Digital Detox

Digital Detox

Is your brain being hijacked by the habit of staying connected?   Are you letting the “FOMO”(fear of being left out)  bug take hold of your mind?  Chances are you answered, “Yes”. More  than 50% of people say “I cannot live without my electronic cell phone.”

Technology is certainly useful when used skillfully and with intent. It connects us globally and provides expansion and growth.  But as the old adage goes, too much of anything can be detrimental to our health.

A serious problem exists, and is not going away until we rewire our habits.

It’s no surprise that everyone needs to unplug from time to day, in fact daily.   But the reality is that instead of “fasting” from our devices, we are using them more and more. As smartphone and electronic device use swells, it brings with it inevitable  side effects when used without skill, suggesting that  it is time to unplug for a bit.  Here is a list of some health issues that are backed by research.

Sleep Cycle: According to the National Sleep Foundation 71 percent of people sleep while holding their smartphone or having it in bed with them or on their nightstand.  According to a study  in the Science Translational Medicine from September 2015, the amount of caffeine in a double espresso has less of an effect on our sleep than staring at a mobile device before bed.  Computer’s included.

Ability to Focus: The goldfish has possibly been incorrectly given the reputation of having the shortest attention span in the animal kingdom. It might actually be the fruit fly, or better yet, the human being.   I would bet to say that most of us, have a shorter attention span, since we  have used smartphone soundbites over and over again, without full presence.  According to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain

Loneliness: Smartphones and any social media used out of its context, is causing a breakdown in the human communication systems.  Have you ever seen happy people eating at a restaurant who were texting while waiting for their food?  They don’t engage each other, they engage with their mobile device.  One-third of smartphone users or even more, use their phones during dinner diverting face-to-face exchanges thereby undermining the depth of human connection.  

Anxiety and depression: Multiple studies have come to the conclusion that our always-connected world is leading to an epidemic of anxiety and depression diagnoses. On average, according to this study, the daily use of a mobile device for a depressed person was 68 minutes, while a healthy subject used these devices, on average, for just 17 minutes.  Although some people speculate that use of a smartphone works on the dopaminergic receptors in the brain, I am not quite sure that this is true. The answer lies deeper than a simple transmitter response.   Findings on Anxiety and depression with cell phone use can be found in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior.   

Stress: Research from the American Psychological Association  began to detail the increasing amount of stress caused by time spent on smart devices. Being connected, in some regards, means you’re always “available” and able to answer email, texts, and social media messages. Some actually experienced “phantom vibrations,” a sensation that left them to believe their phone was vibrating when it actually wasn’t.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Exposing  your brain to an environment that is “artificial” and not natural,  causes a loss in structure and function.  This results in a rewiring effect limiting  capacity and resilience.

The obvious answer to this trend,  is to have a daily practice of digital fasting.  However,  we may have reached a point where even that isn’t feasible. There are studies that detail significant mental and physical distress, panic, confusion, and feelings of extreme isolation when smartphone addicts attempt to unplug.  (Addict defined here as someone who does not have the freedom to disconnect without have withdrawal symptoms)

A systematic meditation training  could be the answer, or at least offer a clue in how to find move beyond the addiction and take back your life.

What’s most amazing about meditation isn’t immediately apparent since it does require you to do the work and not some techno gadget to do it for you. Keep in mind there are some out there that claim in 10 minutes you too can meditate, but this is a false “profit” and creates yet another dependency for you. The most fulfilling part of life is having the ability to learn and do something for your personal development.  To have the clarity and confidence to make choices.  When our brains are hijacked, we lose that freedom and suffer extreme loss without even knowing it.

It’s worth pointing out that as human beings we have an expansive capacity given the anatomy of our brain.  When we choose distraction over focus, we slowly lose our ability to find freedom and  fulfillment in life. Remember from a previous blog post, that our brain has the ability to change – neuroplasticity – and this change can be for the better or for the worse.

Take notice.  When you lift your phone to check email, or see who beeped in the chat box, chances are your browsing doesn’t stop there. You might find yourself on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. If you’re anything like most people, you might start doing one thing on your smartphone, but an hour later you’re doing something else entirely, all under the guise of “checking email real quick.” This is called distraction, and you are leaking your vital energy and hurting your brain.

There are reasons for this to happen.

  1. You may be experiencing “FOMO”.  FOMO is fear of missing out and the anxiety and dejected feelings that come with that.  
  2. You may just not have a focused intention to start with, or you don’t really enjoy what you are doing, so your mind takes you somewhere else.
  3. Or, you may want to connect to the social media world because you are feeling isolated and lonely and think that will help you feel better.

These are only a few reasons. There are certainly more. The point here is to become aware of your habit so that you can collect, contain and focus  your mind.  You can learn to enjoy and utilize the technology available; while not letting  it run your life.  Here are some solutions that I have provided for our community of seekers.

  1. Schedule specific times to check email. You have heard this before, but, set the timer.
  2. Set a specific time in the AM that you will unplug from all devices. I suggest only turn on after meditation practice. You need time to tune up the mind, before you bombard it with external stimuli.
  3. Leave your phone at home when you are going be in nature.  It is quite sad to see a person walking in nature, plugged into their smartphone.  Put it down and be totally present in nature.
  4. Learn to meditate.  When I say meditate, I don’t mean just sitting down and being mindful of what you are doing or not doing, I mean to get a systematic training so that you sit down, breathe, relax and learn to collect and contain your energy.  Meditation needs to be systematic if you want results.
  5. Take one day per week or a time segment within a day each week and perform a digital fast.  Remove yourself from anything that is digital in sight.  Breathe and take a moment and connect to that which makes you human and connects you to all other life on the planet.  

Follow any if not all of these steps.   You can stay connected to the point you don’t experience FOMO.You’ll still get your text messages, your email, and phone calls, only now you have less incentive to respond right away and more incentive to be with yourself.

As mobile devices continue getting bigger, you must be skillful if you are going to maintain intelligence and mental freedom.   My advice is to pay attention to what you are doing and do not take your human brain for granted.  Be aware and train your mind to stay focused.

Because the energy of the mind is the essence of life.



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