Understanding the benefits of a digital detox

By John Brant | 20th November 2018

You may have heard of the phrase digital detox, but what is it and what are the benefits? Read on to find out!

What is digital detox and why do it?

Wikipedia defines a digital detox as:
“…a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers. It is regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress, focus more on social interaction and connection with nature in the physical world. Claimed benefits include increased mindfulness lowered anxiety, and an overall better appreciation of one’s environment.”

Our phones, computers and laptops have transformed our lives. Amongst countless benefits, they allow us to connect with others in new ways and of course transfer and share information at the press of a button. However, there are downsides too. Studies have shown Europeans are on average checking their phones far more than once an hour.

As well as the physical issues associated with spending lots of time on digital devices (e.g. hunched shoulders, or repetitive strain injuries) there is mounting evidence of the mental health repercussions including increased levels of anxiety from spending hours on these devices.

At La Crisalida Retreats we believe that a mental health detox combines well with a physical body detox. This is why, although we have internet and wifi access at the retreat, we encourage putting your electronic devices to one side to come and join us for a walk in nature or for some social interaction at mealtimes. Mental health wellbeing is also why we do encourage guests to combine their retreats to include the relax and rejuvenation part of the La Crisalida Programme.

In this article we describe what you can choose to include in your digital detox. We also consider how long your digital detox should last. Finally, we explore the long-term implications of listening to or reading news on any media and how you may be able to manage your digital devices to serve your health and wellbeing too.

Types of digital detox

Just like a physical detox, there are scales of digital detox you can choose. When most people refer to a digital detox, they are normally referring to switching off their smart-phone. However, there is a lot more to consider if the intention is to take back control of your time, silence the ongoing barrage of information and control who has influence over you on a moment to moment basis.

Before you try any or all of these suggested detoxes, we suggest sending a message out to friends and family that you will not be contactable using these approaches in the next few days.

Possibility 1: Social media detox

Many of us spend time on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A social media detox will involve ceasing from posting and ceasing from reading posts, pictures, videos etc from others. To do a thorough detox, we also suggest blocking messenger apps (such as Facebook messenger) and removing any notifications from your phone. This means that you will not get notified if someone is trying to contact you, message you or share a post with you.

Possibility 2: Email detox

Many of us check our phones for emails received. A full email detox will involve stopping engaging with emails at all (so no sending or reading emails at all).

If this is too much for you, there will still be some benefit from stopping reading incoming emails only. If this still seriously concerns you, the compromise is to only check emails at certain times of day (say once or twice a day). When this is combined with removing email notification from your phone, this can be very effective at reducing stress levels.

Possibility 3: Games detox

Although computer games, games consoles (e.g. Playstation and X-box) and smart phone games like Pokemon or Candy Crush can be a lot of fun to play, they can also end up being addictive and/or act as a distraction from getting “productive” things done. If this is you, then why not try a cold turkey games detox for a few days. You will probably be amazed how much extra time is freed up in your week.

Possibility 4: Phone detox

Believe it or not there are some people who have abandoned the mobile phone permanently to enable them to take back control of their time. They speak of the huge freedom it gives them and how beneficial it is to their wellbeing. Maybe it’s time for you to try it out? Switch your phone off and don’t use it for a few days and see your ability to relax take a leap forward.

Possibility 5: Screen detox

This is probably the most intense detox of them all and will lead to the quickest results. This screen detox encompasses all of the above four possible detoxes plus televisions, aps, Netflix and YouTube. Even for one day you will notice the difference in your levels of relaxation, wellbeing and the amount of time you have in a day expand.

At La Crisalida we find that most guests benefit from a minimum of a 3-day physical detox, and we also find it takes this time for guests to fully switch off and relax. We therefore suggest that you try a digital detox for 3 days or more to get the full benefit. It also helps to set aside a specific time period so that you can inform others that you won’t be contactable for that period. However, if that sounds too much, then perhaps try one day first to test some of the benefits and then take it day by day.

Fake News and news detoxes

“Fake news” has also now become a part of everyday life and is particularly linked with the growth of the influence of social media in our lives. Fake news can of course be intended as humorous, but it has its dark side too. It can lead us to overly doubt and question any information that is presented to us and can help lead us towards being more anxious. This is another reason to consider a short-term, semi-permanent or even permanent news detox.

For most people, being informed is a far better position than being ignorant. News fulfils a basic need for us to understand the world around us for the benefit of our prosperity and security. However, news has also become far more than just providing information. News provides commentary, opinions and analysis. News also attracts us through emotionally linked stories. News therefore can attract our attention due to a sense of injustice, shock or disgust. As these are strong emotions being surrounded by constant news can become stressful, particularly if we have nowhere to relax and unwind.

With news, I suggest you operate the “do I really need to know this?” test. Any time you sense your attention turning to news stories and dragging you away from other things you would really rather be doing, ask yourself “how would my life be affected if I didn’t know about this news story?” or “will I make better or more informed decisions as a result of this story?”. If the answer is that it really won’t help, I suggest you switch it off and get on with what you really want to spend time doing.

Sometimes we may feel that we need to know things that don’t directly affect our lives like the latest celebrity “news” and gossip to help bolster our social influence. This too can become addictive and if this is you, we would suggest including an offline celebrity detox (for example avoiding magazines focussed on celebrities) with your digital detox.

Managing your digital world in the future

In the new digital era, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of messages and information we receive. A digital detox can help us get perspective on things and reconnect with reality. However, on a day to day basis there are online behaviours that can improve mental health and wellbeing, putting you back in charge of what type and how much information flows your way. Here is a list of simple approaches you could take to better manage your online world:

– Turn off your phone at lunch time and/or in the evening to help you relax and unwind
– Turn off push notifications on your phone permanently
– Turn off sound or vibrate notifications on your phone permanently
– Schedule specific times during the day to check your emails
– Clear out photos on your phone regularly alongside a de-clutter detox
– Don’t accept social media friend requests from people or groups you don’t really know
– Take your name off (unsubscribe) from email lists where you don’t normally read them
– Remove yourself from social media groups that you don’t find of value to you
– Get your information from high quality websites and sources (check how long they have been around, consistency of quality, fact/evidence based or just opinion)

If you would like to find an environment to help you relax and rejuvenate, perhaps with a digital detox, La Crisalida Retreats runs all year round and has a programme designed to help you reconnect to what’s truly important to you. Read more about the programme of retreats that we offer here and come to Spain to relax and rejuvenate.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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