If you’ve spoken to me at least a few times, you probably know I enjoy fucking myself in the head with the pros and cons of social media. You know, soul- and time-sucking, fake identities and addiction vs. space to share your thoughts or to show off your pole moves you’re so proud about, that kinda crap. I mean, I’m doing a PhD on the dark side of Twitter – my obsession is pretty clear. So it might come as a shock to some people that I actually disconnect from time to time. Care to know why? Here’s why I think that even bloggers and part-time social media addicts like me can benefit from a digital detox, or what I call “switch-off days”.
Why I Disconnect
ICYMI, I have anxiety and depression. I’m not making this up btw, I have been diagnosed with it by my GP – I’m just that lucky! Anyway, one of the warning signs that I’m really stressed or that I’m going through a rough patch is that I begin opening Facebook, my three email inboxes, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and – if things are particularly bad – Snapchat waiting for an answer, a sign from God, a unicorn, a doughnut, or something that will come and rescue me and give me all the solutions for whatever ailment my mind thinks it has at that moment. It becomes a loop, something I can’t abstain from and that prevents me from focusing on whatever it is that I need to do.
Now that I’m essentially self-employed, working part-time at the uni and dedicating my whole time to a PhD however, this just can’t happen. My mind needs to be sharp and focused because there’s no boss I need to impress by getting shit done and staying off social media. I am that boss, and if I fuck it up, bye bye PhD.
Enter one of my favourite things: switch-off days. What are they, you ask? Simply days in which I abstain from the use of the social networks and communications technologies that cause me to go on a checking loop. I can’t switch off completely because to get shit done, or even just to watch Netflix or listen to Spotify, I do need the Internet. Hence, my switch-off days mean I don’t open Facebook, my three email inboxes, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat at all, and that I even put my phone on airplane mode so I can still take pictures if I see a cute dog, have some great food, do an amazing pole move or see a fun graffiti somewhere around East London, without spamming anyone with what I see or waiting to see if I get likes (don’t we all).
While training on a switch-off day at the London Dance Academy recently, a pole friend told me disconnecting “sounds extremely hard for someone who has a blog!” and yes, you probably don’t associate blogging with switching off. However, switching off allows me to get shit done for my blog and for everything else and keeps me way more inspired than my stupid checking loop.
As bloggers, we have to be “on” most of the time liking, commenting, sharing, Instagramming and emailing, but switching off a day a week is not that tragic: realistically, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t Instagram your breakfast, or if you wait a day to do so.
Reasons Why Switching Off Matters
Even though I have removed notifications from most apps from my iPhone, checking them still takes considerable time away from what I need to be focusing on.
Dr. Yvonne Thomas, an LA-based therapist interviewed by Mashable, noticed that when her clients take digital detoxes they are “more balanced and calmer, […] more rested, more aware, more present, more productive and less overwhelmed and stressed out. They also feel more connected to their work, their love relationships, their family, their friends and themselves.”
Digital detoxes have also been linked with better sleep quality (the light from your phone/laptop disturbs your sight and makes falling asleep harder) and better eating habits. That’s partly because a study by the Rochester Institute of Technology found students are more likely to eat while on their phones than to sit down at dinner table, which turns eating into a multi-tasking activity and prevents you from doing so consciously and feeling satisfied.
When I Started Switching Off
My first switch-off experience was travel-related and happened in 2012, when I visited my friend Oda in her homeland of Norway. We ended up hiking up a mountain for five hours, reaching a cabin in the middle of nowhere, facing a beautiful lake. It was just us, no electricity, no signal, no running water, no Snowman-like serial killers (thank fuck).
At the time I wasn’t as hooked on social media as I am now, but I definitely enjoyed not checking my phone for two days. And why would I even check it, when I knew there was no signal anyway?
Coming back to London after my Couchsurfing trip in the USA, working in PR as bouts of anxiety, PTSD and depression started hitting me, I began taking shelter in switch-off days again. Living by myself, this was quite easy and I made sure that all my social events happened on days I wasn’t switching off, so if I had to text a friend that I was going to be early, or late, or that I was lost and needed to check Google Maps, I could do it.
I unfortunately had to stop switching off in Australia, because I already felt far enough from my loved ones without switching off completely, let alone if I ended up putting my phone on Airplane Mode. Luckily, during holidays in the Whitsundays, in Singapore and Hong Kong I was on reduced social media used and I ended up switching off completely while in Bali.
Now that I’m back however, there’s no excuse not to switch off again.
What I Do On My Switch Off Days
If I don’t have any deadlines, my switch-off days are an occasion to discover new parts of London or to simply walk around in the areas I love the most.
Among my favourite switch-off day activities there’s:
- Walking around London with my iPod listening to, among others, Dire Straits when the sound goes down – don’t ask me why it’s Dire Straits specifically, but there’s something magic about the Sultans of Swing solo busting through your headphones as you speed-walk through the deserted City of London at night;
- Going to galleries. Specifically, I often end up at the Wellcome Collection in Euston because it’s the perfect mix of a classy hangout and a venue to geek out;
- Taking my notebook to a new café and writing more chapters of my new detective novel. And yes, I know my previous one hasn’t even been published yet, but I feel inspired when I switch off so why the fuck not;
- Discovering new cafés to study and write in. During one of my latest switch-off days I ended up writing the 6,000 extra words I needed to add to my working document/expanded PhD proposal in between two East London cafés I had never tried before. The first one was The Close-Up Film Centre in Sclater Street, a lovely DVD library with extra chess, cute couches, amazing almond cappuccinos, independent film screenings and a neighbourhood feel. The second one was Quaker Street Coffee in – you guessed it – Quaker Street, a café which gave out free coffee as a promotion, a creative supporting local artists that is about to launch an album;
- Speaking to random people in said cafés and finding out their stories (if they speak to me first, I try not to creep on them because this is London and you technically shouldn’t speak to strangers or you’ll annoy them to death);
- Cooking new healthy recipes;
- Doing pole, ofc.
How I Feel After A Switch-Off Day
After a switch-off day, I feel happy, energised, and I get to focus on my favourite things without interruptions, without being bombarded by what the world thinks I should be doing, eating, watching, reading.
I feel ready to start the working week, my anxiety and weird checking loops have now been sent back where they came from for at least a while and I become one of those weird people that smile at you on the street but that are really just smiling at themselves.
So if you run into me on one of those days, I’m not crazy. I’m just detoxing. You should give it a try.
Pictures: Carolina Are