Embracing the digital detox
I love technology as much as the next person. It's how I communicate with people searching for counselling - they check out my website and my online professional profiles, and use email or phone to get hold of me. It's how I let people know the kind of counsellor I am - through the articles I write, and the social media I post. I love those pretty squares on Instagram, and I love the 'chatter in the comments' on so many interesting Facebook posts. Emails and PMs are a hugely important part of how I can connect with people.
At the same time, the world around me is calling. Spring is springing, nature is finally punching out and bursting forth with blossom and bloom. With spring comes longer days, and a renewed energy for emerging back into the world after winter's hibernation. The pull of the screen can be intense, but the lure of the fields and the coffee shops and the Sunday lunches in beer gardens is too! Hang on though, did you know that, on average, an adult checks their phone once every six minutes? So, over your two hour pub lunch, you might check your phone up to eighteen times?
How might that impact on your relationships with the people around the table? How many times do you check your phone over coffee with a friend, or sitting with your partner in the evening, or even when you're with your children?
And how many times do you check your phone during your downtime? Your much longed for and needed solo time in relationship with yourself, in which you recharge and reset and prepare to get back in relationship with the world? We all reach for our phone much more than we think we do, and we interrupt our connection to ourselves as much as we do to others with the constant punctuation of online notifications.
Ironically, those of you who follow me on social media will know I just used Easter to take a digital detox. I put the laptop away in its case, I put an out-of-hours notification on my emails, and I took my social media apps off my phones, work and personal. I use my phones for phone calls and the odd text, which feels ok to me, but I don't check, check, check. And, crucially, I invest that saved time in doing things that I really enjoy.
So, here's my two top tips if you're thinking of getting started...
Out of sight is out of mind
You know when you're trying to drink more water, you make sure you have a big glass in arm's reach? That's because it's obvious that when pursuits are little to no effort, we engage in them more. If your phone is sitting next to you on the arm of the sofa or the desk in front of you, you're going to reach for it. Put it away. Put it high away. Lock it in a drawer if you need to. For me, it works to put the tech upstairs during the day when I'm largely downstairs and downstairs at night when I'm upstairs (which, of course, takes care of the charging issue - I always advocate that phones are charged downstairs).
And, of course, think of any sabotages to this - do you need to wrap up any loose ends before you go offline? Perhaps you need to invest in an old fashioned alarm clock so you can disengage from your phone one? Give it a little thought in the run up to your detox, and you'll be far more likely to succeed.
Write a list of your favourite analogue pastimes
If you're 30+, you remember living in a time before personal tech ruled our lives - you remember the dial of the modem and the landline and the AOL icon! And you also remember a Land Before Screens, with so many pastimes and activities to fill your time. Have a think back to the things you used to do that you really loved but don't do as much anymore, and write a list. It might be a sport, or meeting up with a special friend. It might be a favourite park that the children love, or maybe cooking a special meal. Plan to do it, and then really invest your time and energy into the activity.
For me, I had a great time with board games, my journal for some creativity, getting stuck into some books, some adult colouring books, and a lovely country walk with family, with a pub at the end of it; all activities than encourage connection, restoration, wellbeing, creativity, and getting both sides of the brain firing. Four days offline left me feeling re-energised and re-inspired.
Even coming back online, I'm not in a hurry to be reconnecting with the wifi. I'm back on social media... but slowly. And that's one of the main gains of a digital detox. Life is fast, pleasure is instant and impulse is easy online. Disconnecting allows us to slow down, and take in the world again.
If you're interested in considering your relationship with technology more, head to my events page to book tickets to my Relationships with Technology Parenting Talk. It's suitable for parents of children of all ages, and is a great opportunity to really consider how the health of your family online.
Relationships with Technology: Your Family Online is the third of a series of three Parenting Talks running through May, June and July - the first is Dealing with Exam Stress: Supporting Your Child Through Exams and Transitions. To take advantage of the Early Bird ticket price, which is ending soon, head here to book your tickets.