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How a Digital Detox Can Help With Anxiety – 5 Easy Ways to Get Started

8th June, 2020

Heather Kelly



Workers still experiencing increased anxiety

We know that workers have been experiencing increased rates of anxiety due to the Covid-19 health crisis over recent months, with 57% having reported greater anxiety since the start of the global pandemic. Whereas in the beginning of the crisis many of us were anxious about our health and the health of our loved ones, even with this risk apparently lessening, we’re still facing ongoing uncertainty. Many of us still don’t know:

  • When we’ll be returning to work;
  • How safe we’ll feel;
  • What our commute will look like & how safe that will feel;
  • Who’s going to look after our children if day-care centres and schools are still closed;
  • Whether we can safely take summer holidays;
  • What impact the economic downturn will have on us;
  • Whether life will ever really feel ‘normal’ again.

 

The impacts of anxiety

Chronic anxiety and stress can take a dangerous toll on the nervous and immune systems. And can also lead to presenteeism and to burnout at work.

Which is why it really is important be safeguarding your wellbeing during this time to stay as resilient as possible through the times we still face ahead.

For those who prefer non-pharmaceutical support tools there are different forms of meditation, which we reported on earlier this month like Focusingand entering into Flow state. Both help reduce cortisol stress hormones in the body and build resilience toward anxiety.

But another really effective thing we can do is cut back on behaviours and activities which we know trigger our anxiety.

 

What is a digital detox?

It’s a temporary period of fully disconnecting from all digital devices to focus on social interaction, reduce stress, and be fully present in the world ‘offline’.

This includes mobile/cell phones; tablets; and smart watches. I imagine it’s hard for most of us to imagine one whole day where we didn’t log onto one of our devices in recent times. Ask yourself?

Anna Kotwinski Co-Founder of Shine Offline, a company specialising in digital wellbeing and management, told us, “We live in a 24/7 digital world but we don’t have 24/7 bodies and minds. It is important to take regular breaks away from technology and its constant demands and distractions to allow the mind to rest and rejuvenate and to nurture our relationships in the real world”.

 

Why take a digital detox?

There is a danger of increased anxiety through unregulated news and social media we’re consuming through our digital devices about our currently troubling and uncertain world.

And studies tell us that mobile technology usage can cause, or increase anxiety by its very nature.

In fact there’s even now an official name for the fear of being without a mobile device, or beyond mobile phone contact, Nomophobia. The term is an abbreviation for “nomobile-phone-phobia”.

Most people are bombarded daily with notifications, alerts, phone calls, messages. We can turn notifications off but when our devices are nearby, we’re still prone to check them consistently.

Did you know the average smartphone user checks their device 47 times a day/ 17,155 times per year? In the UK on average, Brits spend 2 hours and 34 minutes online on their smartphones every day.

Imagine what we used to do with this extra time in our days before digital technology existed? It might be too far back for many to remember, but one thing we know is that we were spending a lot more time connecting in person with each other and with the present world around us.

If you want some ideas on how to revert back to life in 1995…

Here are Five simple ways to take a detox from your digital devices (according to Shine Online):

1. Take screen free breaks – Go for a walk or a run without tech and notice your surroundings. Or go a step further traveling for the weekend somewhere you know there’s no mobile service. Spending time in nature is also excellent for reducing anxiety.

2. Make your bedroom a tech free zone – Clear away all work tech when you go to bed, if using your bedroom as your office then don’t sleep with your work devices by your bed. See how much better you feel and sleep without starting and ending the day with notifications, worrying news updates and work emails.

3. Out of sight out of mind – Research shows that the mere presence of a smartphone causes brain drain – try putting phones away when you aren’t using them and give your undivided attention to whatever you are doing. Whether sat around playing a board game with family or on a zoom call for work your connections and relationships will improve by being present.

4. Ditch the multi-tasking – The human brain is incapable of focusing on two things at once so when you know you need your concentration, try closing your inbox and switching off your phone – completely. Airplane mode is much quicker to turn back on!

5. Hack back – Many digital technologies are addictive by design, so it is unsurprising that sometimes will power is not enough. Thankfully there are plenty of clever tech tools to help tame your tech: Change your settings and notifications; turn phone to grayscale; use apps to lock yourself out from familiar time-wasting haunts (try Stayfocusd, Freedom or Cold Turkey). You can find some more recommended apps for your smartphone on the Shine Offline blog

 

As an alternative, consider a break from social media

Some people may feel they can’t take breaks from devices right now, they are in fact our connection to the world outside when we’re still staying at home in many places and practicing social distancing and isolation (depending on our health condition or age).

In this case, try taking a break just from social media on your smartphone. Just try for a week and see how you feel. I have personally done this over the Covid-19 period and I’ll be honest, it’s been one less thing to ‘worry about’. No ‘likes’ to count, story ‘views’ to monitor and no disturbing news that pops up in your feed whether you choose to see it or not. It’s less information for the brain to process in one day and more free time on your hands for doing other things which better support our wellbeing (think creativity, think people, exercise, nature, giving, presence.. the list goes on).

 

You have nothing to lose, and only time to gain

As we are all currently more reliant on screens it has never been more important to nurture positive habits and use our connected devices with balance, intention, and awareness.

Trying a digital or social media detox for helping with anxiety costs no money and takes no extra time out of our day–in fact, it can give us back time, 2 hours and 34 minutes–remember? The devices, emails, ‘likes’ and new followers will all be there when you return from your break. That, is certain.

My yoga instructor, Bodhi, took three years off of social media and spent very limited time on digital devices during this time. If this article hasn’t yet inspired you to try a digital detox, his words might!

“For me life without social media is profoundly ‘juicier’ as you spend more time squeezing the juice out of life than in your screen worrying about how others see you–versus how you feel yourself. If you want to get the feeling that you are changing the world, use social media. If you want to change the way YOU are and YOUR experience of life, take a digital and social media break, and see how YOU feel!”


Heather Kelly

Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She's also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She's passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she's an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.

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