Unplugged Evenings To Digitally Detox Yourself
> Our lives all too often center around the internet
Are you a well-balanced internet user?
In fact, this particular problem is well known across the globe. We all spend too much time plugged into the Matrix and the constant barrage of notifications and beeps is stressful.
Does this routine sound familiar?
Your smartphone alarm wakes you up with a ton of notifications that are impossible to ignore.
Over breakfast, you’re shouting at the kids to get off the iPad and wash up, but at the same time, you’re checking work email.
Jump in the car for a Bluetooth sync and catch up during your commute.
Arrive for a day of work plugged into the internet, check email and social media on your phone every 15 minutes and spend your lunch break comparing your crappy life with someone’s amazing life experience on Fakebook.
Head home, make and eat dinner while glancing at your phone, spend the evening watching Netflix before heading to bed, but before you sleep, just one more look at emails and social media.
That sounds waaaay over the top, huh?
Except it isn’t.
The reality is we’re all doing it.
You want to unplug, but you feel twitchy and slightly panicked about missing something important. It’s a thing called FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out.
Think back to your childhood years. It’s like when Rachel, the most popular girl in school, was planning a birthday party. You were desperately hoping for that invitation.
We still feel those emotions now as adults when a Facebook acquaintance posts incredible vacation photos of an exotic tropical beach.
Or, maybe your suck-ass work colleague sends a group email about a last minute meeting at 9am tomorrow.
If you’re not plugged in, you won’t see that until the following morning. While everyone else had a chance to prepare, you’re scrambling at the last minute to get your shit ready in time.
This is FOMO at it’s finest.
But don’t worry because it’s possible to escape the FOMO-inducing internet.
It’ll take some effort, but if you want to stop all the noise, the results are worthwhile.
You can reclaim your sanity, health, and family by unplugging and going “analog” after working hours.
Why You Should Do A Digital Detox
It’s not only us and that voice in our heads saying this “plugged in” obsession is harmful.
In the US, there are half a billion devices connected from home to the internet and they’re all sucking our humanity away.
Researchers are showing us proof of the damage from increasing insomnia to a growing lack of empathy.
Here’s a quick clip that explains why it’s so damaging.
VIDEO: How Is Your Phone Changing You?
- Smartphones trigger loads of dopamine in your brain
- Nomophobia, the fear of being with a phone, is real
- Nothing bad will happen if you step away
Let’s look at those points in a little more depth.
You’re An Addict
Reading email, playing an online game or scrolling a feed is rewarded with little constant shots of dopamine. It’s a constant drip-feed of pleasure.
Dopamine is addictive and it causes a compulsion loop.
It’s so hard to put the phone down because it feels good to keep getting those hits of feel-good dopamine, especially if other parts of your life are shitty.
It Leads To Poor Sleep
Checking email before sleep is common, as is waking up in the night to check the time and getting stressed over notifications on your phone.
There are plenty of research studies including this one from Harvard that explains how looking at blue light emitted by screens suppresses the melatonin that helps us sleep.
Essentially, this blue light is signaling to your brain that it’s daylight now while you’re laying in bed at night trying to fall asleep.
Scrolling your feed or looking at cat memes wakes up your brain up and disrupts natural circadian rhythms of sleep – it’s the blue light of insomnia.
Health professionals say you should spend 2-3 hours before bedtime without blue light to create good quality sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed. So, do your best to avoid screens for the last few hours before bedtime.
Poor Posture and Backache
Sitting down too much and for too long is making all of us unwell.
“Tech neck” is pain developed from looking down at a screen and trying to hold up the weight of your head.
We spend over 4 hours a day on phones and that doesn’t include a computer or TV time.
All this sitting around rolls your head and shoulders forward to slump on a desk or sofa. Your core body strength diminishes and your cardiovascular health suffers. This leads to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Eye Strain And Failing Eyesight
Remember when your parents threatened that you’ll ruin your eyesight if you sat to close to the TV? They were almost correct.
Half the population of the US now have myopia whereas in the 1970s it was only about a quarter. Other similar statistics can be found across Asia and Europe.
Is this a direct result of watching too much TV and all the various digital displays in our lives?
Some experts claim so, while others seem to declare that it has absolutely no impact.
Our position on this - too much of anything isn’t a good thing. So, binge-watching hours upon hours of media on TVs, smartphones, tablets, etc. can’t be good.
Disconnection From Family And Friends
We’re losing the art of conversation because most people whip out their phones to scroll their social newsfeed or play a game rather than talk to someone.
Yes, using your phone makes you feel like part of a group. You can see what your friends and family are doing, and leave them a ‘like’ but this doesn’t beat talking to someone in real life, sharing a problem and having a laugh.
It’s time for all of us to start “looking up” more often.
Do you know what’s currently bothering your kids? Are your parents OK?
