Let’s face it: we don't always have the healthiest relationship with technology. From endlessly scanning social media sites to incessantly checking emails, we tote around serious digital baggage day after day that wreaks havoc on our minds and bodies. Headaches and “text neck” aren’t the only physical ailments caused by staying constantly connected. Harvard Medical School scientists found that using a cell phone or laptop before bed can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin and negatively affect sleep quality. And according to the Pew Research Internet Project, 44 percent of cell phone owners sleep with their phones next to their beds.
It turns out spending every spare minute on social media isn't helping our mental health, either. A recent study published by the Public Library of Science found the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more dissatisfied they ultimately feel with their own life.
The fact that the phrase “digital detox” made its way into the Oxford Dictionary online last year is proof in itself that many of us could stand to benefit from a little break from our screens, and this weekend may be just the perfect time. National Day of Unplugging on March 7-8 encourages tech users to shut down their digital devices for 24 hours as a way to slow down, recharge, and reconnect with themselves and others.
Feeling anxious just thinking about giving up your smartphone and missing out on Twitter updates for a day? It may not be as bad as you think -- if you're prepared.
Here are nine things you should know about completing a digital detox, from the people who have lived to tell their own unplugging tales.
It’s a process.
When you first unplug, it's fairly likely that you will suffer from phantom-phone syndrome -- that feeling that your pocket is buzzing or ringing when your phone is actually nowhere in sight -- and you may find yourself cheating a little by reading your news feed after that morning alarm goes off. But try not to be too hard on yourself. Embrace the discomfort of realizing that you’ve become physically connected to technology, and take some time to think about what means for you. This awareness is part of the digital detox process.
After her digital detox last December, Arianna Huffington said, "I was floored by the realization of just how much my phones had become almost physical extensions of myself."
Withdrawal is only temporary.
Once you get past the impulse to Google a random thought, reply to an email the second it arrives or check the social buzz on Facebook, you might just find that you don’t actually miss that constant connection so much. Your friends, family and loved ones -- the people who matter most -- will be there to connect with in-person (at least the local ones), and your 500+ Facebook friends will still be there when you plug back in.
Disconnecting can help you reconnect.
Locking technology away, even if just for a short period of time, brings you far closer to friends and family than possible when you’re constantly glued to your screen. Unplugging and reconnecting with other IRL will enrich your life in ways your Facebook profile probably can’t begin to offer.
"I got so much out of unplugging," MSNBC's "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski wrote of her week-long detox in a HuffPost blog. "Complete conversations with my dad and mom. A fun swim with my niece... Connecting. I even watched the sun go down."
Live in the moment for the moment’s sake.
If a digital detox will teach you anything, it’s that not every incredible view must be shared through an Instagram filter. Removing that intermediary lens between your eyes and your surroundings can make for a much more meaningful experience.
After deciding to put her phone down during a family vacation, HuffPost's executive lifestyle editor Lori Leibovich said, "It felt exhilarating to use my hands for digging tunnels in the sand and turning the pages of a novel instead of just tapping on a screen. For the first time in I don't know how long, I was really seeing my kids. And they were relishing being seen."
Cultivate your Zen.
That lack of constant connection could actually help you accept the things you cannot control. Glamour's editor-in-chief Cindi Leive discovered this during her digital detox when her vacation flight was rerouted due to a storm.
"I had to resist my initial impulse to reach for Twitter to see what I could discover," Leive wrote in a Huffington Post blog. "Instead I read a book and waited. We got there eventually, and I bet my blood pressure was lower than it would have been if I'd spent the time scrolling for info and venting."
Forget FOMO. After the initial bouts of wondering what your network is up to online without you, the realization hits that their pictures, posts and tweets don’t actually add up to much in terms of your mood or well-being. You might just discover the meaning of JOMO, the joy of missing out, because you are spending those previously-occupied minutes on things that truly make you happy.
Find your focus.
Trading browser tab after browser tab for a single hardcopy book can work wonders on your attention span.
"What grew each day was my capacity for absorbed focus," The Energy Project president and CEO Tony Schwartz wrote of his digital detox in Harvard Business Review. "I became increasingly aware that the relentless diet of information I ordinarily consume leaves me feeling the same way I do after eating a couple of slices of pizza or a hot dog and French fries -- poorly nourished and still hungry."
Unplugging could reignite your passion.
Use your digital detox to channel some of your newfound free time into an old, possibly lost hobby. Whether it involves gardening, carving wood or playing a musical instrument, unplugging might boost your creativity. Cisco's CTO Padmarsree Warrior chooses to spend 24 hours every weekend away from technology, making time for two of her favorite hobbies: painting and writing haikus. If all of your previous interests do lie within the realm of the worldwide web, now is as good a time as any to try something new.
The experience will be restorative.
As traumatic as the detox experience may seem, rest assured knowing that the reward awaiting you on Saturday at sundown is well worth it. Your mind and body will thank you for allowing it to reboot, get back to the basics, and remember what life was like before technology took over.