Surina's January Digital Detox

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Posting by Guest GP Columnist, Dr Surina Chibber

Are you starting 2015 feeling like you need more time to yourself and 'headspace' away from the pressures of work and daily life? Do you feel like if you carry on this path you could be heading for burnout? If so, then read on and my digital detox plan may be for you.

Meditation by Moyan_Brenn, on Flickr
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A recent article in the Social Times highlighted that there are more than two billion active social media users worldwide with 18 percent of them unable to last a few hours without checking Facebook.  28 percent of iPhone users check their Twitter feed before getting up in the morning.

Further to this, the journal Current Psychiatry Reviews has highlighted the growing social issue of problematic computer use which is being linked to causing the same brain changes seen in alcoholics and drug addicts. Our increasing technology addiction is facilitating an exhausting hamster wheel effect on what we now think of as a progress in communication.

As GPs, we have become accustomed to a relentless  information exchange that occurs in our daily lives.   Digital information in the form of smart phones and tablets has also crept in, contributing further to information overload.

These nifty little bits of technology have made many of us become immersed into a constant  assault on our senses. How many of us constantly check our phones? Constantly recheck our inboxes? Habitually surf the internet?

I started 2015 with a "digital detox" and I was surprised just how much I gained.

Surina's 4 step digital detox

Days 1-2

This is the 'information fast' phase so:

No checking emails,

No internet surfing

No reading newspapers, magazines, radio or tv

No social media

Instead you can

Listen to as much (non radio) music as you like

Replace the morning news or newspaper with talking to your spouse/children/yourself

Fill in the time you would be Internet surfing/emailing by having conversations with real people.

Day 3

Reintroduce checking your emails BUT only twice per day.  Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, states that constant email checking represents a repetitive task that often interrupts higher level work or personal 'downtime'. Tim suggests that you should never check your email first thing in the morning - instead use this time to complete your most important tasks. The idea is that after a few days you move from checking emails twice daily to just once a day.

Day 4

Now you can reintroduce web surfing but to keep the benefits of your detox going you can use browsers such as Firefox which can be set to block certain sites for set periods.  Other tools include websites such as www.rescuetime.com can be set to log the amount of time you spend on social media.

Day 5

Reintroduce social media/news but use the browsers discussed in step 4 to limit your usage to once daily for a short amount of time.

My own digital detox wasn't as difficult as I first thought it would be.  It gave me an insight into how habitual checking my phone and tablet had become. I also hadn't realised how much time and energy I had spent rechecking my inbox, being thrown by unexpected emails and feeling the pressure to reply to messages that kept pinging into my inbox.

As a result of my digital detox what other steps have I taken to stay in the here and now?

Well, I now never get my phone out at mealtimes. I put it on silent away from sight and enjoy my meals with the people that I'm sharing that time with.

I have unsubscribed to the random email alerts that once cluttered up my life.

I now limit the amount of time I am surfing the Internet.

I've found being more disconnected to digital information has meant I've been more connected with my life and ultimately I am more focused, relaxed and happier as a result... Give digital detox a try and let me know how you get on.

Dr Surina Chibber is a locum GP in South London

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References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/#

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-real-a-risk-is-social-media-addiction/

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