So what exactly is a digital detox? How do you do it and, more importantly, what does it really feel like?
I’m just back from a week of foraging and wild swimming in South West France where I managed (largely) to use my phone, well, just like a phone. No data or internet access – just ‘emergency’ calls and text messages. Asides from the fact that I was astounded just how long the battery lasts when used like this, I also feel like my own batteries have been recharged. So how exactly do you do a digital detox and what does it really feel like?
Step one: Take the plunge
Standing there in front of a cold, somewhat coffee-coloured lake, wild swimming did not seem very tempting. But as soon as I waded out and plunged my head into the water I felt like a new person. Ditto the phone – it may feel like someone is about to cut off a limb when you first turn it off, but as soon as you do it you can immediately feel the weight lifting from your shoulders. If it helps you feel less anxious, post that you will be out of contact for a few days so people know you might not get back to them straight away.
Step two: Be strong
Tempting as it may be to ‘just have a little check’ every hour or so, try to resist at least for a whole morning or an afternoon at first. Yes, the world of social media is continuing without you but take the opportunity to engage in your present. Pay attention to the flowers and the birdsong. Enjoy the simple pleasures of an uninterrupted conversation or experiencing an amazing view without automatically reaching for your phone to take a photo. Let your eyes and your memory capture the scene for posterity instead.
Step three: Enjoy the calm
With luck, after a few hours (or perhaps even days) without being connected you may start to feel the lovely liberation of not having to check or respond to buzzes and vibrations every few minutes. Just like treading water in the middle of the lake and enjoying the feeling of floating in little pools of warmth, there is a certain calmness that comes from not always being distracted. Getting comfortable with doing nothing and allowing yourself to ‘just be’ is not easy but try to let your mind just wander where it wants whenever you get a spare moment. Remember what life was like before we even had mobile phones - we somehow managed then when a friend was running late or we had to travel on public transport!
Step four: Re-entry
When the time comes for you to re-join the connected world, rather than counting down the minutes, you might even find yourself putting it off. Out in the lake I found myself saying just a bit longer, just a bit longer. And once back in the UK, rather than immediately reconnecting as soon as the plane touched down, I eked out my detox well into the evening. But then comes the hard bit - popping your head up above the cool, calm water again and back into the noise. Try to manage the sense of rising panic as your phone goes mental catching up with all the notifications and you start to wonder what you have missed. My advice is don’t try to go back through everything that has happened while you were ‘gone’. By all means respond to the urgent stuff but take the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. To my great surprise, my world had not ended and within a hour or so I was fully back into the swing of things, feeling refreshed and ready to go with a clearer mind and a happier soul.