This 7-Day Digital Detox Was the Hardest (and Best) Thing I’ve Ever Done
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I talk a big game when it comes to mindfulness. In the yoga classes I teach, as well as in conversations with friends, I find myself ranting about the evils of digital devices and social media. And yet I also increasingly catch myself reaching for my phone before getting out of bed in the morning. I obsessively watch every Instagram story in my feed. The sound of a notification, any notification, sets my heart racing with both anticipation and anxiety. It’s a hard truth, but an important one to admit: I am addicted to my devices. Can you relate?
They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, a colloquialism I conveniently kept forgetting to follow with a second step. But my dependence has reached unhealthy levels—I’m sleeping poorly and unable to focus on simple tasks, like reading, without “checking in.” It’s time for a hard reset. I’m digitally detoxing for seven whole days, and will document my progress in a journal—that is, assuming I don’t collapse from withdrawal.
Here are the rules:
- No personal social media, whatsoever. I can use social media for my job (I manage my yoga studio’s Instagram account) between the hours of 8am and 4pm.
- Professional email only between the hours of 8am and 4pm.
- No convenience apps (Venmo, Uber, etc.).
- Try hard.
- Be honest.
I’m a mess today. I attended a 108 festival in Santa Monica this weekend and flew back home on a red-eye. Disaster. I’m bleary-eyed, nauseous, and totally out of it. The only thing I want to do is binge on Netflix for hours, but I’m pretty sure that mindlessly staring at a screen would be a bad way to kick things off. I consider an online restorative class, but that requires a computer. They make everything so easy, and yet do they really fulfill our needs? I turn my phone off completely, pull down the window shades, drape my body over a bolster, and consider myself dead to the world.
When it’s time for bed, I find myself antsy to the point of clenching my jaw. It’s been almost 24 hours since I checked WhatsApp for messages, and I’m worried I’ll “miss” something. But what could be so important that it’d be sent via WhatsApp at 10 pm on a Wednesday night? I go to bed.
I’m still jet-lagged, but feeling more excited about the detox. As I go about my routine, I catch myself reaching for my phone dozens of times before noon. Literally dozens. This is not good. Each time, I ask myself: What were you planning on doing with it? The answer, I admit sheepishly, is always the same: Instagram.
I decide to dig a little deeper and explore why I feel the need to check IG, and I realize it isn’t out of boredom or curiosity. I notice that the common denominator in each of these close calls is that just before I grab my cell, I have begun to get a little anxiety about deadlines, my career, my hopeless singledom… Turns out, I’m straight-up trying to avoid feelings that oh-so-inconveniently keep creeping in. I decide to make a new rule: Every time I want to avoid a hard emotion by cruising the web, I have to sit, close my eyes, and feel the feels for two minutes. I do a lot of eyes-shut-sitting this week.
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I was working on an article, and I must have blacked out for a sec, because when I “woke up” I was seven images deep on my Instagram newsfeed. Let me reiterate this: I actually opened a new tab on my browser, navigated to Instagram, and started scrolling without realizing that I was doing so.
Apparently I also scroll for procrastination purposes. This was a theme that would recur again and again throughout the week: The second I felt stuck or bored or distracted by whatever I was working on, I would click open a new tab and start to type either “Insta…” or “Twitt…” or “Face…” Cruising around social media sites is my favorite form of postponing a dreaded task, a fact that Mark Zuckerberg would love but my editors would hate. I didn’t cure myself of the urge this week, but I did catch myself in the act earlier and earlier.
This is a tough one to share. I realized today that, in addition to texting and IRL chats, one of the main ways I stay in touch with my girlfriends is to swap snarky comments via DM about people we hate-follow on social media. Ugh—it sucks to admit it, and it sucks even more that I do it. Gossip is a huge part of our society’s culture; I’ll even go so far as to say it’s how we’ve been trained to communicate with each other. But that doesn’t make it right.
