Digital detox: what it is and why you should do it

As we wrap up Earth Month, there is no better time than now to start a digital detox. If you’ve been participating in our challenges, you’ve already done great things for Mother Earth. Now you can close out earth month by doing something good for yourself! 

With the majority of Canada working from home, studies show that we’re spending more time plugged into our devices than ever before. According to Forbes, the average consumer now spends over six hours per day staring at a mobile screen, a number that’s more than doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with several Canadian provinces currently under a stay home order, excess screen time isn’t just limited to your phone. With not much else to do a lot of Canadians are turning to Netflix, YouTube, and video games to get their entertainment fix.

All of our devices emit blue light. Despite the sun’s blue light playing an important role in maintaining our circadian rhythm and sleep cycle, artificial blue blight has its side effects. Excessive blue light can be incredibly disruptive to our sleep cycle, suppressing our natural melatonin production and making it difficult to fall asleep as our brain is tricked into thinking it is daytime. so if you find yourself struggling to nod off at a reasonable hour (phone in hand), your device is likely the culprit. 

If you’re like most people, your phone is the first thing you grab in the morning, and the last thing you touch before falling asleepmaybe it even makes it into bed with you!

In fact, a 2015 survey conducted by Deloitte found that around 59 percent of smartphone users check a social media platform in the five minutes prior to going to bed, and within 30 minutes of waking up. Whether your excuse is that you “need it for the alarm,”, or “there could be an emergency,”, starting and ending the day staring at your screen can have serious psychological side effects, including increased irritability, lower levels of dopamine, increased levels of distraction and the inability to focus, higher levels of anxiety, and higher reports of emotional instability.

For those working remotely, if you think you’re the only one who has been loathing Zoom calls lately, you’re not alone. Besides “you’re on mute” becoming the slogan of the last year and a half, reports say that Zoom calls feel mentally exhausting because they demand a higher level of engagement thanhat doesn’t come with a simple phone call or in-person meeting.

Instead of engaging in a vicious cycle with your phone and other devices, consider undergoing a complete digital detox instead. 


What is a digital detox? 

A digital detox is exactly what it sounds like -disconnecting from the electronic world to get more in touch with the real world and reduce any stress associated with your devices.

Different people may approach digital detoxing in different ways. For example, if you’re feeling like you can’t follow the latest trends anymore on TikTok, FOMO from travel vloggers on YouTube, or simply overwhelmed by scrolling through your feeds on Instagram and Facebook, you may opt to do a digital detox from social media. This could look like deactivating your social media profiles for a set amount of time to refocus your energy elsewhere, or it could manifest as deleting your accounts forever.

Digital detoxes do not have to be permanent, but engaging in one can be an effective means to limit yourself from too much screen time down the road.


Detox from your devices

The following are ideas for distancing yourself from your devices:

  • If you must have a meeting for work, ask your employer if the discussion can be done over the phone instead of on video, or if you can set the video function to be optional, not mandatory.
  • Put your phone down at least 30 minutes before bed and allow your body to fall asleep naturally. 
  • If reading helps you fall asleep, switch to the good old-fashioned method of reading an actual book—ebooks and tablets don’t count!
  • After the workday has ended, put your phone ringer on silent, and mute all notifications including text message vibrations to avoid feeling like you need to ignore your pings.
  • All iPhones come with a Do Not Disturb feature which silences all phone calls and blocks incoming notifications to your home screen. Consider auto-enabling this feature from the time you go to bed to the time you wake up.
  • Sign out of all social media accounts on all of your devices. If you trust a friend, have them change the password and give it to you when your digital detox is up.

Go back to the basics

Although starting a new TV series and browsing online might seem like the only things to do while COVID-19 restrictions continue, engaging in a digital detox gives you the opportunity to be more in touch with yourself and get back to doing what you used to love before this hyper-connected reality set in.

Here are a few ideas to stay occupied that don’t require a screen:

  • Take a break from the cooking and restaurant series and see if you can be the master chef of your kitchen by trying a new recipe! 
  • Take up reading—some of the best movies and TV series came from books. If you’ve already watched cult classics on Netflix like Bridgerton, Outlander, and It, consider seeing how the screen adaptation stacks up to the real deal!
  • Buy a board game: channel your inner Queen’s Gambit with a game of chess, or consider another game that will get your brain cells moving.
  • Get creative: consider purchasing paints or a sketchbook or discover a new creative activity that requires you to be completely present and engaged.

Get outside

One of the best ways to make your digital detox go smoothly is to swap blue light with sunlight and take advantage of the warmer weather! 

According to the Harvard Medical School, there’s plenty of research to suggest that spending time outside, even just 20 minutes, has the potential to lift your mood, decrease stress, and increase mindfulness. 

There’s plenty to do in the spring months. Here are a few ideas that don’t require the use of a device:

  • Head out for a hike: all of Canada’s national and provincial parks have a map at the entrance, as well as posted signage to let you know you’re on the right trail, so you can leave the GPS closed (it’s still a good idea to have your phone though, in case you do get lost or need to call for assistance).
  • Exercise outdoors, whether that’s doing some yoga in a park, going for a walk or a run, riding your bike, or even going kayaking or canoeing. Bonus points if you pick up litter and turn your run into a plogging session.
  • Swap your cell phone camera for an actual DSLR camera and take advantage of Canadian spring in all its blooming beauty.
  • Start your own vegetable, herb, or flower garden! Most seeds need at least 60 days to sprout edibles, and it’s a fun project that will keep you busy.
  • Whenever you have some downtime in your day, try to get a quick walk-in to recharge.
  • Try exploring your local neighbourhood without using your phone as a means to navigate–you’d be surprised how much you can remember when you are fully engaged in the moment and not relying on step-by-step instructions.

Let your loved ones know

Before you disconnect from the digital world completely, let anybody who needs to know that you will be unreachable for a set period of time so that they do not worry.

While most of us still need to be reachable by phone, you can still engage in a modified version of a digital detox challenge that might look something like this:

  • Unsync your work email from your phone, and only check work messages during work hours. A great deal of burnout stems from being constantly reachable at all hours of the day, including after hours, from employers on matters that can wait until the next business day.
  • Enable the Do Not Disturb feature on your iPhone and stay off your phone for set periods of time during the night. 
  • Make sure your close friends and family respect your need for a digital detox: let them know when it will take place and for how long, and provide them with an alternate route of communication if you wish to do so.

Are you ready for your digital detox?

Before data packages were so readily available, cell phones were meant for calling and texting, and that was it. Now, these tiny devices are basically computers, and we have unlimited information at the tip of our fingertips. 

At the same time, COVID-19 has resulted in many Canadians spending more time at home. Whether this is due to lockdown measures or requirements to work from home, for many Canadians their home now functions as their office, and everything that work life encompasses, work computer included, comes home with them.

A digital detox, however long you make it, could be the perfect solution to offset the increased feeling of burnout many Canadians are feeling from an influx of screentime.

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