Festive detox: How to go tech-free this Christmas without going crazy according to the experts
Looking to curb your social media habit and spend some quality time with the family during the holidays? Wendy Douglas asks the experts for some top tips
Elton John wants us all to put down our phones this Christmas. In an interview with the Radio Times, he revealed that the only screen he'll be switching on is the television and only then to watch the Queen's speech, saying he and his family prefer to "enjoy our presents, play games and listen to carols" on Christmas Day.
In fact, he said his biggest hope for 2019 is that we all spend less time on our phones. "I love the benefits that technology has given us," he explained. "But nothing beats a lively conversation and huge laughs."
And it's a sentiment more of us are getting on board with. But how likely is it that we can go phone-free this Christmas? Even if you manage to curb your social media habit, there'll still be directions to look up, photos to take and countless other apps to be distracted by. But if you want to stem the tide of screen addiction in both you and your children, then now might actually be a good time to start. Tanya Goodin, a digital detox expert and author of two books on the subject, says being online at Christmas can exacerbate the stress many of us already feel at this time of year.
"Not only do we have the stress of dealing with relatives we haven't seen all year," she says, "we're also comparing our imperfect Christmas to everyone else's perfect Christmas. No one is posting on social media, 'oh I'm having a terrible time'. It's just another stick to beat ourselves with."
Goodin says that as well as a drop in productivity, screen time is having a damaging effect on our relationships as well.
"Children are complaining about their parents, parents are complaining about their children and partners are complaining about each other," she says. "So our relationships are a real casualty of our over-obsession with what's going on in the digital world."
And Toni Jones, the founder of Shelf Help, a book club and community dedicated to self help and self development, agrees. "Christmas is a time when you get together with people you haven't seen for a while," she says. "So make the most of reconnecting in real life rather than connecting to strangers, or people you only vaguely know, online."
But all is not lost if you're keen to have an Elton John-style Christmas. Here's our experts' tips and practical ideas for ditching digital and reconnecting in the real world.
1. Focus on what you're gaining
Goodin suggests looking at the idea of putting down your phone from a different angle. "Focus on what you'd be gaining not what you'd be losing," she says. "I would start by getting everyone to say what they most want to get out of Christmas. It may be that everyone wants to play games or to go on a walk or there's a particular film everyone wants to watch. But whatever it is, focus on what you want to get out of Christmas and work backwards from that."
2. Untether yourself
"Untethering yourself from your tech is one of my key tips," says Goodin. "It's a lot easier if we physically put them down. You mustn't be able to see it, hear it or touch it. Your device loses its addictive power when it can't hook you back in by any of those senses and it's a really good way of cutting down on screen time. I often say it's like trying to eat healthily and having to walk around with a bar of chocolate in your hand the whole time. It's impossible to do."
3. Distinguish between digital junk food and healthy uses of technology
Goodin doesn't suggest going cold (Christmas) turkey, but rather we should be more mindful about how we're using our devices. Could you, for example, de-install all your social media apps but agree to keep Google Maps, MyTaxi, your banking app and Facetime over the festive period? "Have a discussion about what healthy looks like to you as a family," she says.
4. Want your teens off their screens? Then lead by example
"I think you have to model the behaviour you want to see," explains Goodin. "My experience is that teenagers are upset about their parents ignoring them when they're on their phones. So parents have to look at themselves first and if they're setting a healthy example around putting their phones down, they'll find their kids will follow."
5. Plan ahead and agree some guidelines
If you're serious about installing some restrictions over Christmas then discuss them first with your partner or the other adults who'll be around. Agree what your policy will be so there can be no undermining of the new rules. Jones suggests instigating a 'phone amnesty', even if it's just for a specific period of time.
"We all follow someone's lead so if you're trying to disconnect, that's one thing, but if all the people around you aren't doing that then it makes it a lot harder," she says. "So get the group involved. We all know it's not great for us, but technology is designed to be addictive, so it is going to be an effort to pull yourself away. The support of a group is really helpful."
If any restrictions are going to affect children and teenagers, then make sure you communicate the plan well before launch day.
6. Backsliding? Don't beat yourself up
Even with the best of intentions, it'll be a battle sticking to any new regime. Breaking habits is hard, so be prepared for some inevitable slip-ups along the way. If you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through Twitter but can't even remember reaching for your phone, then don't give yourself a hard time. "Don't beat yourself up about it," says Goodin.
And Jones adds: "Any kind of lasting habit change is about the conversation you have with yourself. If you have a lapse, a lapse is not the same as a relapse. So if you have a lapse, think about how you talk to yourself afterwards. It's about the language you're using."
7. Be mindful of triggers
Addictive behaviour is often a response to an emotional trigger, so learn to stop yourself in the moment and determine if you're reacting to something. The acronym H.A.L.T. (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is often used in the treatment of addictions so ask yourself if you're feeling any of those things and recognise how you've responded.
"Be more aware and mindful," says Goodin. "A lot of what we're doing with tech is on autopilot, it's just habitual." She suggests using your phone for a particular purpose (making a call, sending a text, posting a picture to Facebook) and then putting it away.