised at what can happen during those moments of stillness.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho