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Lose the screens, and find deeper internal and external connection.

When you think detox, the first thing that probably comes to mind is doing a juice cleanse—forgoing solid foods and cleansing your body with liquids meant to flush out all the nasty gunk that accumulates over time. Detoxes can be painful but necessary. They reset us, refocus us and rejuvenate us.

So it’s no surprise that in this digital age, our minds and bodies require another type of detox: a digital detox. There are even organizations that offer organized digital detox retreats if you want to get away and “disconnect to reconnect.”

Why do a digital detox?

Many of us are addicted to our digital toys: iPhones, iPads, computers, smart watches. You name it, we’re glued to it. It’s estimated that we spend an average of five hours per day on our phones. That’s 35 hours per week and 1,820 hours per year (or roughly 76 days per year). Let that sink in for a second.

Our digital addiction not only sucks up most of our time but can have negative effects on our physiology, psychology and productivity. Here are a few common side effects:

  • Staring at a phone or computer for long periods of time can cause eye strain.
  • Looking down at a phone can lead to neck and upper back pain.
  • Sitting in front of a screen can cause dormant bottom syndrome.
  • Being on social media for copious amounts of time can lead to anxiety and depression and feelings of “not good enough.”
  • Screen time often eats into sleep time.
  • Too much screen time can lead to low productivity.

What can we do to reverse these side effects? Taking a break from our screens is a good start—but going without a phone or Netflix for a long period of time isn’t exactly easy. If you can’t do a monthlong digital detox, start small with a weekend detox and build from there.

Preparing to detox

The rules: No phone, computer, tablet or TV time allowed. Absolutely no screen time for 48 hours—that includes your Apple Watch. (So get a battery-powered alarm clock so you don’t have any excuses.) Leave your phone with a friend, roommate or family member who can let you know if an emergency arises.

Social support: Tell your friends—announce your digital fast on social media. Let people know how to get a hold of you through other means and when you will be back online. This not only will keep you accountable but also will force people to spend face-to-face quality time with you.

Remove temptations: Ironically, technology can help with this. As long as you’re leaving your phone in the possession of a family member or friend, have that person change the lock-screen password to your phone so you can’t access it for the time being if you come across it. (This way, if a true emergency comes up, however, someone will be reachable.) You can also leave your computer and/or tablet with this friend—or just have this person change the passwords temporarily so you don’t have access to temptation.

Make a plan: Go in prepared to fill up the time you would have spent in front of the TV or your phone. Write a list of books you’ve been wanting to read and then spend a day browsing at a local bookstore. Plan some hikes or a camping or beach trip with friends, and spend time out in nature. Learn a new skill: Take up cooking or biking or photography, anything that will feed your mind—instead of Facebook—and fill your hands (and maybe even your heart).

The program

For the next 48 hours, allow yourself time to do things you’ve planned and things you may not usually have time to do. Go for a morning walk, cook yourself an incredible breakfast, read a book out in the sun, throw a ball for the dog, catch up with friends, even meditate and go to bed early!

Being digitally disconnected is a fantastic way to reconnect with yourself and other people. It allows for face-to-face interactions. (Can you imagine dinner at a restaurant with no phones to distract or take away from conversation?) It forces you to stop and listen to your inner self and to pay attention to what your body or mind truly needs in that moment.

And when you are tempted to reach for your phone or turn on the TV, instead reach for a piece of paper (or buy a journal) and write down your experience: Why were you reaching for your phone? Were you bored? Lonely? Wishing to connect? Explore those feelings and try to get to the root of them to discover how else you can fill that need or void—and then make it happen.

The aftereffect

After a digital detox, the knee-jerk response will be an attempt to make up for lost time—to spend hours scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and responding to texts and emails. Don’t get caught in this trap! Make a point of prioritizing the most-important issues first: Respond to time-sensitive emails and texts (like your mom asking if you’re still alive) and return important calls as necessary. Then, set your phone down and walk away. Clear your mind and do something that doesn’t require a screen.

You can also commit to not multitasking. (We know you scroll Instagram even during “Game of Thrones.” We’ve all done it.) Leave your phone in another room and just enjoy watching whatever it is you are watching. Be present. After one episode, get up and go for a walk or make dinner—step away from the screen and don’t make a beeline for your phone.

Social media isn’t going anywhere. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) dictate your life. If you miss out on something important, you’ll hear about it eventually. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t know the minute your former roommate got engaged, I promise.

You can also keep tabs on how much time you spend on your phone with the help of apps like BreakFree and Moment, which measure your time on the phone and analyze how you spend that time. Don’t let your practice fade out after the weekend. Set an intention to spend one or two hours of zero screen time each day, and do something else.

Finally, commit to enjoying your real life in real time. Nothing beats being fully present in a moment with other people you care about. Don’t spend your life staring at life through a screen, or you just might miss it.

Photo credits (in order): naruedom, Adobe Stock; LoloStock, Adobe Stock; alissala, Adobe Stock; WavebreakmediaMicro, Adobe Stock; Lukas Gojda, Adobe Stock

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Rachelle Cihonski
Rachelle Cihonski is an editor, writer and everyday fitness fanatic who loves running, yoga, BODYPUMP and trying the next crazy cool new fitness class. (Pilates on a surf board? Count her in!) A graduate of Biola University, Rachelle is a San Francisco Bay Area native and was previously the managing editor of a lifestyle magazine, where she also wrote about fitness, food, people and fashion. While Rachelle loves getting her sweat on, she mainly exercises so she can enjoy all the amazing foods her husband cooks up in the kitchen—but the happiness endorphins are definitely an added bonus!
  • John Trujillo

    Thanks less social media the better off you are. I keep it to a minimum. I think three days has been the longest I’ve been off Facebook/Instagram (although I feel FB is worse).

    I do however find myself more depressed when I’m off because I don’t have many friends outside of work.