Most of us seem to have a love-hate relationship with our phones (I know I do) - they keep us connected and allow for a form of instant communication that we could only have dreamt of ten years ago. But at what price? In the next few weeks we will see the release of The Light Phone - a phone that is “designed to be used as little as possible” and can only receive calls and store ten numbers, a sign surely, that we have come full circle and and that we’re desperate for a much simpler age of communication? Interestingly, 42 million people in the UK own a smartphone, with 41.9 million wishing they didn’t! We all seem to know that this constant phone use isn’t good for us but are we actually doing anything about it?
Five reasons to have a digital detox
Our phones have a massive impact on our hormones AND our nervous system - studies have shown that every time we hear the ‘ping’ of a notification our bodies release dopamine and adrenaline. Dopamine plays a central role in the body’s reward system and is heavily involved in addiction pathways. Cocaine, alcohol and sugar all release dopamine when they enter the body, and we all know how addictive these substances can be! Worryingly, it now looks like hearing that reassuring “ping’ from your phone could be no better. Long-term adrenaline release could also lead to anxiety and nervousness which might explain why we’re all finding it so much harder to switch off. A constant release of adrenaline can also stop you from digesting your food properly (how many people do you know text and eat?!) and has been linked to chronic inflammation which is found at the heart of conditions such as cancer, raised cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. Not enough to put you off yet? Read on….
Long-term use of your phone could be making you fat - it’s not just the short-term bursts of adrenaline we should be worried about. Constant exposure to a stressor (i.e.your phone) will start producing cortisol, our longer-term stress hormone. Unfortunately one of cortisol’s main functions is to encourage fat storage - especially around the middle. So, it could very well be that our phones are behind the growth of our muffin tops
The blue light from our screens can mess up our sleep - blue light has been shown to be very effective at suppressing the release of melatonin, our sleep hormone, couple this with constantly raised cortisol levels and it’s no surprise so many of us are struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
Feelings of dissatisfaction can lead to even more stress and mental health problems - Constantly comparing your life to the idealised versions we are exposed to online could further increase your cortisol levels (and even your muffin top!) This is particularly damaging if you’re already suffering from other hormonal imbalances as it will throw all your other hormones even further out of whack. Constant feelings of inadequacy might even lead to harmful changes in your mental wellbeing and could lead to the development of anxiety or depression.
What about electromagnetic radiation? -This is quite a controversial subject, the idea behind it is that the electromagnetic waves given off by our phones, computers, wifi routers etc can disrupt our body’s own electromagnetic field and have profound effects on our hormones. Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies to back this up, although interestingly, one of the few human studies carried out did show that oestrogen levels in women increased significantly after overnight exposure to electromagnetic radiation - eek!
So, how do I actually do a digital detox?
If you look online there are many different suggestions on how to do a digital detox (ah the irony!) The tips I’ve included below are what has worked for me. I wanted to cover both monthly and daily strategies as both are important:
1. ’Lose’ your phone for a few days a month
This is a great way of achieving a proper break from your phone. Let people know you will be uncontactable and just switch it off and pop it away somewhere you can’t access it easily (maybe if you live with other people get them to hide it away in a secret place?) Weekends are an ideal time - book in lots of relaxing activities, get yourself a good book, buy a paper, cook, go out and savour a really delicious meal, spend quality time with friends. There are companies that offer weekend detoxes if you feel you can’t do it alone.
2. Switch off all notifications on your phone and computer - your nervous system and hormones will thank you for this! The world isn’t going to end if you don’t respond to messages/emails straight away. I’ve been doing this for years and no one has ever complained that I don’t get back to them fast enough.
3. Check your emails in batches - this is much less disruptive to your work flow and will also slow down the release of stress hormones. Did you know it tales 20 minutes to regain concentration after a distraction? Think of all those hours lost trying to regain concentration!
4. Set aside a certain amount of day to check social media AND STICK TO IT!!!! It is astounding how much time we can spend on social media sites - be strict with yourself and limit your time on there. Half an hour in the morning and evening seems to work well for me. Give it a go and see how you get on.
5. Set yourself technology start and cut-off points - many people find a 12-hour window works for them, say, 9am to 9pm. Having an evening cut off point will also really help with the quality of your sleep.
6. Invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock - this way your phone will not be the first thing you lay your hands on in the morning (and who can resist having a quick check of emails or Facebook to ease you into the day when your phone is already in your hand?) I’ve started leaving my phone in the living room at night which makes sticking to my technology starting point so much easier. Who wants to start the day with a massive injection of stress hormones anyway?
7. Be mindful of the content your are browsing - are you often left feeling empty and dissatisfied? If so, it’s time to have a serious re-think about the accounts and people you are following. Personally, I only follow people who make me feel good about myself (note, it’s a fine line between feeling inspired to lead a healthy/successful/fulfilling life and feeling inadequate about your body, diet, fitness regime, career, etc). If you can’t bring yourself to delete or unfollow these accounts then at least try to be mindful of the fact that everything that is posted online is carefully curated and manipulated to only show the best of people’s lives, (let’s face it, we’re all guilty of doing this!) Having this awareness could be an important step in preserving your mental wellbeing.
8. Aim for one screen-free meal a day - it always amazes me how many of us eat staring at screens. Mindless eating can lead to weight gain and heightened stress levels (yep, there they are again!) Breakfast is often a good meal to make screen-free as it will dictate your body’s response to stress for the rest of the day.
9. Use your phone as a mindfulness tool - the Buddhist monk Tich Nhat Hanh recommends pausing every time you reach for your phone and using it as an opportunity for reflection. He suggests repeating to yourself “ Breathing in, the phone is in my hand, breathing out, why am I checking my phone?’ I have to admit I don’t always manage this but I have found that even using this technique once or twice a day has helped me gain a better understanding of my phone habits.
If some of these tips sound a bit daunting, start with one or two that seem most manageable and take it from there. I personally found investing in a alarm clock the easiest first step to make (and the most effective) So what are you waiting for, pick the one step you can start doing TODAY and give it a go! I would love to hear how you get on.
Giulietta Durante offers a range of online nutrition programmes and support from our Uxbridge clinic - email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how she can help you achieve your health goals.