“I realised I wasn’t awake. My life wasn’t my own,” says Orianna Fielding, explaining why she’s become a digital detoxing expert.
Fielding moved to Costa Brava in Northern Spain for a better quality of life, and after a while managed to slow down to the pace of life there – allowing herself to relax and just ‘be’.
Until the smart phone came along.
“The world was on to me 24/7 – I was 100 per cent digitally connected. But I realised that I was personally disconnected from my real surroundings. I was in the most beautiful place, where people would come to escape, and I couldn’t escape my phone.”
What Are Our Phones Really Doing To Us?
It’s been creeping up on us, scientific study by scientific study, that perhaps these pocket gateways to the internet, are doing us more harm than good. And with today's warnings from scientists that we're 'offloading' our intuition to these machines, it's time to take a good, hard look at our relationship with our smartphones.
They change our brain chemistry. EEG tests have revealed that the brains of those who use smartphones compared to those who use regular phones are different. We are literally changing the shape of our brain.
And it’s been claimed that using two screens (such as Tweeting through a new TV show on Netflix) can cause a kind of ‘brain damage’.
Not to mention the fact that our over-reliance on technologies such as digital maps mean our ‘caveman’ brains are withering – affecting our memory and other innate skills perfected by evolution.
They mess with our emotions. Studies have found that Facebook negatively affects our self-esteem and can increase feelings of depression. Constant comparisons to others’ airbrushed lives can lead to loneliness and feeling your life isn’t as good. ‘Connected but alone’ is now a Thing. We’re relying on the immediacy of a tap on the phone, instead of experiencing the real intimacy of personal relationships.
They rob us of sleep. Both physiologically and psychologically, using your mobile phone in the hours before bedtime can prevent you sleeping or give you a disturbed night. The blue light the screens emit wakes our brains up and constantly hoping for a response to our latest Tweet, status update or Instagram image keeps us mentally alert.
And they can harm us physically too. Overuse can give us RSI, neck and back problems. And smartphones are teaming with illness-causing bacteria.
Even if you think you have a healthy relationship with your phone – you might well be storing up problems for the future.
Signs Your Phone Is The Boss
In her book Unplugged, Fielding has laid out 12 signs that you’re suffering from digital overload. Many directly relate to mobile phones.
- Checking your phone first thing in the morning, getting up in the night to check for messages or using it in bed
- Slipping away from real activities to check up on online activity
- Bumping into someone because you were looking down at your smartphone
- Getting easily distracted and finding it hard to focus fully on one area (multitasking)
- Turning to your phone (or another device) to avoid an unpleasant task or because you’re feeling stressed
- Wanting to curb your smartphone usage and not being able to stop
Don’t Ditch Your Smartphone!
The vast majority of smartphone users need to look carefully at their relationship with their phone, and think about making some changes to protect themselves from burnout and other mental and physical problems brought on by addiction and overreliance on the devices.
But don’t panic! That doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Phones have made our lives easier in so many ways – we can be contacted in an emergency, we’ve always got a map and things to do hand if we get stuck on a delayed train. And, well, social media can be fun.
“Your phone is a vital tool, there’s no denying it,” says Fielding. “I couldn’t run my life without mine.
“But it’s time we recognised our phones for just that – tools to make our lives better. And stop them from doing the opposite.
“Separate your phone the tool from everything it connects you to. It’s not the person at the other end of a Whatsapp, or the friends who’ve liked your status update on Facebook. It’s just a piece of hardware.”
Fielding believes that we can all do with a digital detox – and that once we’ve broken the cycle we should continue to digitally unload on the regular, to make sure we’re getting a healthy digital/analogue balance.
It’s the new work/life balance for 2015.
What Can We Do?
Fielding insists: “We can reject the dehumanizing, desensitizing effects of digital overload and ‘choose life’ every single day.”
But how, when the world seems to revolve around our online lives and Fear Of Missing Out grips any attempt to close down our Facebook or Instagram accounts?
Fielding suggests several ways to get started with digital detoxing, from seeing you go phone-free using 30-minute exercises, and moving up to 24 and 48 hour plans, perhaps even reaching seven days ‘unplugged’. This allows you to work your way up or stick at a level you’re happy with.
But to begin with, she recommends we embrace the 'Art Of Slow'.
To do this:
- Take time to write down your thoughts and ideas on paper
- Smile at a stranger
- Talk to others
- Go to a park you’ve always driven past and never stopped at
- Go for a hike
- Spend some quiet time alone
- Draw, paint or make something
Doing these occasionally and intentionally can begin to make a huge difference. Fielding has also brought in the expertise of mindfulness and yoga coaches with helpful tidbits and suggestions.
Mindfulness – something that comes up in wellbeing regularly – is a mainstay of the detoxing approach.
Dr Barbara Mariposa suggests short mindfulness sessions to get you started, explaining that breaking away from digital connectedness for just a few minutes can help you feel less harried.
“Just 10 minutes in a state of calm renders an elastic quality to our subsequent experience of time, so time seems to expand was we unplug digitally and ‘plug in’ to ourselves,” she says.
One of the easiest things Dr Mariposa suggests doing is to just breathe quietly and mindfully for one minute in each hour. Breathe fully into your stomach with your eyes closed and focus on the breath, trying not to let your mind wander.
You really do have 60 seconds in an hour.
Yoga is another way you can give your mind and body a break, stretching out some of the physical effects of too much technology, as well as giving your brain time to rest and recuperate.
Yoga teacher Lisa Sanfilippo says that tackling digital overload begins with the breath – the basis of yoga practice.
“When we connect the body, the breath, the mind and the heart, we can focus on what really matters.”
Classes are great because they force you to stop interacting with your smartphone. But she also recommends finding the time to do a few short yoga poses during your day to reconnet with your body.
Try lying on the floor with your legs against the wall. This inversion helps ground the body and mind.
Or if you're getting tired of too much screen time, rub your hands together to create some heat and friction. Cup your palms over your eye sockets while resting your elbows on your chest and bowing your head forward gently into your hands. This calms your mind and soothes screen-tired eyes.
You can also do some simple stretches in your chair to bring movement into the body and connect yourself to the physical rather than the online world.
All of the experts agree, all you need to do to start with is take baby steps. Set some intentions, give yourself a few breaks and put your phone away for a few minutes a day. You’ll be amazing what improvements you’ll start to notice.
Unplugged: The Essential Digital Detox Plan by Orianna Fielding is available now.
A Digital Detox Retreat package inspired by the book is now available at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire (until May 31st). Find out more about digital detoxing at the http://www.digitaldetoxcompany.com/