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A digital detox challenge can clear your head and break your device’s hold on your life. Here’s how to prep for some great screen-free time.
Listen to the audio version of this piece below or on The Optimized Mom Podcast.
My kids were begging for more time on their iPads recently. We use tablets for homeschool, and they each get 30 minutes for games each day. I was explaining how unhealthy it was to stare at a screen for hours at a time when the 7-year-old said,
“Well, why are you on your iPad so much?”
Oh, believe me Mama, I hustled to come up with excuses.
- Because I use it for work.
- I need it to access my recipes.
- And, hey, I manage my entire life with Trello boards.
I left out the truth:
Because I am addicted.
I decided right then and there that it was time to do a digital detox challenge and commit to a period of time when we’d stay off of our devices completely.
Lucky for me, March 5th-6th is the National Day of Unplugging, so I decided we would jump in with people all over the US (and the world) and go cold turkey: 24 hours with no screens.
I’m a planning junkie, so I prepped for my digital detox challenge in the same over-the-top way I prep for everything. Here’s how (and why) we did it, and how you can, too.
Why Do We Need a Digital Detox Challenge?
In 2021, we’re all used to using our screens as a crutch. We have no need to be bored, to live with unanswered questions, or to be alone with our thoughts. We fill every minute with something.
This constant noise is hurting our bodies and brains. Studies show that our constant screen time:
- Damages our vision
- Messes with our sleep
- Increases anxiety and depression
- Hurts our attention spans
- Makes us exercise less and spend less time outdoors
But even though we sense it’s bad for us, we’re actually physically addicted to this screen time.
Every time we open a new email, crush some candies, or get a new ‘like’ on a Facebook post, we get a dopamine hit. Dopamine is one of our brain’s “happy hormones”.
It’s also really involved in our brain’s reward system. When we do something that gives us a dopamine hit, we want to do it again and again. That’s one of the reasons that our screens are so stinking addictive.
How to Prep for a Digital Detox Challenge
Because we’re mentally, emotionally, and even physically addicted to our screens, going a day without using them can be tough. Doing a bit of prep before you start your challenge will help make the experience more successful. Here are some things to try.
Do a digital decluttering
Before you go cold turkey, I’d recommend a digital decluttering. It will help you form some more helpful habits with regard to technology and allow you to cut the digital leash a little bit.
Even before I started the challenge, I had already turned off my phone and tablet notifications, removed some addictive apps from my devices, and practiced regularly leaving my phone on do not disturb.
Set Your Parameters
Draw any necessary parameters around your screen use for your detox day. Will you use your phone as an alarm clock? Use it to access GPS? Allow yourself to use your iPad to play music? Or, are you truly turning all your devices off and pretending they don’t exist?
Remember, this is your life, and you create the rules. Planning them in advance means that there’s no confusion on challenge day.
Let folks know you’ll be unavailable
If people are used to getting instant responses from you, it might be nice to give them a heads up that you’ll be unavailable.
Remember that you can put an autoresponder on your email and voicemail to alert people that you won’t be checking in. Also, if you have one or two people you think might urgently need you, add them to the VIP list of contacts on your phone. Their calls will get through even if your phone is on Do Not Disturb.
Choose some activities in advance
Although you don’t have to plan your day down to the second, it might help to come up with some ideas for fun things you’d like to do while you’re detoxing.
Two fantastic books that are full of ideas for screen-free activities are:
Because you’re likely to be on a dopamine deficit (and possibly a bit cranky) without the constant hits from your device, check the box below for some screen-free activities that are guaranteed to give you a dopamine boost.
Gather any materials that you need
Remember, you won’t have your digital crutch for 24 hours.
Do you need:
- Directions to that new park you want to visit?
- A super recipe for chocolate chip cookies?
- A notebook to write your journal entry in since your digital journal won’t be available?
Prep now so that you won’t come up short during your digital detox challenge. Of course, if you do find yourself without something you think you need, you can dust off some of those old problem-solving skills!
11 Analog Ways to Get More Dopamine
- Go out in the sun: light triggers a dopamine release in your eyes, sunlight triggers you to make more dopamine receptors, and vitamin D activates genes that release dopamine. If being screen-free is making your family cranky, head outside!
- Get in touch: human contact triggers dopamine, so squeeze a kid, snuggle up on the couch, or have some sexy time with the hubby go get those dopamine levels up
- Hug a pet.
- Meditate: according to this study and others, meditation boosts dopamine levels
- Try something new: Dopamine production is triggered when we find something new and exciting in front of us. We’ve gotten used to that being the latest news from our email inbox, Facebook, or CNN, but we can find novelty in analog things, too.
- Listen to music.
- Do something creative.
- Do a detail-oriented hobby that requires you to focus.
- Write down some small tasks you need to do and cross them off. You get a dopamine hit from celebrating a win.
- Take a cold shower. Yep. Believe it or not, this actually boosts dopamine.
- Get some exercise—at least a walk.
So how was my family’s digital detox experience?
In short? Fantastic.
We snuggled, sketched, colored, sat in the sun, played cards, read books, listened to music, ate on the patio, and just generally enjoyed being together.
Our boys seemed to bicker less than usual, and I noticed that my brain felt…quieter. We will definitely do a total digital detox challenge again, and we’ve all been inspired to use our devices less this week.
If you’re an addict like me, I double dog dare you to disconnect. It’s worth it.
Want to plan your own digital detox challenge? Do this now:
- Set your parameters. Decide if there are any exceptions to your “no devices” rule. Check in with the other folks in your house to make sure you are all on the same page before your detox starts.
- Let people know you’ll be unavailable. Consider setting up autoresponders for your voicemail and email.
- Choose some fun screen-free activities, including those that will give you a dopamine boost if necessary.
- Gather any materials you might need, such as recipes, directions, or rules for games.
- Enjoy the chance to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones.