After the over-indulgence of the festive period, many turned to January as a time to detox – Veganuary, Dry January, New Year’s resolutions... We had high hopes when the countdown to 2020 began – a new decade, a fresh start.
What has happened since could have been lifted straight from the script of a disaster movie. A deadly pandemic – citizens told to stay indoors, to avoid human contact. Pubs, clubs and cinemas closing their doors. Schools shutting down and exams being cancelled altogether.
In times such as these, it is more important than ever to stay connected. To call up lonely friends and relatives, to ensure elderly neighbours have sufficient supplies, and to think up novel and quirky ways to keep spirits high. Except if you’re planning a celebrity rendition of Lennon’s Imagine, that is… At least it gave more than a few of us a good laugh, I suppose.
But there is also a risk of allowing digital devices to become too dominant during these woeful times. Slumping in front of the television to watch back-to-back episodes of Netflix shows, or spending hours scrolling through social media to keep yourself “occupied” may be seriously detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Yes, the orders are to avoid all non-essential human contact. Staying at home – even if you feel ok – is absolutely the right thing to do to avoid the spread of COVID-19 to truly catastrophic proportions. But that doesn’t mean that you must rely on the digital world to survive.
If anything, the Coronavirus outbreak offers us a unique opportunity to enjoy a digital detox – at least for a short while…
Have you ever wished you had more time play board games with your children, like the good ol’ days when you were young? Or to undertake a spot of gardening now that the sun is breaking through the clouds? How about reading that 1000+ page book that has been gathering dust on the shelf all these years, waiting for the “right time” to do it justice? NOW IS THAT TIME.
When you’ve completed your work, and checked in with your loved ones, then turn the television off and do something worthwhile – write that novel, play that guitar, tidy your wardrobe... Whatever it is, a brief digital detox could well prove to be the tonic we all need right now.
I’m sure there are many like me out there, who promise themselves each year that this Christmas will be different – that you’ll avoid work emails and take the time to genuinely switch off. But it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves reaching for our smartphones as Grandpa pours his third or fourth sherry….
Our poor minds can’t catch a break – our eyes are constantly darting around from pixel to pixel, our fingers exhausted from all the typing and aimless scrolling. Remember way back when, on returning to school in September after a long summer holiday, that picking up a pencil again felt so alien to us – you’d forgotten how to write! When was the last time you felt that way about texting? Chances are never, because we haven’t been separated from our devices for any meaningful length of time.
For some, simply having a break from work – however short - is enough to help them feel refreshed and ready for the next set of challenges. But a full digital detox can offer huge health benefits for most the mind and body. Here’s why…
According to research from the Nielson Company, the average US adult spends around 11 hours each day listening to, watching, reading or interacting with media. You’re doing it right now by reading this blog. We, as a society, are addicted to the internet. Fear of missing out – or FOMO as it’s so-called – is incredibly prevalent amongst younger generations and social media only serves to amplify it. It may seem bad now, but what about your children’s children? Or their children? Short of an asteroid wiping out our civilisation, there is little to no chance that all future generations aren’t going to be overwhelmingly – and scarily - dependent on technology.
When we talk about work/life balance, we’re usually talking about reducing our commuting times or leaving the office at a reasonable time. We very rarely consider how much time workers spend effectively handcuffed to their devices, ready to reply to that late-night email from the boss at a moment’s notice. In these uncertain times, it’s even more important than usual for everyone to work together to ensure businesses stay afloat. Forget Plan A, or Plan B – many businesses are switching to Plan C right now, exploring previously uncharted territories just to be able to pay their bills. Local restaurants are offering takeaways; pubs are holding quiz nights via video conference calls – these are unprecedented times and everyone needs to pull together for our economy to survive.
That said, not every email is urgent. Show some consideration for your team, colleagues and employees and have an email curfew for all non-essential messages. Or at least communicate that responses aren’t expected – or welcomed - outside of working hours.
Many businesses have been sliding down a slippery slope of coveting those employees who stay late, work unpaid overtime and respond at all hours of the night. Not only can it be bad for business (who does their best work at the end of a 12-hour shift?) but it represents a downward spiral for employee mental health and morale that can be hard to recover from.
Let us spare a thought for the key workers in these troubled times who don’t have a choice. Without our NHS doctors, nurses and staff, people will die. Will anyone die if John doesn’t send you the quarterly marketing report on time? I expect not.
It is just as important that our “down time” – of which there is set to be a considerable amount given we will not be socialising outside of our homes for the foreseeable future – isn’t solely focused on technology either.
Technology overuse has been found to reduce our quality of sleep, cause eye strain and trigger migraines and headaches. Neck strain and hearing loss are also cause for concern. I’m sure we’re all been introduced to Emma by now – our friendly co-worker of the future – with her sallow skin, stress-related eczema, red eyes and arched back. On meeting a real-life Emma, you’d be the first to say she looks in need of a break. But have you had a proper look in the mirror lately?
The overuse of technology has been shown to have negative effects on psychological health too. In 2019, a study published in The Journal of The American Medical Association reported that teens and young adults who frequently used digital media were more than twice as likely to develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other publications have found that tech-addict teens also score significantly higher when evaluated for depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsive behaviour.
And it’s not just emails, social media and phones either. “Gaming disorder” was included in the 11th edition of WHO’s International Classification of Diseases Manual. That’s right, obsessively playing video games is now classified as a mental health condition akin to alcohol abuse and gambling addiction. The importance of a digital detox has never been so prevalent and is recommended by psychiatric institutions worldwide.
So, let’s have a think about a few of the benefits of a digital detox:
We move more. When we’re on technology we tend to be static – either sitting or lying down. When we detox from our little electronic friends, magical things happen. We move, we walk, we go outside, we exercise. A health benefit we can all understand.
We strengthen our relationships. Come on, who’s guilty of missing what their partner has said because they’ve been on their phone? Nodding and smiling, hoping that we’re not unconsciously agreeing to do the washing up or welcoming that new puppy into our lives? Having this break from technology allows us to connect with the most important thing in life - people.
We become more productive. A study in 2019 looked at how much time we spent on our mobiles in 2017 – it found the average user will spend 5 years and 4 months on social media, which is only second to TV at 7 years and 8 months. Imagine all the other cool, exciting and interesting things we could be doing with that time!
I’m living proof that a digital detox is not easy. I have a hectic job at the best of times, but ensuring a global team can work remotely right now has taken the demands of my job to new heights. That’s why I plan to set myself realistic targets. When I’m with my family over the coming weeks and months, I am going to find small ways to live, learn and laugh together that don’t rely on technology. Perhaps a makeshift Easter egg hunt in the garden? Maybe with drawings of eggs instead of real chocolate. It’s been a while since I coloured anything in… Who knows, I might be the next Picasso or Van Gogh, and it took Coronavirus to uncover my hidden talents?! Watch this space…