If the thought of life without your smartphone, tablet, or laptop at your fingertips for even a few minutes puts you in a panic, you may be hovering on an iDisorder, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., professor and research psychologist at California State University and author of “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us.”
Our daily constant contact with many digital devices is causing many signs and symptoms of psychological disorders including narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and attention-deficit disorder. If you find yourself in this boat, you’re not alone. In 2012, Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange asked 1,000 U.S. respondents about their technology habits and found, on average, we are connected to technology such as computers, tablets, video games, TV, and the smartphone almost half of every 24 hours. If that’s you, a digital detox may be in order.
Do we always need a solid weekend or week-long digital detox? No. “The best way to counteract the negative effects of constant attachment to your digital devices is to incorporate…practices into your day and make them a habit,” says Rosen. Give some of the following strategies a whirl.
Practicing meditation or yoga calms your brain down and changes your brain and body for the better, so it’s a perfect activity for a digital detox. Rosen says adding gratefulness to the practice compounds the positive effects and may make you laugh more and even not use the word “I” as much. He says to consciously identify what you appreciate often throughout your day, especially at that moment such as another person, something about yourself, or something in your environment.
Sleeplessness is one of the biggest physical health problems associated with iDisorder and Rosen points to the hour before bedtime as the most important time to put digital devices down to allow your brain to relax and produce melatonin, which lets you fall asleep.
Reducing bright lights is a known way to get the brain into sleep mode. What about beginning the evening with candlelight dining where everybody gets dressed up for dinner? How about a family story time with one of your own favorite childhood chapter books? A warm bath or a shower also relaxes the brain for sleep, so it’s always a good bedtime routine.
If checking your smartphone is the last thing you do at night and first thing you do in the morning, consider switching to a simple alarm clock. Turn off the flashing, beeping alerts and alarms so they are not bombarding you as you get ready for bed, while sleeping, or the moment you wake up in the morning.
Get Back to Nature
“When you multitask with several technologies at once, as most of us do, your brain is literally buzzing with neurological activity, almost to a maximal amount,” explains Rosen. “But in a natural environment, your attention is captured through all five senses and driven by the calming external stimuli, allowing your overworked brain to recover.” This means that you can reset your brain just by going outside.
And, you can maximize nature’s positive effects and strengthen bonds with family and friends at the same time. Several studies have shown that our brains function better when exposed to youthful environments. Actually laughing out loud (instead of just typing ‘LOL’) also has similar restorative benefits. So, if you’re planning a digital detox for a day, a weekend, or a week, create ways to have fun, especially if you’re around kids. Whether in your own backyard or far away from home, plan meals together such as an outdoor picnic, play “I Spy,” create an obstacle course, play a crazy game of badminton, and learn up close (from books and a trip to the library, not your tablet!) about the trees and flowers around you.
When planning your digital detox, seek out local outdoor activities to create family experiences and memories that bind you together, without tying you to digital devices that can keep you apart.