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The Digital Detox

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

I lost my phone two days before going on holiday. Not great timing, and no time to get it sorted before I had to head off.

So, there I was, mildly stressed at the thought of being totally cut-off from the world for two weeks but at the same time, a bit interested in how this enforced digital detox might feel.

Admittedly, to begin with I was very stressed – the main reason for this though was practical. You literally can’t do anything without a two-stage verification code. I couldn’t log into online banking, I couldn’t even log into facebook to message people. I temporarily had access to my email so I could let a few people know, and I remember two phone numbers by heart from my childhood: my parents and my oldest friend – the only landlines I ever rang on a regular basis – so I could let important people know why I had gone silent.

It took a couple of days to get my head around the fact that the world wasn’t going to stop turning just because one small technical device had made a bid for freedom.

The phone and SIM card were blocked. So, nothing disastrous was going to happen as far as I knew.

There were some practical hurdles like checking into flights, transferring money onto our travel money card and contacting the host of our Air BNB. But we ended up having to check in at the airport anyway due to a change made by the airline, I got old fashioned cash out at the bank and would have been able to change this at a bureau de change – just like we used to, only a few years ago, if we didn’t have traveller’s cheques. As it was, husband had his phone, so I just gave up all responsibility for everything.

Two weeks later, I returned refreshed, relaxed, and having enjoyed and been more present on this holiday than I can remember for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, we have lovely holidays, we have a lot of fun, we chill, we read, we go out for lovely meals. But I can’t deny there was an extra layer this time.

I usually read a lot on holiday but realised that over the last year I had also got sucked into apps for training your brain: sudoku, solitaire, word search, spot the difference. I had convinced myself they were good for my ageing brain, that I was helping keep myself young and fighting off dementia or Alzheimer’s. But the reality, I realised, was they are just a distraction. Yes, they are fun, but they are also addictive. Although I hadn’t thought I was spending too much time on them, I also realised how much more time I would create by not having them! Amazing the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions or choices isn’t it?

I also realised that whilst they stimulate your brain, it’s not necessarily in a positive way, because they are designed to suck you in and keep you playing. And I don’t really need my brain stimulating actually – I am always learning, studying, researching for our events, or for clients. I am doing accounts. I am thinking up marketing ideas and new ideas for events and collaborations. I am not sat around watching daytime TV and having no interest in the world around me.

My sleep was amazing! I am pretty good at sleeping, but I was conscious that I very rarely dreamt, or if I did, I had no dream recall……… until this holiday, suddenly every night I was having vivid dreams and waking up feeling amazingly refreshed. Sounds counter-intuitive? Well, actually our dream state is stage 4 of the sleep cycle (REM sleep), this is arguably the most important stage when the brain reactivates as the body relaxes, dreams occur, mental connections are made, and information is synthesised. Disruption to our sleep pattern means that we may not reach this deep stage of sleep, and this can impact our energy levels, our memory, concentration, and mood.

I knew that the blue screen can stop the release of melatonin, hindering the onset of sleep so I already left my phone in the kitchen in the evening and it never comes up to the bedroom with me. I read good, old-fashioned paper books before sleep and do all the right things to support healthy sleep, but it seems that even leaving the phone alone for a good couple of hours before bed isn’t enough for truly great sleep.

As I sat on the plane home, I reflected on how I felt. I liked it. It surprised me just how good it felt to have had no phone interaction for so long. Yes, I was looking forward to the ease of transacting again (I couldn’t rely on husband forever!), and I was looking forward to being back in contact with my friends and family. But, to fully step off the world just for that short space of time was wonderful. I don’t need to be in contact with everyone all the time. I don’t need to have instant access to the answer to every question that comes up in a conversation. I didn’t need to check Instagram or Facebook, and nor was I actually missing out on anything by not checking!

The world was still here waiting for me when I got back, but I had also given the world an opportunity to miss me whilst I was gone. Picking back up with everyone was lovely, more so because they didn’t already know what I had done or where I had been, and they wanted to hear all about it and tell me their own news.

As a health coach, I have found this to be such a useful experiment. I knew the science behind a lot of this stuff, and I do generally live a very healthy life (diet, hydration, exercise, fresh air, breathwork, yoga, community, friends, and family) but it was fascinating to experience first-hand just what an unconscious impact these phones have on our overall lives – they have insinuated themselves into our lives to such an extent that we are almost completely reliant on them. They can impact our physical and emotional health. They are stealers of time, of self-worth, of ability to think for ourselves.

So, did I change anything as a result? I did. The brain-training apps have all gone and yes, I do seem to have more time and be getting more done.

I’ve caught back up with the important people in my life, but not bothered with catching up on the many long conversations that have been taking place on the different groups I’m in on WhatsApp, Facebook or Telegram.

I’ve kept an eye on Instagram because I put a business post on, but I was conscious of getting sucked into scrolling, so a quick flick when I check responses, but no mindless scrolling.

I have continued to dream and wake up feeling great.

My to do list is being worked through and my procrastination has reduced significantly. I feel more alert, I feel more motivated, and I feel more in control because I am getting on with things and feeling the satisfaction of getting jobs done.

I like to think this will last – I can see the phone out of the corner of my eye, but the notifications are all turned off, the screen is face down, it is there if I need it, but it no longer pulls me or my attention away from more important things.

I realise as I type this that the balance of power has shifted. Now I am in control of my technology, it is no longer driving my actions and choices. I choose when I pick it up, when I look at it, what I look at.

I’d encourage everyone to try this – full digital detoxes are maybe only possible on holidays, but there are definitely learnings we can take into our normal lives to keep that benefit going.

I for one am determined that these small changes will last, and find I am grateful that a bit of bad luck has led to healthy changes and greater self-awareness.

As an aside – my phone was found the day after we flew and handed into the lovely team at the Visitors Centre at Rye Harbour. My debit card had also been tucked into my phone (a whole other world of complexity). Having both these important things handed in, kept secure and then returned to me put my faith back in humanity, and reminded me what a lovely community I live in.

Sonja Colman


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