How to boost your health with a digital detox

-Jul 9, Caroline Blight, Health -

Our smartphones can be wonderful things, we have our lives in the palm of our hands. Whether it be as a sat nav, music library or camera, they certainly have their pluses. But with most of us having multiple messaging apps and our emails on our phones too they are also a means of people contacting us at anytime and anywhere. It’s becoming impossible to switch off, in all senses, and being constantly distracted by notifications is actually harming our health.

Being always contactable is bad for our brain

“When we are always contactable, our nervous system is continuously in its more active state, we can get addicted to the dopamine hit that comes with our phones pinging away. ” explains Avni Trivedi, Zero-Balancer and Triyoga Osteopath.

 “We need the balance of the parasympathetic nervous system, which functions to ‘rest and digest’. This is the state where the heart rate and blood pressure is lower, and digestion is regulated.” If we are always switched on, the brain is in its most vigilant, active state. It’s not efficient to constantly be in this state of alertness. When we are constantly ‘on’ we miss the natural moments of rest and time to recentre which would ordinarily occur in a day.

“Our brain needs rest,” adds Elisabetta Franzoso, Life Coach. “Like a computer needs to be switched off, our brain needs to be still. It is in those moments that it can recharge and re-energise. If we don’t ever switch off our phones we can become stressed, negative and unfocused, and it may even make us feel more tired than normal as the brain is not resting as it should.”

So if you feel tired all the time  despite getting a reasonable amount of sleep and not over-exercising, it could be that you need more time switched off as you are overloading your exhausted brain.

Related: How to feel energized when you are exhausted

We are living in a permanently distracted state

As well at knowing we are constantly contactable we also find it hard to focus when we are constantly interrupted. It’s thought that we are receiving notifications approximately eight minutes on average. When we acknowledge a message, even if we don’t respond to it then, it takes up to 20minutes to regain the focus on the task we were originally working on.

“We are living in an increasingly distracted and therefore reactive world,” says Avni. “One of the big issues with that is losing the ability to work in a focused way.”

Not being able to get on with the task in hand means that jobs and chores take longer than they should and we end up getting less sleep as we can’t fit so much into our day. We also have the added feeling of failure and anxiety from ‘being behind’ all the time and like we are racing to catch up with ourselves.

Why we feel bad about switching off

If you think of the phone in your house when you were growing up you probably remember using it sparingly and being the person to actively make the call. With smartphones we are bombarded with messages and information which requires us to react instead. We are less proactive in the exchange. And over all more stressed.

“The instant connectivity creates ‘FOMO’ or ‘fear of missing out’, explains Avni. “If we prioritize replying to other people, we may be overriding our own needs. Life becomes reactive if there isn’t a moment to pause and then respond. When we are bombarded with technological noise, we aren’t able to hear our body intuition as well. That instinct to know when you need to check in on a friend, for example, is innate in us all.” 

By being switched on to our smartphones we are actually switching off from our feelings. “I have noticed when speaking with  my clients that we have come to live more and more in an almost robotic state,” says Elisabetta. “Our minds are never empty or resting, we hardly ever simply sit still without checking our phones. For me this means that we are detaching from our bodies, meaning we can no longer truly listen to our needs, even the most basic such as drinking enough water, sleeping enough and getting enough rest. We have become detached and this needs to change.”

Related: If you struggle with feelings of guilt these tips could help

How to break free of your distracted state

Most of us know we should regulate our mobile screen time but it can seem so hard. Having your smart phone with you all the time is the norm. The technology makers know how to get us addicted to their products and spark a desire to always check them. They have become so much part of life it’s almost impossible to understand how we can function without them. But you can break your dependence.

“It’s worth switching off as many notifications and alerts as possible so that you don’t have the Pavlov’s dog response of responding to the phone,” advises Avni. “I’ve taken Facebook off my phone and log out of social media accounts on my laptop. Those extra few seconds help to break the pattern of constant checking. Apps like Freedom are really helpful too to block access when you need to work. Scrolling is such an automatic, physical process, so keep the phone out of easy reach, and keep your hands occupied.”

Try andset boundaries so that you can have periods of time without your phone. Ideally switch off at some point in the evening so your mind is more present before you go to bed and try to do something that connects you to your mind and body first thing in the morning before you reach for your phone. Stretching, meditation, journaling are all great ways to do this. Start leaving your phone behind when you go out for a meal, or have a day a week where you put the phone in a drawer. Any habit needs a change from time to time.

“Set aside a time in the day when you respond to messages and are contactable, let your friends and family know this is when they will get a response from you. Turn your phone off and be present, if you can’t manage this for long, choose an hour a day where you do an activity away from your phone,’ says Elisabetta. Gradually you will feel less need to be technologically connected – and you will also likely find you get a lot more done in a day too!

Are you finding your mental load hard to cope with? These tips could help you. And if you are panicking about turning your phone off more, meditation could help you.

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