I realized I was missing the daily lol moments from my best gal pal’s razor-sharp takedowns, and that’s when I first acknowledged the deeper issue. We have so much in common: We both love to cook, teach yoga, and are passionate about wellness. We have zillions of things to talk about and do together. Connecting and fostering a sense of closeness through this social media snark just feels cheap. And lazy. This one is an easy fix: We made plans to meet for tea, and shared an hour of substantial, thoughtful conversation. I left our date feeling refreshed, not guilty and dirty.
Okay, I’ve definitely gotten over my withdrawal symptoms and have entered the euphoria stage. I made plans to go out with my parents to celebrate my mother’s birthday, and I had a tight turnaround from my shift at the yoga studio to the time of our dinner reservations. Normally, this type of situation would stress me out as I attempted to take care of my dog, get dressed, and get out the door, but today I felt a sense of lightness. I practically skipped out of my apartment with my cell set to airplane mode. What changed? I’m pretty sure it’s the fact that I had officially crossed “Check Instagram” off my to-do list.
Let me explain: Once again, I’m blushing so hard I’m turning red, but my addiction has roots so deep that I have convinced myself scrolling through random people’s feeds is a necessary step in getting ready to leave the house. It isn’t just a time suck: The real problem is that I’ve placed undue importance on the minutiae of someone else’s life over my own. My voice says that attention and presence are important, but my actions say that what celebrity yoga teachers ate for lunch is more so. I decide to banish my cell from the “getting ready” process from here on out, and lean into the itchy “but I just wanna know” feeling that comes with my abstinence.
Last week, while I was on vacation in another state, my folks had my aunt and uncle over for a meal. I knew this not because I was invited or because my mom told me. I knew because my aunt posted pictures on Facebook. This got me thinking how much of my friends’ and family’s life updates I glean from stalking — instead of talking. I’ve learned about my network’s pregnancies, deaths, and engagements through social media, and I’ve definitely shared big news (a book deal, a move, a new job) of my own through the platforms.
I used to tell myself that social updates were simply the most efficient means of reaching the most people all at once, but the more I think about it, the more I’m wondering: Why is it important to reach the most people all at once? If it’s a major life event we’re dealing with, shouldn’t I want to discuss it with personal, face-to-face interactions? And if it’s a boring detail not worth a real conversation, does it really need to be shared? I’ve considered social networks a huge part of my social life for the last ten years, and I’m not going to lie… I’m having an existential crisis over here.
It’s the last day of my digital detox, and I’ve reached a calmer, clearer place by actually engaging with the physical space I’m in. Instead of jumping up to cook dinner, do a final email sweep, and crush the last few items on my to-do list, I spent a few minutes after meditation this evening simply looking around my apartment. Did the light always look so beautiful this time of day? Had my ceilings always been that pretty? They’re REALLY pretty. Have I seriously lived here for four months without noticing them?
I’m suddenly aware of how often I pass time in restaurants, cafés, and parks without looking around. Why? Because my face is buried in my cell. Of course. I became hyper-aware of my own behavior patterns this week as I watched diners whip out their devices the second their dates got up to use the restroom, and I observed people moving forward in a line while scrolling until the second they reached their destination. I made a conscious effort to look up, look around, and spend time observing the buildings, furniture, decorations, and people surrounding me. It’s definitely a practice I’m going to carry with me when this experiment is over.
This was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It wasn’t an issue of willpower; what made this detox challenging was being honest with myself about how unhealthy my addiction has become. There’s no way I was going to undo a decade of learned behavior in the course of a week, but what I will take with me is a clear awareness of my patterns and triggers. So that was step one. Step two is examining this new self-awareness with kindness, patience, and forgiveness.
Will I toss my cell out of my third-floor window? Definitely not. But I absolutely am going to scale back, check in less, and employ mindfulness tactics in my social media and technology usage. I tell my yoga students to play at their edge of discomfort, but not to live in extremes. What better advice than that for living in a digital age?
Rochelle Bilow is a yoga teacher and wellness writer based in Upstate New York. She’s an advocate for body positivity and healthy attitudes toward food and spends the majority of her free time concocting feel-good recipes. She’s also a nature nut and proud corgi mom. Connect with her at her website and on Instagram.
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