Surprising Lessons from my Digital Detox

dig·it·al de·tox

[digital detox]

NOUN

informal
  1. a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

    “break free of your devices and go on a digital detox”

    (Urban Dictionary)


Last weekend, I decided to see what the buzz was all about and try out a digital detox. This decision was made as a result of several factors, the first being the fact that my thumb had been physically aching as a result of all of the time spent on my phone lately. I actually felt somewhat pathetic about this. Granted, I did had some “good reasons” as to why this happened: job demands, business emails, texting family, etc. etc. etc. Despite these rationalizations of why it was acceptable that my thumb was throbbing, I decided that this just simply was not okay when I Googled “texting thumb pain” and was greeted by pictures of several strange looking hand braces. I realized that perhaps the ache in my thumb was a sign of something bigger that I should take a look at.

What baffled me about this is that I consider myself to be a pretty present person. I keep my phone in my purse at dinner. I’m usually a slacker when it comes to responses on group texts. So how was this happening?! My own lack of awareness of what was going on with my relationship with technology brought me to the point where I felt a digital detox was necessary to unpack this situation.

As I packed my things for a trip up to the Adirondacks, I shot off a few texts to friends, family, and anyone important who might panic if I didn’t respond to them over the weekend. I let them know I would be off the grid until Sunday. Some irrational fears came to the surface right before sending these texts: will people think that I’m “too good” because I’m not going to be responding for the weekend? Will this seem pretentious? Will people get it? To my relief, I received a lot of immediate responses that were positive and encouraging. The positive feedback empowered me to turn my phone off, and put it at the very bottom of a drawer to provide some finality to the situation.

I experienced a lot of really surprising moments during my detox, with the biggest being that I did not miss my phone. Prior to leaving my device behind, I thought that I was going to experience some kind of withdrawal. I was prepared for this weekend to feel more painful than enjoyable as a result. However, as soon as I got driving, I didn’t think twice about it. I think the biggest factor that allowed me to truly let go was letting people know what I was doing. I had no guilt, no loose ends, and had given myself total permission to let go.

Although I did not miss my phone, mornings did feel very really strange without it. I realized upon waking that the first thing I do (and have done for years) is check email and social media. It felt really odd to wake up and not immediately engage in this habit that has developed such deep roots in my life. Having this separation from social media during my first waking moments led me to have a somewhat “aha” moment: why would I want to spend my first few moments of the day looking at pictures of what other people are doing? This is essentially opening the floodgates to comparison, FOMO, and curated realities before we have even had a chance to check-in with ourselves. I was really struck by what a disservice I do to myself by checking my phone first thing every morning and how this takes away from my ability to be mindful in my life.

The coolest and most enjoyable part of my digital detox was my experience of time. I felt like I had all the time in the world. I felt like the day stretched on forever (in a good way). In less than 48 hours, I read a 300-page book, went for a half-day hike, watched a football game, and went out for dinner at one of my favorite spots on the water. I realized how much of my panicked “there’s not enough time!!” thoughts are really a result of how much time I waste scrolling through social media and email.

I was able to enjoy the present moment so much more. I realized how much my phone can feel like a ball and chain. Even when it is tucked away in my purse, I feel its presence and feel the need to tend to it. Without my phone being physically on me, I felt free of this. There was nothing else to do but actively pay attention to and embrace the world around me. I enjoyed the “little things” more: my first sip of morning coffee; the way the fall air and campfire smell wafted through the open window; the beauty of an incredible sunset over the water; the crunch of the leaves under my feet on my hike; and the complete silence of the forest that just makes you feel like you are wrapped in a warm blanket at the center of the universe.

