Have you ever found yourself in a situation where something you enjoy on a daily basis is suddenly not available to you?
For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been volunteering on an off-the-grid, organic farm on the big island of Hawaii. My purpose in doing so: to learn how to grow my own food in a sustainable way, along with experiencing a simpler lifestyle. Coming from the city of Tampa in central Florida, where my weekdays were for the most part spent indoors, or commuting to and from my two jobs in traffic thick enough to rival the summer heat, this has been a monumental shift for me. Moving beyond my comfort zone and into new situations has come with many invitations for personal growth — some of this has felt as natural as shedding an old skin, long outgrown. Other aspects have been a little more challenging, and not entirely by choice.
Being your average twenty-something citizen of the modern world, I spend a not-so-modest amount of free time using electronic devices and digital media. Before coming to Hawaii, I’d never made an effort to change that. Sure, I’d occasionally have thoughts like: this habit may not be helping me be the most productive version of myself. But for me, the enjoyment I gained from my digital devices outweighed the negative consequences.
So, when I arrived at the farm and discovered that the WiFi, powered mainly by solar panels on the roof of my small cabin, was out of commission, I knew a chance to learn about myself had come knocking. And though this experience was entirely unexpected, I can honestly say that my “detox” from all electronic devices and digital media (which lasted a little over a week) taught me a lot about my relationship with my smartphone and laptop. Below are my takeaways from my time off-the-grid with no internet connection to be found.
What I Learned from My Digital Detox
1) My Sleep Schedule Improved
I don’t consider my usual sleeping habits to be unhealthy. I get around 7 hours on most nights, usually uninterrupted. However, because my schedule permits, it’s not unusual for me to be up past midnight. I’ve always figured that I’m just naturally a night-owl– it made sense considering that I have always really disliked waking up early.
During my digital detox, I realized how wrong this assumption was! My body would long for bed just a few short hours past sunset. I hadn’t previously noticed how much of my evenings were faithfully spent online. But now that this wasn’t an option, my desire to stay awake long after dinner became embarrassingly short-lived. The upside of this: I naturally fell into the rhythm of rising with the sun. Getting out of bed was no longer an hour-long process. I now could wake up feeling energized and ready to begin a new day. Which leads to my next discovery…
2) My Mornings Set a Better Tone for the Day
My phone wakes me up in the mornings and is the last thing I interact with at night. For years I was in the routine of lulling myself to sleep by playing music through earbuds connected to my phone, right next to my pillow. Needless to say, it is always within reach right when I woke up. This made it second-nature to check my social media, messages and a news app before doing anything else. Though I knew this habit probably benefited me in no way whatsoever, I previously didn’t see any harm in it.
During my digital detox, my mornings felt significantly different since didn’t start out with idle scrolling. They felt more like time for myself: a time to reflect on my plans or goals, and set a more focused tone for the day ahead. I can’t say that my morning routine was completely transformed, but removing this single distraction made this time of the day much more peaceful and positive for me.
3) My Days Suddenly Became More Spacious
I’ve long been aware of the fact that my smartphone (and social media in particular) eats up my free time. I would often catch myself opening Instagram without even consciously meaning to. It didn’t matter if I was walking somewhere, eating dinner, working on a project, or watching a movie with my partner—after all, I always pulled off giving my attention to both at once. This habit had gotten worse over the past year and was something I’ve been wanting to change, yet slipping into autopilot had become so easy.
How refreshing my digital detox was for this part of my relationship with technology. Over the first couple days, I frequently thought about checking my social media before realizing that I couldn’t. I missed this source of entertainment and felt cut off from the world, isolated. I was anxious that someone would message me and think I was ignoring them. What if something serious happened back on the mainland and I didn’t know about it—because with the state of politics these days, who doesn’t have a reason to worry)?
After it fully sunk in that I couldn’t connect to my social networks, I felt so much more immersed in my immediate surroundings. My attention strayed less while working on tasks. Though I still periodically felt isolated, my anxiety faded – and suddenly, I realized how much more time I had for the things that give me a deeper, more real sense of fulfillment and peace: for me, this included yoga and mindful movement, reading, and being out in nature. I see now how using social media as a quick-fix for moments of boredom added up throughout my day and led to me feeling like I couldn’t always make time for the activities I love most.
