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HEALTH TAKE-AWAY

5 strategies for giving yourself a much-needed digital detox

Man looking at cellphone instead of beautiful view

The best of life is happening all around you. Beth Piantoni reminds readers that if you're busy looking down at your phone, you'll miss life going on all around you.

We’re surrounded by screens of all sizes in our lives. Many of us start and end each day by checking our smartphones, spend our workdays on computers, then maybe sit in front of the TV at night, catching up on the latest Netflix series while simultaneously browsing our laptops and texting with friends.

While not all of us are so heavily hooked on digital technology, the average American spends 60 hours per week on screens.

It’s time to take a hard look at how this technology can dominate our lives and why it’s so healthy to consciously unplug ourselves from it.

First, it’s important to acknowledge how communication technology has improved our lives and revolutionized our world over the past 20 years, instantly connecting us to billions of people and giving us access to endless volumes of information. But there has been a big price to pay in our physical, emotional and social health. This technology has depleted our sleep, lowered our attention spans, created inactivity that feeds obesity, and complicated human relationships in the new age of social media.

Do you get anxious when for some reason you can’t check your phone for messages? Do you find yourself using multiple devices at a time or always having a screen up while doing other tasks? You’re not alone. And there are many good reasons to unplug from it all:

The best life is happening right in front of you. There’s no replacement for the real world. Real people. Real conversations. These experiences will never repeat themselves. But if we’re too busy staring down at our screens, we’re going to miss it all.

Solitude is rare in an always connected world. Solitude grounds us to the world. It provides the stillness and quiet required to replenish. True solitude requires intentionally shutting down.

Unplugging promotes creation over consumption. Most of our time is spent either consuming or creating. While technology can contribute to creating, most of the time it’s consuming — playing video games, browsing the internet, watching movies. We need more time for creating, tuning into our passions and hobbies.

Unplugging combats the fear of missing out. It’s human nature to worry about missing a fun time or being with everybody. But when we dwell on that, we miss out on the life around us. Rather than waste time being envious of the lives others are depicting on Facebook, focus on your own real life.

Addiction can only be understood when the object is taken away. Constantly checking our devices activates the reward circuitry in our brain, releasing a hit of the “pleasure hormone” dopamine. Try taking away or reducing one tech habit. See how you start to feel.

If you feel ready for a digital detox, you can try many strategies:

• Set time boundaries: Schedule technology-free hours every day, stay away from your phone during meals.

• Use your phone with purpose: When you want to use your phone, consider the reason why. If it’s simply to avoid another activity, think about how you can better handle that.

• Set physical boundaries: If you have trouble putting down your phone, try storing it in another room. Or set up a digital free zone.

• Enjoy more paper media: If you ever noticed that reading a real book feels more satisfying than a tablet, you’re not imagining things. Research has shown that when we read on paper, our minds process abstract information more effectively.

• Take advantage of your phone’s apps and features: Your phone’s settings can help you control your overall technology use. For example, you can turn off notifications for certain apps or turn off your phone entirely for a while.

Beth Piantoni is a worksite wellness program coordinator with Berkshire Health Systems.

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