Are they really OK or just not wanting to bother you?
We don’t know because we’re too busy being plugged in.
Social Media Anxiety
This is a fairly new turd on the block that causes depression, anxiety, and stress.
Perfect lives on Instagram are not real, they are just showreels of the best bits, but looking at photos of someone’s expensive vacation, high-achieving children, and beautiful home makes us all feel inadequate.
We can’t help comparing ourselves and worry that we fall short.
Unplugging will save you from all this fake bullshit and the resulting imaginary worry.
It’s Not Just You
Most overworked and dead-tired parents like you just want some evening downtime and the easiest way is to give your kids a screen.
They’re angling for it anyway, because all their friends are, and it’s not worth the fight when you’re exhausted and want to check your work emails and/or decompress too.
However, research shows that too much time on smartphones and tablets means our kids are losing empathy.
They can’t read each other’s emotions because they don’t make eye contact and talk. They’re finding it difficult to communicate at an emotional level. Perhaps you’ve even witnessed that at home?
It’s bad news.
What Would Happen If You Unplugged?
It’s all very well saying this, but what would actually happen if you disconnected from the internet and abandoned all digitally connected devices?
One researcher took 35 people to a Moroccan desert to find out. She allowed them access to smartphones and TVs, but then took all the tech away for four days.
She found this digital detox had some massive and fast results.
Here’s what happened.
Without their smartphones, people stood up straight to look at faces instead of down at a screen. Not only did they improve their posture, but making eye contact helped them to relax and talk.
Conversations increased and people made jokes - they were way more creative when storytelling or answering trivia.
They were connecting in the truest sense.
But that’s not all.
Their memories improved, noting more detail because they were present in the moment, and they had better sleep, even though they spent less time in bed.
After four unplugged days, the subjects made some pretty big changes in their lives which researchers thought were the result of not being constantly distracted by micro-pings and beeps from their smartphones.
They were able to contemplate and get more clarity on bigger life issues from changing jobs, to relationships and fitness levels, etc. And, it all came from a more sensible angle.
This is what happens when your mind isn’t being fed with a constant barrage of bullshit. It can begin to think at a higher level - more clearly.
If that happened after a four day digital detox, imagine what unplugging every evening could do for you.
How To Unplug In A Connected World
It feels scary to disconnect from the internet, but remember this:
The world will keep turning if you don’t look at your smartphone, laptop or TV, despite your FOMO.
And this: Your kids will moan like hell.
They’ve been attached to the internet all their lives, and don’t know a time without electronic communication devices at their fingertips (hands up who’s feeling old – yes, us too).
It’ll be hard for you and REALLY hard for them, so you have to be patient.
But kids are sponges that soak up information and new tricks with enthusiasm. Your unplugged time can be spent teaching them how to play with their imaginations rather than turning into a Fortnite vegetable every evening.
It’ll be worth it.
Phase-In Evening Disconnection Time
Like new year resolutions, you’re more likely to stick with something if you take baby steps.
Turning off WiFi and locking all the phones/TV/iPads and gaming devices in a drawer and demanding everyone speak to each other for five hours won't get you very far.
It’ll fire up a rebellion.
VIDEO: Teenage tantrum when the WiFi is turned off
Instead, this step-by-step manageable transition will improve your chances of long term success.
It won't work every night because you have a busy life. There are after-school clubs, parties, and life admin jobs to take care of etc. We get it ‘cause it's the same for us.
Just take the following steps and fit them into your lifestyle when and where you can.
Even just implementing Phase 1 will improve your life.
Phase 1: Device-free dinner
Dinner is the starting point. It’s the anchor for the evening.
It’s where the family meets to chat and share their day’s experiences instead of just staring at a screen and shoveling food into their mouths.
Ban any kind of electronic device from the dinner table. This is mandatory.
Electronic devices inhibit conversation. Without a Nintendo at the table, you’ll find out more about your kids’ lives.
This kind of interaction can help prevent difficulties such as bullying problems in their tracks simply because it’s easier to open up about the hard stuff if the conversation is easy and natural.
Watching TV, or scrolling online, also prevents you from thinking about the amount of food you’re consuming. Enjoying and really savoring and tasting your dinner leads to better weight control and satisfaction levels.
This is especially important for kids, who can easily ram down a plate of food without missing a gaming beat. Then, they’re asking for snacks all evening because their brain hasn’t registered they’ve eaten.
The road to obesity is paved with iPads
Phase 2: Post dinner 1 hour family/individual device-free time
Once the gang has been going through device-free dinners for a month or two and there hasn’t been any major mutiny, you can extend the unplugged time into an hour’s family time.
Plan some after dinner fun that connects the family. If it’s not practical right after dinner because you need to clean up, arrange for everyone to come back in 30 minutes time.
Then, play together for an hour without any devices, then release the hostages.
