Step Back From The Screen -Taking A Digital Break For Your Brain

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I was very excited to write this Friday Focus article guys. I realise that this is an online article, and by asking you to read it, I’m encouraging you to use technology. But trust me, this is for a good reason. Recently, I took on a ‘Switch Off Sixty’ challenge and shared it with you on social media – it was a personal challenge I set myself, to switch off social media one hour before bed. For me, that was 9pm onwards. How was it? Tough. I did it for a week, to see how I would find it, in advance of writing this post. As the week progressed, it got a LOT easier. Why did I try it? Well, the digital turn our world has taken in the last decade was playing on my mind, particularly after listening to some Podcasts on the topic. I thought to myself – ‘How much time per day do I spend on my phone?‘ When I felt uneasy reflecting on the true answer, I decided I needed to make some changes. In addition to that, using my phone before bed was something I actively wanted to reduce, with the evidence we have now about blue light and it’s effect on sleep (more on that below, and in my blog post on sleep recently). After the challenge, I decided to share my top three ‘digital detox’ tips with you guys – the only kind of detox I’ll ever recommend!

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Turn OFF Notifications

Yep, you heard me. Hands up if you do this already? My hand is HIGH up in the air folks. I switched off pretty much all app notifications about eighteen months ago now (except for Whatsapp) and being honest, I literally never looked back. If your phone is buzzing from app updates every few minutes, you are constantly reacting to it. Personally, I already picked up my phone to check updates manually more than I should. I don’t NEED to be told every time someone likes a post I’ve done on Instagram or Twitter, nor is there an immediate need to respond to every message or tweet. If there was an actual emergency, people (i.e. your family and friends) would be ringing you or at least persistently messaging you OUTSIDE of social media.

Not sure if you can stick to it? Trust me, you can. It’s liberating – once you’ve switched to ‘Off’ you get this awesome feeling of having taken back YOUR time. And honestly, I’ve yet to meet someone who switched notifications off and missed them enough (or at all) to turn them back on.

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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

This one is a real bug bearer of mine, and it’s also one I’m really focusing on personally (also true for number three below). Picture this. You’ve got yourself a lovely Saturday morning planned – you’re off to meet your friend for a cheeky workout or yoga class and a coffee catch up after (my kinda start to the day!) You guys rock into the cafe, order up, and park your bums for a non-stop chinwag. Both of you pop your phones onto the table. You start chatting, then your coffee arrives, the latte art is very Insta-worthy, so you both want a ‘pic for the ‘Gram’ – then your brunch arrives, and THAT’S even prettier, so clearly you need a photo right? First World problems and all that, but it’s what the generations now are doing. Suddenly, you see you’ve got a few Insta notifications and Tweets there, so you flick through ‘quickly’ – and then you realise 40 minutes of your ‘catch up’ has passed. Let’s stop right there. ‘Phones away from the table’ isn’t just a rule that parents give their kiddos to teach them manners – it’s a rule we need to apply to us ‘adults’ too. ‘Out of sight, out of mind‘ is the perfect phrase to describe what I mean here. If your phone is never more than 6 inches away from your twitching fingers, you will always be tempted to pick it up and scroll. Which, being honest, is a BIG waste of your time and a very common way to procrastinate and shut down your productivity.

So here’s what I do. When out with a friend, or just catching up with family at the end of a busy day, my phone is in my bag. If I’m at work at the hospital, same applies. If I need to get writing, reading or recipe creation done for the blog, it’s hidden. Yes, I am human, and I am a food blogger, so I definitely do take a brunch photo if it’s an awesome dish and my friend wants to as well. I take recipe photos during my kitchen time. If I’m at an event with brands, then I’ll make the exception there too. But otherwise, it’s in the bag, it’s on silent, and I’m not checking it. Give your friends and family the time and attention they deserve and want from you – your phone can’t lend you an ear when you need to figure something out and it definitely can’t offer a shoulder to cry on. And neither can any social media following – not tangibly anyway. Social media in particular, is not a substitute for social contact and human interaction.

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Switch Off To Start AND Finish Your Day

Our phones enable us to do SO much, and keep us so well connected at home and abroad, at every hour of every day. That is both awesome and terrifying. It’s fantastic because it makes the vast world we live in a much smaller place – we can Skype family 10,000 miles away, we can ‘Find Our iPhone’ if we lose it, and we more or less have an app for everything at this stage. We have Google at our fingertips, with the answer to any question (even if its not always the right answer – side note, never go ‘Doctor Google’ on me guys, you’ll always get the worst possible scenarios).

BUT. This also means we are CONSTANTLY stimulated by technology. We start our day with screens, we spend the day with screens in many cases (whether that’s in a office job, my hospital job doing administrative work for patients admissions/discharges, etc), and when we finish for the day, we’re commuting with our heads in our phones, to go home and watch television/catch up on social media/do more work/answers emails. It’s CRAZY. If you have been on public transport recently I’m sure you’ll have seen most heads around you are down. We do not look UP enough anymore. We can ALWAYS be contacted. You know how our bodies need rest days from training? Our brains are the same. It really isn’t good for you to be ‘on alert’ all the time via that little gadget in your pocket. It keeps us in this slight ‘fight or flight’ response both day and night – and it makes it a LOT harder to switch off from a day of work if your phone is still getting emails at 9pm!

So try this one out. For the first hour and last hour of your day (or even 30 minutes if an hour isn’t feasible), keep your head out of your phone. If you think an hour is too much to start with, try 30 minutes. Instead, get up and talk a walk outside. Listen to music, or write down three things you’re grateful for that day. Have a glass of water or a cup of coffee outside listening to the world around you. Do your workout, listen to music or a Podcast, read a few pages of your book, whatever floats your boat! Then get ready for work, and head out the door. Don’t make your phone screen the first and last thing your brain sees everday. And at night, this is particularly important – the sleep research out there tells us blue light emitted by our phones delays the onset of our sleep by delaying the release of our sleep hormone, melatonin. Why not try a hot bath, a chat with your family, or a good book instead of catching up on the day’s Tweets?

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I’ve given you guys a lot to think about there. Plus some easy peasy tips for you try your own version of a digital detox! You don’t have to take them all on at once – that can seem totally overwhelming. Take one at a time – maybe this week, make a ‘no social media one hour before bed’ rule? If I could do it, you can too.

I would love your feedback on this guys – I think the need for a ‘switch off’ is becoming increasingly recognised, so I hope this post helps you to give it a go! As always, leave a comment or send a message/email to let me know whatcha think – @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!

Ciara 🙂 x

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