The art of a digital detox

There’s no denying it, most of us are addicted to our phones, but have you ever stopped to think about the impact that it’s probably having on your mental health?

Walking up a busy street in London, my friend and I let out a rather baffled laugh at two people stood opposite us on the other side of the road. As the lights turned green and we began to cross, the two people stood completely still, eyes glued to their phone screens and feet practically cemented to the floor, completely oblivious to the fact that the lights had changed. Even the constant beeping from the traffic lights wasn’t enough to make them detach for even just a second.

And this got us thinking, do people actually properly pay attention to what’s going on around them anymore? The night before we’d been to an event that was a strict no phone zone. Our phones were taken off us the minute we walked through the door, shut in a sealed bag and placed in a locker for the duration of the evening. To some, that probably sounds like a bit of a nightmare, but the truth of the matter is, everyone properly enjoyed the event because their eyes weren’t glued to their phones.

The thought of not being able to check Instagram to see how many likes your recent post has got or to get the low-down on the latest explosion on Twitter is enough to give people anxiety, and the really sad thing is, it does. I see it all the time in restaurants, families, couples and friends having meals together, but totally unacknowledging each others experience because their busy looking at their phones. Not only is it completely rude, but why bother going out if you’re not even bothered to pay proper attention to the person that you’re supposed to be spending time with?

I’m no stranger to putting my hands up and saying that only a matter of months ago, I was one of those people. I would sit down to watch a programme and often find that I’d missed a great chunk of it simply because I’d spent 80% of it looking through my phone. I’d click on Facebook, scroll through my feed, then to Twitter, then to Instagram, then my emails and repeat; it was a vicious circle of addiction that eventually made me too terrified to open my emails in fear of not getting a response on a poll I ran of not responding to an email quick enough.

With a career that pretty much revolves around social media, I found it more and more difficult to give it a rest because I had things to post for clients, my own channels to keep on track with and work to do that basically saw me spent 70% of my day looking at either my phone screen, laptop screen and TV screen when I eventually called it a day on work. But when a friend told me that they had noticed I was spending less time with my phone glued to my hand, that’s when I realise that it was a problem that needed solving.

After taking a six-week break in Spain – check out my Travel Diaries posts to find out more about that trip – I decided to begin to detach myself from my phone after being told by both a doctor and a counsellor that it was affecting my mental health and wellbeing in ways that I never thought of. I started off by just leaving my phone in a separate room with the door shut, distracting myself by doing things that I hadn’t done in so long. I started to read books again, started using my old film camera more to take pictures, went on long walks and even days out where my phone just remained in my bedroom or at the bottom of my bag.

Before I knew it, I was starting to feel refreshed, starting to appreciate things around me and take things in through my eyes rather than a phone screen. Most importantly, I learned that the world wasn’t going to fall apart or that I was going to lose friends or colleagues because I didn’t respond to a text or email quickly enough.

It was at this point too that I stopped caring about the number of likes I got on things. I rarely put anything out on Twitter or Facebook unless it was of great importance that I felt people really needed to know about and I couldn’t give two hoots about how many likes my posts get on Instagram. I’m sharing things because I want to, not because I’m desperately craving validation like I used too.

Admittedly, our need for validation is never going to go away, we’re only human, but if we could just learn to pull away from our phones and understand that we don’t have to film every moment of a gig – don’t be that person, please – or have a massive freakout because no one’s liked our most recent selfie, then we’re one step better to living in a stronger state of mind and appreciating the little things the way that they should be.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to reduce my screen time on not just my phone, but TV and laptop too, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s amazing the things that you’ll pick up when you separate yourself for even just an hour a day. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can find lots of information through Mind. Click here to visit the website.

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