9 ways to start (and stick to) a digital detox
From smartphones to sat navs, our lives are full of screens. We wake up to them, we come home to them, and we carry them around in our pockets all day. So perhaps it's unsurprising that experts are warning that this constant exposure could be damaging our health.
"Technology may be incredibly useful and educational and it undoubtedly allows us much creativity, connectivity and enjoyment," says Charlotte Walsh, partner at Digital Detox. "But if it begins to distract you from doing what you should be doing - like your job or your education - or it negatively affects your relationships, or costs you more money than you can afford, then it starts to become dangerous. If it is negatively impacting your life you need to evaluate what you do online, when and with whom."
But how easy is it to start and, more importantly, stick to a much-needed digital detox? "To avoid becoming a slave to your smartphone, you do need a level of self-discipline - and, occasionally, a complete break," explains Walsh.
Here's how to make your digital detox a success:
1. Make a gadget list
"Before you commit to a detox, try making two lists," advises Dr Sally-Ann Law, a psychologist and personal life coach.
"Firstly, list all of your gadgets. This will show you how dependent you are on technology. Secondly, make a list of all the things that you enjoy doing in life, but aren't doing presently."
"This will help you realise that, if you cut down your technology use, you'll gain back hours of time to do things that you find considerably more meaningful than constantly checking Facebook. Some estimates show that we spend the equivalent of three weeks every year on social media and checking emails - time we could be at home or on holiday."
2. Give yourself an allowance
"If you establish a maximum daily time allowance for your devices then you will be more likely to stick to your detox," suggests Dr Richard Graham, a Technology Addiction Specialist at Nightingale Hospital.
"By restricting the time you spend using technology, you can focus on the 'real world' much more, and will be encouraged to enjoy social interactions in person rather than through a screen."
3. Don't set unachievable targets
Although an allowance is important, London-based life coach Carole Ann Rice believes that digital detoxes are something one needs to ease into.
"In order to completely sever your dependency, it would be a good idea to first simply set small limits for each day. Be this during exercise time, your lunch break, or when out shopping, if you slowly eliminate technology from various parts of your day, your detox will be easier to stick at. Habitual rituals help us achieve our targets, but only if they are achievable themselves."
4. Commit to changing one habit at a time
"Choose one technology habit to change at a time," advises Dr Law. "Maybe this would be banning all devices from the dining table, or from the bedroom, or only checking emails every two hours."
But whatever it is, make sure that you stick to it for at least a week no matter what - and then move onto tackling another habit." Keep going like this, eliminating your dependencies incrementally, until you feel more in control," says Dr Law.
5. Ensure you get enough sleep
"Try storing devices in a different room to your bedroom overnight," suggests Dr Graham. "This will stop yourself using them straight before sleep, and first thing in the morning - which is important as sleep issues can sometimes coexist with technology addiction."
Make sure you turn all screens off at least two hours before bed - that means no phone, no laptop, no iPad. "Your bedroom is for sleeping - so don't turn it into a cinema, a shopping centre, a bank or a casino."
6. Make an effort to give others your attention
"You should make the effort to give people your undivided attention," says Rice. "Focus on how rude people will think you are if you're constantly checking your phone or texting away - and this will make your more likely to give them 100 per cent of your attention."
If you're still struggling, take away temptation. "Try timing your emails so they only download to your smartphone every two or three hours. This will mean that your time and energy isn't dissipated by constant distractions, and you can then deal with your day's emails and notifications in a concentrated period of allotted time per day."
"Things are always easier when you team up with someone," says Dr Law, "So why not pair up with a 'detox buddy'? With this support, you can discuss your progress, encourage each other to keep going and spend time together face-to-face rather than messaging through a screen. A detox buddy will keep you honest."
8. Leave your gadgets at home
"We are ever-curious about what others are up to then we compare and despair," says Rice. "So try leaving your gadgets at home, or just going out without your headphones once in a while.
"Rather than thinking life without your iPod is boring, get used to listening to birdsong when out on a run.
"You may find that you miss very little, and will have more time to do more with your life than spending it watching other people's worlds through a screen."
9. Tell everyone what you're doing
"The more people you tell about your detox, the more people will be watching you - and the less you will want to fail," Dr Graham explains.
"Setting an example to friends or family is a great way to motivate yourself. Try leaving phones on silent or switched off during meal times - something which is particularly important for children and young people who learn behaviour from their parents."