I also found myself talking to people more. I had a great conversation with a few fellow hikers at the top of a mountain. I talked to the cashier at the grocery store. I was more in tune with others and felt more connected. This may seem like a simple thing, but there is something quite magical about feeling a true connection with other people, even strangers, without the distraction of your phone in your hand. I realized that even holding my phone in my hand is a sign that screams: “Don’t talk to me!!” How sad is this to walk around engrossed in the world on a screen, rather than engaged with others? How many missed opportunities do we have when we are responding to that text or checking our Instagram to have some authentic conversations with people? Our perspective and lives can truly change in an instant; how many opportunities are we missing to learn something new, to gain a friend, or to have a shift in perspective through conversations with the people around us?

I had a totally refreshing mental reset. While I felt great about the results I experienced this weekend, I realized it would be important to set some boundaries in place in my life to keep this momentum going. It is easy to unplug when you are in a beautiful place without Wifi. It was important to figure out how this could translate back into my day-to-day life.

I have developed some strategies outlined below that so far have been really helpful to me!

  1. Get real about your screen time. There is an app you can download called “Moment” that offers some awesome features that track how often you are on your phone; how many times you unlock your phone throughout the day, and what apps you are spending the most time on. This can be a great first step if you are unsure if you really need to work on your relationship with your phone.
  2. Do not check social media, email, or anything else on your phone for the first 30 minutes you are up in the morning. This is such a critical time to slowly ease into your intentions for the day and get into a positive mindset. Scrolling on social media while in bed turns into a rabbit hole that can leave you feeling emotionally hungover afterwards, and this can ultimately affect the energy that you bring to your day.
  3. Find mindful activities to replace your screen time in the morning. I often use the Calm app to do a 10-minute meditation in the morning while I am having my coffee. I cuddle up in a blanket, light a candle, and focus on the positive intentions that the app has to offer. I love this app because you can chose what type of meditation you need for that day. I recently completed the “seven days of stress” series and it was really helpful. The beginning of the meditations usually offer some practical tips before getting into the more peaceful part of things.On days that I am looking for something a bit more active, I have been doing ten minutes of journaling. I often read one passage out of “Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul” by Melody Beattie and then write for a few minutes. There are ultimately a million different ways to start your day with something positive and grounding other than screen time, so I encourage you to experiment a bit and find something that works for you.
  4. Delete social media apps off of your phone. This is something that I did a while ago, and I have found it to be incredibly helpful. You can still access your social media through the browser, but it takes a lot more effort that way. I have found myself thinking twice before getting on social media because frankly, it is a pain to type it all into Safari, and human nature is to want things to be easy.
  5. Put your phone in the other room. If you are reading a book, spending time with your significant other, or just want some time to chill, physically remove your phone from your space. Check it every hour if you are worried about missing something, but then come back to what you were doing without getting sucked into everything on your phone.
  6. Don’t feel like you owe people something. In the world we live in now, it can be tempting to think we owe people an immediate response, and we get anxious when we don’t give that to them. We really don’t owe anyone this. In the business world, it’s polite to give someone a response within 24 hours- why can’t this apply to our phones, as well? It’s important to get out of the habit of thinking that we are responsible for someone else’s immediate desire to hear back from us. Of course, if you are expecting an important call or are trying to make plans with a friend, it makes sense to be more in touch, but I have found that any effort to develop a bit more consciousness around this is a good step in the right direction.
  7. Talk to people about your efforts to reduce screen time and be more mindful. If people know about your efforts, they will be more understanding if you aren’t responding to their texts immediately. It can also be helpful to share about your experiences with others so that everyone can learn and grow together.

I hope you all can learn a bit from my experience with digital detox- I would love for you to email me at barbshepard@counselingsecure.com with any questions or thoughts that you have about this topic! You can also find me at @counselorvibes on Instagram.

 


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“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This quote, credit to Brené Brown, just makes me want to applaud.

In the spirit of Brené’s philosophy on vulnerability, I want to let you know that I debated saving this blog post for a later time. I found myself so inspired by this quote and knew that I would enjoy writing about it; however, the inner critic in me thought that it might be better for you to have a chance to read a few warm and fuzzy posts before starting off a post with profanity. The inner critic told me to water myself down a bit in order to be well-received.

