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How to do a digital detox and keep your day job

digital detoxDo you ever question your dependency on digital devices?

I’ll bet if you’re over 30 (aka: born unplugged), work at a computer all day, or have children you probably have.

Perhaps you’ve caught yourself sneaking away during meals for a quick peak at your favorite social media channel…

…or noticed how your mood changes after time spent reading news feeds…

…or maybe it was that time you caught yourself texting or tweeting during a much-needed date night.

Whatever may have lead you to suspect a problem, know you are not alone here, not by a long shot.

It’s estimated the average American adult spends over 10 hours a day glued to a screen, children: 7 hours.

And because society has normalized it, it’s hard to know if you really have a problem…or are just acting like everyone else.

I’ve caught myself falling into this trap, too. And it took an off-the-grid camping trip for me to realize how much kinder and more pleasant life was without my digital-sugar-fix.

If you suspect you could spend a little (or a lot…ahem) less time on digital devices and a lot more quality time on the things (and people) that feed your soul, then this post is for you.

Let’s dive in and learn how to be “in” the digital world…but not “of” it.

Science says…too much screen time can be physically, mentally, and emotionally crippling

Since digital media is in its infancy the science on its health effects are still stacking up.

However, the studies that have surfaced paint a sobering picture of how screens are slowly degrading our entire well-being.

Let’s start with the physical effects…

When you’re sitting at a computer all day, especially slumped over a laptop, your body is in a structurally compromised position.

Think about it. Your head is down, your arms are up, your back is curved, and your legs are probably crossed at the ankles.

This slumped over posture puts repetitive stress on your digestive system, musculoskeletal system, your breathing, and even your mood and productivity (our sense of assertiveness and self-esteem are intimately tied to our posture and body language).

When you look down at your phone, you strain your neck and spine which has led to a new epidemic called “text neck”. A painful and entirely preventative condition!

Then there’s your precious vision to consider, which becomes strained from reading small text and staring at a bright screens and small text all day.

The Mental Effects: How Digital Devices are Making us…Dumb

Sorry for the crass title, but I couldn’t think of a better way to describe what excess screen time does to our brains.

For example, most digital devices cause us to multitask. We jump from blogging, to emailing, to posting updates without a care in the world.

However, science has proven that multitasking makes us LESS effective (yes moms, it’s true!) and weakens our ability to focus and complete on task at a time. This CNN video by Sanjay Gupta does a great job explaining how this works.

Another example comes to us from this study, that proved reading on digital devices is reprogramming the way we think, causing us to focus on more concrete facts rather than abstract interpretation of the story. Creepy.

These are just two examples of many on how excess screen time weakens our cognitive function and overall smarts.

The Emotional Effects of Digital Devices

So if screens have the potential to weaken our focus and reasoning, what the heck are they doing to our emotional intelligence?

The science on this doesn’t look good folks, and it’s especially concerning for children.

Mindcraft, for example, has been shown to have a similar effect on a child’s brain as highly addictive drugs.

And though this news is troubling, if we’re honest we can see how our children’s behavior changes when they’re glued to these games.

Then there’s the widely reported studies like this, on how screen time is negatively affecting children’s social skills and ability to read emotions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends withholding media time for children under 2, and limiting it to 1-2 hours in older children.

Based on this growing body of research, I would suggest we can do a LOT better than that for our kids.

For adults, the troubling emotional effects are often tied back to social media.

As reported by Today, over 50% of Moms experience a new condition known as “Pinterest Stress”, overuse of sites like Twitter being linked to narcissistic tendencies, to say nothing of how social media tends to degrade our meaningful connections and communication with each other.

I’m not saying it’s all bad. Some studies have proven balanced social media use to be beneficial in some respects.

I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest and enjoy then for keeping up with friends, sharing helpful information, and cataloguing ideas.

But, based on the research and my own self-awareness I limit my use.

Daily Digital Detox Tips

My advice on digital detoxing is the same as my advice on nutritional detoxing.

Though a crash detox will help increase awareness and benefit you in the short-run, it’s the everyday detox habits (just like healthy eating) that ensures long-term results.

Here are a few tips on how to incorporate digital detoxing into your daily life

  • Get an alarm clock. An old-school alarm clock.  This takes away the temptation to waste time scrolling before bed or first thing in the morning. Plus, you don’t want the EMFs from your cell phone right next to your head at night.
  • Uninstall non-essential apps and social media. If we’re honest we’ll realize that no one really needs a Facebook app on their phone.
  • Take a weekly digital day off. Plan your day around screen-free activities and only use your phone for calls and texting.
  • Alert family and friends. If you’re worried about not being online all the time, just tell everyone you’re cutting back and ask them to call or email you if anything’s urgent.
  • Watch your computer-posture. A chiropractor friend of mine tells his patients to set up a mindful work station. Get a monitor or put your laptop at eye level, make sure you’re typing at a comfortable level and if you need a wireless keyboard and mouse, get them. A standing desk is also a great option and allows for greater range of motion (just make sure you then take sitting breaks).
  • Take regular screen breaks. Most of us do sit at computers all day long, so be sure to step away every 30-60 minutes for 5 minutes or so. Do some paperwork, return a call, stretch, take a short walk, or get a cup of tea. The practice not only provides digital-stress relief, but helps increase your productivity.
  • Finally, if you must use a digital device at night, wear blue-blocker glasses. This will help counteract the stimulating blue light which contributes to insomnia.

At this time, no one really knows how much digital time is “safe”. And, just like food, digital devices will impact different people in different ways.

But given what you know now, you are fully empowered to take the steps needed to be “in” the digital world without being “of” it.

For further reading on the subject, I highly recommend the books: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder“,  and “The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World“.

Happy detoxing!

Dr. Alex