It won’t take long for the new routine to establish itself and they’ll enjoy the family time or the unplugged activity they’ve chosen to do on their own.
Phase 3: Extended device-free time
If you can make it this far, you’re venturing into rarely explored territory that only the most dedicated and disciplined folks can reach.
Phase 3 can take off when you’ve established a device-free dinner and an hour of family time/individual unplugged time.
Take this slowly, extending it in 30 minute sections. Your ultimate goal is to go all evening without the internet.
Yes! It can be done.
It wasn't that long ago when people didn’t have any internet at home and they coped just fine. Not long before that, they coped without electricity - playing charades by candlelight.
We’re not suggesting you go that far, but you get the gist.
We know that the blue light of insomnia is bad news for healthy sleeping patterns, so the aim is to have all electrical devices turned off at least an hour before bedtime.
Once the kids are snoring, don’t give in and whip out your smartphone.
Now, this part is important.
Smartphones are so sneaky that they even provide a free alarm clock to draw you into their spell.
As a teen, you probably had a good old-fashioned alarm clock or a radio alarm that played music to wake you up?
Get one of these and leave your smartphone out of the bedroom. Otherwise, you’ll spot notification messages and get sucked into the digital vortex.
There’s also the danger of waking up in the middle of the night and checking your phone for the time.
You WILL see notifications and get drawn in. Even refusing to open them leaves residual stress.
If you get caught, you won’t be getting back to sleep now. Hello poor quality sleep and a ratty morning.
Communicate Your Offline Hours
If you’re unplugging during the evenings, it’s a good idea to tell friends and family that you’ll be unreachable. That way you won’t get facetimed, phoned or otherwise drawn into an electronic exchange.
You can fend off work emails by setting up an autoresponder stating what hours you work. This will keep everyone happy because they’ll know when to expect a reply and you won’t feel under pressure to constantly monitor emails.
This will slow down incoming traffic because people won’t expect a response. Sure, there will be persistent ones, but eventually they’ll get the message.
Unless your employment contract states you have to be contactable 24 hours a day, there is no need to have work email on your smartphone anyway. It's a myth that we have to be responsive and accessible all day.
Unplugged evenings can’t be done unless you fully disconnect from work and leave all the office bullshit behind.
Device Disconnection Options
There are different ways to minimize device distractions during offline time.
If you’re busy teaching the kids how to build a lasagne or a fort from good old-fashioned lego, notification beeps every 15 seconds will drive you insane.
You feel that NEED to check, so you must eliminate the temptation.
Turn off devices & put away: There is an off button on your phone. Really, there is. Use it. Then pop your phone in a drawer. Out of sight and out of mind.
Put devices in airplane mode: This will prevent notification pinging and stop the endless chatter that’s so distracting and time consuming.
Turn off WiFi: The ultimate if your kids won't play ball or you can't trust yourself. Just flick the modem off and stop the insidious internet right in its tracks.
Lead By Example
Kids learn by watching, not by listening to instructions.
If you refuse to give them the iPad but continue to look at your email, it sends all kinds of mixed messages.
As a responsible parent, you must follow the guidelines you’ve set down and lead by example.
You’ll find after a short while the kids appreciate having your full attention.
While it’s easy to carry on a conversation with them while scrolling your social media feed, it gives the impression that what they have to say is unimportant, or you’re not too bothered about their day.
With devices down and eye contact established, you’ll discover a hell of a lot about them.
Analog Activities To Relax And Decompress
Now that you’ve pried yourself and the kids away from digital devices, what can you do?
Without all that time wasted on social media, watching TV, writing work emails, or online gaming, you’ll have hours each evening to fill.
Fill “no screen” time with the things you love or would love to do.
It would help if you made a list so you aren’t scrambling for ideas, getting stressed and giving the kids the iPads. The list will keep you inspired too, just in case you get itchy smartphone fingers.
Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.
Convenience meals be gone. Let’s cook from scratch tonight. It’s healthier and the kids can learn with you plus, it’s a great offline way to “reconnect” with your kids.
Getting the kids involved can spur their interest in making the food they eat even tastier. Keep an eye on ‘em though because a gummy bear might sneak into the spaghetti sauce.
Most of us find that cooking a meal is pleasurable when there’s enough time. Without being plugged in, there is enough time. Dust off a cookbook and cook.
Or go out for a meal leaving your phone in the car, yeah, maybe that instead. 😉
Not on your Kindle though, we mean good ol’ fashioned paperback.
Yes, they still exist and you’re bound to have some around. If not, your local library or thrift shops are great places to get the latest read for free or really cheap. You could drop off all those outgrown clothes too.
Reading is the perfect way to relax before bed because it takes your mind away from work without the blue screen of insomnia stimulating your brain.