The braver part of me realized that starting off with warm and fuzzies would simply not be authentic; this would not give you an accurate depiction of who I am as a person or therapist. I sincerely believe that good work in therapy takes place between two people who have an energetic compatibility, and part of my purpose in keeping a blog is so you can get to know whether we would work well together.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of kindness, warmth, and living life with grace and compassion. These things naturally become woven into the fabric of who you are when you are a therapist or healer. But I also have an edge. We all do. We all have that part of us that wants to keep it real, that wants to show up authentically and be seen. This edge is the difference between who you really are and the person you think people want you to be.

Most people spend a lot of time and energy teetering this edge. We all have something important to say, something unique to offer, or something creative to share — and we often end up diluting it or muting it. Because we are afraid that it won’t be quite enough. We are afraid that what we have to offer will be greeted with criticism — or even worse, silence.

So we learn to be a certain way, and our true selves end up getting buried. If you have seen the episode of Friends where Joey is wearing several layers of clothing (“could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!”), this is what I want you to picture. Each time that we hold back what we really feel, we cast on another layer that covers up what’s inside. Add a layer of disconnection. Then a layer of self-doubt. Then a layer of perfectionism. And before we know it, we feel like we are in a blazing sauna because of all the layers and we aren’t sure how to escape. So we self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, and all these other things that distract us from the pain of actual problem, which is that we are wearing 30 layers of clothing and that the only way to stop sweating is to start taking the layers off. The numbing helps us feel better for a short-time, but it doesn’t get to the root of things.

It’s really hard to shed the layers, because these layers now feel like the real you. You’ve been wearing them as a suit of armor for so long that you don’t even know what’s under there anymore. You may think, “What if what’s inside is scary? What if I don’t like what’s in there? What will everyone else think?”

To go back to Brené Brown’s quote, shedding the layers is like going to battle in an arena. You are suited up and ready to go with Joey’s clothing as your armor. The layers protect you from fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. But… these layers also diminish your ability to feel all the good stuff, like compassion, joy, and creativity. The thing with numbing is that you can’t selectivity numb. If you numb the negative emotions, you numb all the positive emotions too.

What is it worth to you to feel the positive things? Are you willing to go into the arena, shed those layers, and feel vulnerable in order to experience true joy and fulfillment?

You will undoubtedly feel like everyone is watching. It may feel like complete hell to shed that first layer because you know that some people are going to criticize you. Acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that there is nothing that you can do about the it. The critics will always be there. So it’s important to recognize them (“hey guys, I see you, welcome”) followed up with Brene’s words of wisdom: “If you aren’t in the arena also getting you ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Anyone can sit on the sidelines and judge your efforts to do something brave. It’s a cheap shot. But getting sucked into feeling bitter about the critics or hateful toward them doesn’t serve you. It takes up space and dims the light of your bravery and courage. So rather than wasting your energy on them, just simply give them a nod and take pride in the fact that you are getting your ass kicked, getting dirty, fumbling, and ultimately working toward something amazing.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. No matter what it is you are working toward, whether it be going back to school, trying for that promotion, or working on bettering yourself as a human being through counseling, it’s not about the end result. This may sound cliché, but it is so. true. The process and the journey that unfolds as you work toward what you think your goal is ends up taking you down roads you never expected. Each time you take an act of bravery or courage, you change a bit. And you may end up forgetting what the original destination was as you begin to experience infinite possibilities you create for yourself by being brave. Being brave does not have to be some big thing that everyone sees. It can be accepting a compliment; trying something new; or doing something that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is like strengthening a muscle- each time you take a brave step, it gets a bit easier. For a while, you may feel like an imposter each time you do something brave. But this imposter syndrome won’t last. Over time, repeatedly doing brave things will become an inextricable part of who you are.


References:

Daring Greatly, By Brene Brown
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count


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