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During these COVID times we are glued to our devices more than ever – is it time for a digital detox?

Technological advances have provided us with some important gifts, including increased connection and access to information. However, just as eating too much of the wrong foods can damage our bodies, overdosing on screen time can harm our health and wellbeing – disrupted sleep, thanks to exposure to backlit screens at night, plus dry scratchy eyes and poor posture are just a few of the possible physical health side effects of technology overload.

There is also growing research to suggest that too much technology causes mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and mood swings. Constantly scanning information online is altering our ability to pay attention. For example, we no longer find it easy or natural to focus on simply reading a book, and we will look for other stimuli at the same time. Not only does this dilute the reading experience, but it undermines our ability to concentrate on complex tasks and to break tasks down into a step-by-step process. Then there is ‘the Google effect’ – the fact that we know answers are always at our fingertips discourages us from the effort of retaining information because we can just look it up again.

The Go Vita experts have put together this handy 7-step guide to having a digital detox, so that you can unplug, recharge and reclaim control.

  1. Set limits

Put daily reminders on your phone, iPad or computer to check in with how you’re doing with respect to stress, fatigue levels and overall exposure time. Always log off at least one hour before bedtime and use that hour to meditate or read.

  1. Prioritise self-care

Diarise time slots in every day which will be absolutely technology-free and use them to nurture yourself. How you fill these time slots is up to you – tried-and-true ideas include spending time in nature, taking a walk in a park or on the beach, practicing yoga or meditation, talking with a trusted friend, reading uplifting material, taking a warm scented bath and pottering in the garden. Choose one day a week to go completely offline, and shut off your phone and computer. Consider booking yourself in for a retreat at a spa or health resort to clear your mind and reset.

  1. Commit to real-time

Face-to-face conversation and voice connection provide important information to all the people involved, which is not present in Facebook posts, emails or text messages. When nonverbal cues like tone of voice, facial expression and body posture are absent, it makes misinterpretation of the message more likely. Be deliberate about making time to see friends and family in person, or at least to speak on the phone.

  1. Take a break

A paradox of technology is that although it has the potential to connect us more than ever before in history, it is also making us feel less connected. In particular, too much time on social media can cause FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), anxiety and low self-esteem. If you feel social media is not adding value to your life, schedule a break for 30 days.

  1. Be present

“Be. Here. Now.” This famous phrase from spiritual teacher Ram Dass is particularly apt for our times. Challenge yourself to be present. Stop scrolling and savour taking time out, rather than rushing on to the next thing. Pay attention to the moment.

  1. The eyes have it

Too much screen time can make eyes dry, scratchy and sore. Protect and support your eye health by eating oily fish like salmon (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids), citrus fruits and leafy greens (both are excellent sources of vitamin C, to fight age-related eye damage) and orange foods like carrots and sweet potato (packed with the antioxidant vitamins A and E, which play an essential role in vision). Supplementing with zinc and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin has been linked to better long-term eye health and may help delay age-related sight loss and macular degeneration.

  1. Get help

Used appropriately, technology can be a great servant – but it has the potential to be a dangerous master, with some experts warning that signs of technology overload are remarkably similar to drug addiction, such as being unwilling or physically unable to turn off a device even if it is causing negative physical or mental effects or relationship problems. If this is true for you or a friend or family member, seek professional help. www.beyondblue.org.au