These days, it’s hard to go anywhere, from grocery store lines to vacations, without seeing people glued to their phones. You may be guilty of this too, and realize that you spend way too much time “liking,” “swiping” and using your phone overall — when that time could be spent taking a digital detox and doing more things offline.
Research, too, has shown that you’re not alone in being quite attached to your technological gadgets. A first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report found that adults aged 18 and older spend more than 11 hours per day interacting with media in some form or another, including watching or reading something. Sound familiar?
To that point, the Travel Channel recently did a study and found that, when globetrotting, most Americans want a break from technology. They surveyed 2,032 adults aged 18-to-54 and 93 percent of those planning to travel for leisure want to make time to disconnect from tech, with 88 percent stating they want a “digital detox” when they travel.
So, what about you? Could you take a break from your phone and other digital devices, even for an hour or two? “In today’s overly connected digital world, taking a break from being online, particularly from social media platforms, is important to one’s emotional well-being,” Dr. Suzana E. Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, said in an email. “Think of the break as a type of cognitive re-centering, where you consciously choose a few days (or weeks) to focus more on your offline reality.”
Need more convincing? Below, Dr. Flores and two travel experts weighed in on the benefits of taking a digital detox.
It’ll help you be more present with others
It’s frustrating when you’re trying to talk to someone, but their phone is taking precedence. But when phones and tech devices are not in the picture, it’s a good way to practice being present. “Taking a digital detox will help you focus more on your relationships — it’ll improve your eye contact and listening skills, and help you spend more time in the present moment,” said Dr. Flores. “Digital devices can be highly addicting and, therefore, they cause people to lose their sense of here-and-now mindfulness.”
Glenn Murray-Prior, founder of ACTION CULTURE, an adventure travel agency, agreed. “As a parent, I realized one evening that even when I was able to spend time with my children, work was still occupying part of my mind: I was not completely present and that was a terrible feeling for me,” he said in an email. “This was my motivation to take a break from technology and travel with my family for eight months, where we looked at our phones and laptops much less often than we did back at home. … It’s a wonderful thing to be able to relax and actually give your full attention to others.”
It’ll help reduce stress & anxiety
With the flurry of activity from devices like your phone, laptop and iPad, when they’re out of the picture — literally — you’ll likely be less anxious and more relaxed. “Emails, social posts and news — it’s all stressful,” Oneika Raymond, host of Travel Channel’s One Bag and You’re Out, said in an email. “Not only are you straining your eyes, but keeping up with the busy everyday can take a toll on your body and cause physical and mental tenseness,” she said.
Dr. Flores agreed. “For some, spending too much time online and on social media platforms has been linked to an increase in anxiety, especially when trying to navigate communication about important or sensitive subjects,” she said. “Once you establish your own digital break, you’ll gain a sense of control over when and how you choose to communicate digitally.”
It’ll help you fully connect with your current surroundings
No matter where you are, going tech-free can help you immerse yourself in your surroundings, from exploring a new neighborhood to exploring a new country. “Take the time to put down your phone and truly get to know your surroundings,” said Raymond. “Oftentimes, there’s a lot more to these spots than just pretty views and touristy things — like incredible stories from the locals.”
It’ll help you gain clarity and reassess your goals
You know those days when you’re brainstorming about something, either in your personal or professional life, but you can’t come up with the right solution? Leaving your digital devices behind could help, said Murray-Prior. “Technology helps us get through a large quantity of work — multi-tasking, automating tasks or working in an agile way,” he said. “We get a lot done quickly and can provide solutions, but what about quality?”
Instead, Murray-Prior said he’ll put his phone away and go surfing, hiking or mountain biking. “When you engage in an activity that requires all of your physical energy and focus, the ‘noise’ of all of the work issues and details fade away,” he said. “It is in these moments that, when you return to an issue or challenge, you find that you are much clearer on the right strategy to take.”
Raymond agreed. “Time away from the digital world allows you to take a step back and check in on goals you’ve set in the past or to create new goals,” she said. Whether you’re determined to get a promotion or want to get out and meet new people, she recommends using your non-digital time to reevaluate what’s important to you and how to achieve it. You can do this by journaling, meditating or whatever method works best for you.
It’ll help you look around instead of down
Whether you’re doing a digital detox at a remote vacation destination or in your own backyard, less time spent looking down at your tech devices’ screens means more time to look up and around you. “Close the laptop, put the phone down and get outside — leaving all of your connected devices alone and simply enjoying nature is something that will not only make you feel better psychologically, but physically, too,” Murray-Prior said. “For instance, a lot of our travel adventures help people do this, like our surfing and yoga packages.”
Murray-Prior said that even taking a walk or hike will make you focus on nature more. “You’ll start to stand tall and look up to the mountains, your eyes soaking in the natural light rather than screen pixels, which will make you feel great.”
Whether you do a digital detox for a weekend or longer, in or out of town, Murray-Prior suggests leaving any tempting tech devices out of reach or at home. But if your phone or iPad is also your camera, you can put it on airplane mode or delete your apps for a while to curb any tech-use temptation. And, when you get back to “real” life, you’ll see the benefits from your time away from technology, Murray-Prior said. “You’ll not only feel better, but you’ll have plenty of stories to tell your friends about your time offline — you’ll have a hungry and curious audience and also enjoy catching up on what they’ve been doing.”