Put down your handheld device, detox your mind

Information technology is enormously beneficial, we live our lives by every ping and tweet. You probably have your phone close by as you read this. How about the constant notifications from that Apple watch you were gifted over Christmas? It’s not just our personal lives that keep us charging our phones, we live in an age where Twitter is mentioned on the news multiple times an hour, and constant news alerts keep your pocket buzzing.
Most people will take January as their cue to think about their health and create healthier habits, everyone is talking about “new year, new me” — and trying all sorts of diets. What about a digital diet? “Digital detoxing” has become one of the latest trends in health, but this buzzy phrase was added to the Oxford English Dictionary way back in 2013. According to Scientific American and numerous other publications, detoxing your life of screens and anything digital, just for a short time, can do wonders for you in a number of ways.
For one, it could drastically improving your sleep. Who wouldn’t want a little more sleep?
And we know excessive screen time is hurting us on a physical level. The American Optometric Association has coined the term “digital eye strain,” which amounts to vision issues caused by extended periods staring at screens. Symptoms include headaches, eyestrain, and dry eye. Shoulder and neck pain are associated with longer computer use. And the National Library of Medicine terms “text neck” as what is happening to our spines as we perpetually look down. We tend to twist our bodies into uncomfortable positions and stare at fuzzy, poorly lit screens in order to stay connected to our online space and social media platforms. We want to know what’s happening on Tumblr, what the president is doing on Twitter, your mother is messaging you on Facebook, and you can’t help checking the ’Gram (Instragram for those not in the know).
The idea of unplugging seems all well and good until you actually try to curb a constant Facebook-checking habit. But the results could be just what you’ve been missing.
It’s not only those of us who spend all day staring at a computer screen for our jobs that need to monitor our screen time. In an age where three-year-olds can easily operate an iPad, should we also be concerned about kids and their amount of time staring at devices?
Everyone has a personal barometer of what too much tech looks like for younger people. And it is something that affects us all. According to Doug Engel, a licensed, independent clinical social worker who specializes in working with families, adults, and couples in Middlebury, technology use is changing children’s ability to stay present.
“The internet also changes our brain to respond to very fast and constant stimulation, so that ‘real’ life (i.e. school, conversations) feels too slow and boring,” he said.
And ultimately, Engel fears, it is messing with our ability to connect to each other. “From a societal standpoint, computers replace the attachment, nurturance and social interactions that we get from our family and what we need to develop into confident, generous and patient people.”
Now it’s not all doom and gloom and few people are advocating a world without technology. I couldn’t, I love it too much. But maybe this year we could take more time to be present by taking our phones off the table at dinner. A coffee with friends can be more relaxing without the distractions of texts and emails, and more fulfilling time with your loved ones doing activities that have nothing to do with tech. The next time a friend has a birthday, a phone call feels more personal than a “Happy Birthday” on their timeline.
While a week is said to be the typical length of time for a “digital detox” a “device-free weekend” might be a great way to dip your toe into the tech-free water. Don’t open your laptop, leave the work emails on unread, and put that cellphone in a drawer. Read from a paper book, write in a paper diary or planner, and see how you feel come Monday morning. Perhaps you will feel more present, clearer minded and have better posture?
Or what about a “device-free hour”? For those of us who would be considered indoor people, I usually stash my phone in a different room when I’m in desperate want of some quiet time with a book. For the outdoorsy persons among us, being where we are also presents an opportunity to reconnect a bit more with nature. Go out for a walk where you can enjoy having your head turned upwards toward the birds in the trees and the snowy sky and enjoy the present moment, not just about how great it would look on your Instagram. 

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