Reading before bed is doubly good for kids, so take the screens away and give them something exciting to read. Maybe, it’s a Minecraft novel or a script of their favorite film – they are still unplugged and entertained so no problem.
Exercising is good for your physical and mental health.
It releases serotonin and other feel-good hormones that can overpower the addiction of wanting to see what’s happening online.
Join a gym or pull on your sneakers and get out in the fresh air for a walk. The kids can come too. Look for birds, seasonal signs and make pictures in the clouds.
You don’t need to exercise like you’re training for a marathon - just move your body and go for a brisk walk or light run in the neighborhood. Keep it simple.
If there’s one activity that you can do anywhere at anytime without needing anything except yourself, it’s meditation.
Meditation is a simple and low-cost way to de-stress. It’s not all about omming and chanting to Buddha. Simple mindful meditation is all about just calming your racing mind. It’s very effective and changes your perspective on life.
Just sit comfortably anywhere. Close your eyes. Do counting inhales and exhales. Focus your mind on the sensation of the airflow into and out of your body - pick one spot that’s easy for your mind to latch onto.
Your mind will definitely go bananas and jump from thought to thought like a sugar-fed ADD kid in the playground. Let it race it around then, bring the focus back to that breathing spot. And, repeat again when it takes off again.
This back-n-forth is how you meditate. It’s part of the process. As you get better, you’ll have less moments of racing thoughts and more focused calmness.
If you want more learn more about how to start meditating, easily and quickly, check out this beginner’s guide for meditating at work.
5. Cleaning Up
A messy house is depressing and stressful, so instead of replying to emails that can wait until tomorrow, whip out your duster or cleaning sponge and just tidy up here and there.
If you’re always cursing and demanding more hours in the day, unplugging will definitely help. According to the latest research, many of us spend over 4 hours a day on our phones, we can take 30 minutes of that to vacuum or wipe things down.
Don’t think of it as chores. Think of it as really low impact upper body and arm workouts. 😉
Less mess, less stress. You’ll feel better, honestly.
6. Drawing & Writing
Art is therapy for you and kids love it.
There are lots of amazing adult coloring books out there and research shows art can activate the brain’s relaxation response, allowing you to “zone out” all the noise.
If you want a bit more on this idea, read this article to learn more. There’s also a free downloadable drawing template of designs that you can print out and enjoy.
Why not throw in some letter writing too?
There’s something more personal to handwritten letters that no technology could ever match. It’s seeing the actual nuances of the writing, almost like seeing their voice in the pen strokes. It’s like a piece of the person is right there on the paper.
Relatives love receiving mail from kids. If your parents or relatives live far from you, then have the kids write a letter instead of Facetiming. It’s far more heart-warming.
And of course, the classic - writing in a diary.
Remember those nights scribbling all of your life’s events from the day into that little locking notebook? Well, with the internet and digital devices, diary writing is starting to go extinct, but you can change that.
7. Board (not bored) Gaming
Family time board games are great fun. Teens may take some persuading but they will eventually join in, especially if the Wifi is turned off (ha!).
Moving and manipulating physical game pieces provide a kind of tactile joy and feedback that no touch screen could ever deliver.
So, play the old classic Monopoly, Jumanji, or teach the kids how to play chess. Board games are a great way to stimulate creativity and enjoy one another’s company whether you’re 5 or 105.
8. Soaking In The Bathtub
While this isn’t family oriented, it’s an option for you on those evenings that you have the opportunity for some well deserved self-care.
Oh yes. A warm soothing bath does wonders for your stress levels and muscle pain.
There’s something primeval about water that makes life seem better.
Perhaps it’s the old “being back in the womb with no life worries” feeling. Who knows the reason. We just know it works. Soak as often and as long as possible.
It’s one of the greatest ways to get some unplugged “me-time” on a budget.
Disconnect To Reconnect With Life
Introducing the benefits of a digital detox into your everyday life will help you and your family unwind, decompress and relax.
Living under the constant stress of being plugged in will make you ill, but you don’t have to be a slave to the almighty internet.
We’ve spoken about FOMO - the fear of missing out and how it keeps us online forever.
What you’ll achieve by unplugging during the evening and night is the antidote. It’s JOMO - the joy of missing out.
JOMO allows you to slow down, look around, and enjoy the present moment.
It removes the pressure we feel to be the most informed, the hardest working, live in the most beautiful home, enjoy a seriously active social life, and bake the kinds of cake a fairy godmother would be proud of.
Remember Rachel and her birthday party? She can have it without us. Bye Rachel - we’re missing out now and we love it.
You don't need that kind of FOMO pressure in your life because, at the end of line, it’s all about the time you spend with your family and friends and the enjoyment you’ve gotten from being your lovely unstressed self.
So, start the JOMO vibe at home by unplugging and going analog in the evenings. Take it slow and phase in the digital detox. Small steps will lead to big gains.