In honour of the Australian Psychological Society’s Psychology Week and the theme of thriving in the digital age, I wanted to write about ways to put some boundaries around use of mobile phones, while also celebrating these amazing devices.
Is a complete digital detox necessary?
A mobile phone can be a fantastic life assistant. Personally, I use mine to keep in touch with clients when I am out of the office, to manage bank accounts, book my fitness sessions, as my alarm clock, my weather reporter and my mindfulness guru.
I have apps to keep me up to date with what is happening at my kids’ school, the latest mental health drugs, help me learn a new language, and even to order my coffee for my morning walk by the beach!
My travel itinerary is always stored on my phone, I can check transport timetables and book taxis and Ubers, I can use my phone as a remote for my TV, and to play music.
Of course, I also use it to talk to friends and family and to take photos of my day.
These devices really are amazing. No wonder we have trouble putting them down!
So, do we need a digital detox?
A balanced digital diet
My good friend, Rachel Eagleton of Nourishd, is an excellent nutritionist. She feels that we don’t need diet detoxes but to eat all of the food groups in the recommended amounts and to practice moderation most of the time, so that we can avoid the drastic change a detox requires.
I am suggesting the same approach to mobile phone use. Let’s rein in the use, have some times without the device, and have a balance between useful apps and time-wasters.
This means we don’t have to do the (often unrealistic) cold-turkey removal of mobile phones from our lives for a time. Going cold turkey is quite a drastic measure. Let’s face it: we have these devices because they are so useful. In many cases we use them for safety reasons such as letting one another know where we are (this is particularly true for young children who are perhaps getting themselves home from school, etc).
The desire to do a full reset is understandable. For many people it is easier to conceive of a purge than it is to imagine making smaller adjustments. But little tweaks to our mobile phone use should mean that we don’t need to take drastic measures so that our mobile phone use never gets out of control and never becomes a problem in our lives.
5 ways to avoid a digital detox using healthy eating principles
These good nutrition principles can apply to digital devices. Follow these guidelines and you may find you no longer have the need for a dramatic digital detox.
1. Clean Diet
Do a stocktake of your apps – in much the same way you would look at what you currently eat when you first see a nutritionist.
Keep the apps that serve you well, and reduce or remove those that don’t. If Instagram leaves you feeling envious, underachieving, or just takes up more of your time than you’re happy with, consider taking it out of your “diet”. If you waste hours on Candy Crush, maybe it needs to go, the same way you would get rid of a daily ice cream if you were aiming to improve your physical health.
2. Portion Control
Similar to the idea of reducing the amount of food you eat in order to reduce calorie intake, if you find you have just “lost” an hour on Facebook, consider putting a timer on to remind you when you have had enough time (I would suggest 20 minutes is plenty).
I make myself buy 30g boxes of almonds so that I only eat a handful, rather than three, as I would if I bought nuts in larger quantities. This allowed me to get used to what a serve was. This approach can work for your digital diet too. You will find you become accustomed to shorter times spent on an app and will gain greater control over your device usage as a result.
3. No Food After Dinner
A common healthy eating strategy is to stop eating for the day following the evening meal.
You can reduce your phone use by finishing with it from a certain time, at least one hour before you go to bed (because of the “blue light” interruption to melatonin release – this is the hormone that tells our brains and bodies to close up shop for the night).
I can hear people everywhere saying that would not be possible – but it is and I do it. I don’t respond to messages or emails after certain point in the evening, keeping my relaxation and unwinding time as just that.
4. No Food in the Bedroom
Following on from the previous point, just as most of us would not take food in to our bed (okay, I do enjoy breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day), an easy way to minimise use of phones is to resist picking up your phone as soon as you wake.
A lot of people like to keep phones out of the bedroom and this is also a great idea, but for me personally, I love the Bedtime setting on my iPhone as it reminds me to get to bed on time at night and wakes me gently in the morning, so I am keen to keep it nearby as I slumber. However, if you find that you are unable to resist a check on work emails or social media as soon as you wake, maybe your phone can spend the night in another room.
5. Exercise More
Just as exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle, and might be suggested by a nutritionist, getting out and about is also helpful for minimising your mobile usage time.
When you are exercising you are likely to be so engaged in what you are doing that you can’t use your phone (except maybe for music, or perhaps you use an exercise app such as the great yoga and tabata ones that are available). It’s pretty hard to go for a run, do a circuit, take pilates or use a skipping rope whilst looking at your phone.
Adding exercise is a healthy way to reduce your hours on your phone, and to introduce one of the best mental health supporters there is, into your daily life. It’s a win-win!
What are your thoughts on doing a complete digital detox versus managing your usage of mobile phones? Have you tried any of these suggestions? How’d you go?
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