June 30, 2022

Digital technology has made our daily lives easier and it’s impossible to unplug completely from the online world. But tech overload can cause anxiety and stress, and when you look at the statistics around online use, it’s easy to see we could all benefit from less screen time.

A global study in 2020 showed that, on average, people check their mobile phones 96 times a day. That means we are staring at that little screen six times an hour.

And it’s not just our phones we are addicted to – across all the devices we use, New Zealanders spend an average of six hours and 39 minutes on the internet each day, according to Hootsuite’s We Are Social report from January 2021. It also showed that 82 per cent of us are active on social media.

A digital detox gives you a chance to recharge your brain, potentially increase the quality of your sleep, decrease your risk of poor posture or neck pain caused by too much screen time and could even make you happier – heavy internet usage has been linked to depression and a study at Nottingham Trent University in the UK discovered that one-third of the messages we receive on our phone worsens our mood!

So here are a few tips to try this month that will help you spend less time online without being totally cut off from the world.

Make mealtimes sacred
Let’s ban all digital devices (including TV) at mealtimes or whenever you are eating for the next month. This will mean you are getting at least three to five total screen breaks a day. It will also be better for your digestion as your nervous system can’t move into rest and digest mode if your brain is being stimulated by digital activity. Eat lunch away from your desk and, at home, make sure your phone is out of reach and the TV is off. It will open up opportunities to talk to colleagues or family at mealtimes, which is much more uplifting than scrolling through social media posts.

Set boundaries around email
With email easily accessible on our phones, it’s too easy to keep working night and day. Make it a rule that you will not check work emails between 7pm and 7am. It’s important you don’t even look at them because once you have seen that query from your boss, you will be tempted to answer it, even at 10pm when you should be winding down for bed or already asleep. If you have been in the habit of being available to colleagues at all hours, let them know you are changing this for the sake of your health and if they have a really urgent issue, they can call you. There are very few times, unless you are an on-call surgeon, that work can’t wait until the next day.

Nominate ‘no-device’ times
Set aside an hour each day on the weekend that is a no-device period. It applies to everyone in the family (even teenagers who seem to be surgically attached to their mobiles). Use the time to go for a walk or a bike ride, garden, read a book, do a jigsaw puzzle, or meet friends for a coffee and leave your phone in the car. Treat it as a time you can stop multi-tasking and really be in the moment, enjoying what you are doing and the people you are with.

Turn off notifications
Constant pings and beeps when you have a new email or a news alert are distracting and encourage us to spend more time on our devices. Turn these off for a month and see what happens. You might find you have more time to focus and can prioritise the things you want to do instead of being at the beck and call of an inanimate object.

Make your bedroom a no-tech zone
The light emitted by our devices tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder to go to sleep, so ban them from the bedroom for a month. If you use your phone as an alarm, invest in a cheap alarm clock or if you read on a Kindle or iPad, get a book from the library instead. Try it for a month and see if it makes a difference to your sleep patterns and your stress levels.

Have a social media holiday
Research shows Kiwis spend an hour and 55 minutes on average on social media each day. Try disconnecting completely from at least one social media platform you use for a month. If that feels impossible, make it a rule to check social media just once a day for a limited rather than scrolling endlessly. Set an alarm to go off after 15 minutes, then put your phone down and find something to do that doesn’t involve a screen.

Commit to your DIY digital detox for four weeks. You might find it’s not as hard as you think and you can rediscover the real world activities that bring you joy.