4) I Felt More Present in My Relationships
I wasn’t around many people during my time without digital devices. But exactly 0% of my time around others was spent using my phone, which was refreshing. Also, the lack of social interaction via screens made my face-to-face interactions that much more valuable to me – it was all I was able to get during my digital detox. I think it was this sense of value that made me feel more fully grounded in my conversations with other people, taking in their words with all of my attention and welcoming the resulting empathy that flowed from genuinely connecting with another human being.
5) My Eyes Welcomed the Break
This was one of the more minor benefits, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. I’ve worn contacts for over 10 years and by early evening, they get dry and itchy, so I’ll switch to glasses. Without staring at screens for hours at a time, my eyes could tolerate wearing contacts from morning to bedtime.
6) I Learned That Technology Doesn’t Always Make Me a Happier Person
I consider this to be the most important lesson from my time without electronics. Once put in a position where this technology wasn’t available for me, I missed it quite a lot. But gradually, it became clear to me that some of the things I use technology for didn’t necessarily add a lot of value to my life.
I realized what tools make technology priceless to me – streaming limitless quantities of music and instantly accessing information on whatever subject hooks my curiosity were two privileges that I missed on a near-constant basis. On the other hand, after getting used to being disconnected from my social networks, I felt freed from the constant urge to monitor my feeds, and I felt happier overall. I realized that for me personally, social media sometimes inspires feelings of insecurity and FOMO (fear of missing out) – the absence of these feelings during my break from technology was nothing short of wonderful!
Not having Netflix to fall back on in moments of laziness helped me turn my attention towards more productive outlets. And though I love being able to communicate with the people closest to me in a moment’s notice, the feelings of solitude I had during my digital detox were quite peaceful at times and led to some much-needed introspection. I don’t think we have many chances to feel this sort of seclusion in today’s fast-paced and increasingly connected world.
How My Digital Detox Changed Me
Overall, I believe I benefited greatly from this experience. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without digital technology since I got my first cell phone at thirteen. My digital detox was not something I chose to do willingly, but I’m thankful that it happened this way. It took a total lack of this technology in my day-to-day routine to clearly see how it influences my life when used (as I typically did) so heavily. The insights I gained may not have come any other way. While I value my devices just as much as I did before the digital detox, I realize that being selective with how I use them is key for keeping EMF-emitting technology a positive addition to my life.
With how pervasive digital technology is in the modern world, most of us could use a little break. This is especially true if you feel that technology interferes with other areas of your life, or if you suffer from side-effects of high exposure to EMF radiation. Headache, tingling/burning sensations, nausea, body aches, dysfunctional mood, and cognitive impairment are all signs that you could be affected.
Want to Take a Break from Technology? Here’s Some Tips You Can Use
Even a one-day digital detox can help us unplug from the negative effects of excessive technology use. If you aren’t ready or able to take a full day away from your devices, even limiting daily use can help keep our technology habits as healthy as possible. Here are some suggestions for using technology with mindfulness and moderation:
- If your phone is the first thing you reach for in the morning, try putting it in another room when you sleep or not turning it on before a certain time. That way, your morning is for you alone (and your exposure to EMFs is greatly reduced). The same can be done with evenings.
- If you tend to spend large chunks of time online, try breaking them up into hour-long sessions with other activities (not just a 5 minute break) in between to help refresh your mind and body.
- Try deleting one social media app (or any app you use frequently) off your phone for a few days. Notice how often you feel compelled to “check in” before you realize the app is no longer quickly accessible.
- If you find yourself checking or using your phone as if on autopilot, try to catch yourself before actually following through, take a few slow breaths, and ask yourself if doing so is truly necessary at that moment or just a habitual response to boredom or anxiety.
- Keep your phone in airplane mode while engaged in important tasks so that you aren’t distracted by notifications or text messages. This way, you are using your devices on your own terms.
- Pick one thing you want to make more time for in your life. Whenever you feel like surfing the web or killing time on your phone, use the free time you have, even if it’s short, to do that thing.
- Pay attention to how you feel when you use your devices for different things. Figure out what uses are truly serving you and enriching your life, and what uses are eating up your free time without providing true benefit.
Even if you don’t feel like you use your phone or computer excessively, it couldn’t hurt to try a digital detox or just experiment with reducing the amount of time this technology takes up in your day. You may discover that you feel better with less!
Author Bio: Nicole is a yoga instructor and nature enthusiast with a love for travel. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Health Sciences, and plans to continue her education with a holistic nutrition program. She also has a growing interest in permaculture as a solution for healing ourselves and the planet. In her free time, she loves to dance, paddleboard, and go camping off the beaten path.