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RSW Living Magazine

Digital Detox: Retreats, Lifestyle Tips Let Devices Enhance Your Life—Not Control It

Jun 25, 2018 08:00AM

Keys, wallet, cellphone … We always keep these items on hand. Many of us even tote extra batteries to ensure our handheld devices remain charged, since we heavily rely on these one-stop shops for world news, friends’ announcements and personal messages. 

And of course cellphones also function as alarm clocks, event diaries, digital cameras and navigation systems. It’s easy to forget that telephones previously provided only the ability to audio call, and it’s no wonder we’ve become dependent on these portable personal computers. 

Although digital devices allow us to stay connected, our usage spirals out of control as we jump to answer every ring, ping and buzz that demands our attention. This technology addiction stems from an understandable desire to be educated, such as staying abreast of world news or researching products as an intelligent consumer. 

The invention of the Internet opened access to a plethora of ideas—and cut cat videos—for the masses, but the inundation of messages and alerts that travel via cellular networks is exhausting. We find that we, much like our cellphones, do not switch off.

Downside of Digital Addiction 

Unfortunately, an excess of time spent on digital devices may be too much of a good thing. Research increasingly shows links between technology use and negative effects on health. “Overuse” of mobile phones, tablets and computers can contribute to a plethora of social, mental and physiological problems. 

Relationship Issues

Technology makes communication over any distance incredibly convenient, yet using digital devices too often can cause relationship problems. Devices can be a huge distraction from face-to-face relationships, according to Liat Hughes Joshi, author of the book How to Unplug Your Child: 101 Ways to Help Your Kids Turn Off Their Gadgets and Enjoy Real Life. Joshi writes that digital addiction aversely impacts users and their loved ones. 

Integrative psychotherapist Hilda Burke, of London, confirms that belief: “Many of my clients report a frustration with their partner’s device use.” People feel neglected when ignored in the company of cellphone addicts. While these behaviors may be associated with self-absorbed younger generations, U.K.-based “well-being company” Shine Offline states that digital addiction issues resonate with both genders across all age groups.   

Mental Maladies

Addiction not only takes a toll on relationships, it also correlates with anxiety and depression, according to researchers. Teens may feel pressured to literally “keep up with the Kardashians” when they scroll through Instagram. They compare their curated content streams with peers and complete strangers, striving to produce standout posts.

Adults “burn out” because “work and life boundaries have become blurred like never before,” explains Shine Offline co-founder Anna Kotwinski. Employees may “still be on the job” after leaving the office. Digital addicts lose out on “time to reflect” when glued to gadgets, which Joshi lists as a contributing factor to poor mental health. 
Physical Problems

Constant attachment to digital devices manifests in a host of physical problems, too. Research in 2017 by AXA PPP Healthcare reported high stress levels of London-based workers were a direct result of constant connectivity—and put them in danger of developing cardiovascular disease. Slouching and hanging one’s head to stare at screens contribute to poor posture, aptly named “tech neck.” 

Other musculoskeletal problems and repetitive strain injuries threaten device users. Staring at screens can worsen eyesight and reduce quality sleep by overstimulating the brain and interfering with melatonin production. Moreover, spending so much time on devices keeps users sedentary, leading to additional troubles. 

Digital Detox Retreats and Holidays 

“Digital detox retreats” help attendees connect with their surroundings, allowing them to reintegrate into their regular lives. These specialized retreats are the “cold turkey approach” to quitting digital addiction. This extreme solution is meant to inspire guests to appreciate life—without the Internet. 

While cellphones, tablets and laptops are prohibited at the retreats—which exist worldwide—there is usually access to incredible scenery, delicious cuisine, interesting activities and relaxing spa facilities. Yet, despite the peace and protection from a barrage of emails, some guests actually become distraught when they are unable to snap photos for a quick social media boast about their experience! 

Among such retreats, Villa Stéphanie in Baden-Baden, Germany, may take the concept the most seriously of all. Guests may participate in a seven-day plan, removed from everyday obligations, which “frees” them to ditch their phones and other electronics. But the truly unique feature of Villa Stéphanie is found in the guests’ rooms—a designated “digital detox” button on the bedside table. 

When guests select this option, they disconnect their room’s Wi-Fi. Hotel representatives explain that a “grid of copper” blocks radio and magnetic waves. In addition, special wall paint keeps out 96 percent of external Wi-Fi signals.

Even guests who are not specifically on holiday for a digital detox can disconnect, so they will not “absentmindedly waste their vacation days online.” Villa Stéphanie officials report the benefits of successfully completing a digital detox include improved sleep quality, elevated thinking, mindfulness and higher productivity. 

A strict digital detox retreat may prove too severe for some. While some retreats are intentionally structured with busy itineraries to complement the digital detox’s restoration goals—such as group fitness classes and spa treatments—many tech users would be happy to simply enjoy their holidays device-free. 

Wyndham Hotels has an incentive to help guests “stay invested” in their family getaway. The hotel chain’s original program will give families a discount for locking away phones during their vacation. 

Travel + Leisure magazine’s Feb. 18, 2018, issue reports “more than half of children believe their parents check their phones ‘too often’ and nearly one-third feel ‘unimportant’ when their parents are using their devices.” Wyndham’s unique initiative is set up to allow families to enjoy their time together—without interruptions from phone calls and work-related memos. 

If circumstances require phones to remain on during vacations, Joshi shares some suggestions to appease all family members: First, schedule phone-free and computer-free time—and ensure that everyone respects it. Families can also share digital devices to enhance the holiday by using the technology together.

For example, Joshi recommends learning local language phrases during international holidays, or identifying constellations on a dark beach with a stargazing app. If people thoughtfully incorporate technology into vacation time, it’s possible to use devices in a healthy way by embracing their capabilities—without letting them take over. 

Long-Lasting Digital Lifestyle Changes

Shine Offline co-founder Laura Willis realized the portable inbox on her smartphone, combined with a pile of expectant clients, played a massive role in her breakdown. She noticed that she was much happier looking up at the world around her, while everyone else was looking down at their respective screens. 

Willis created Shine Offline to empower others to control their device usage. Interestingly, however, the employees at Shine Offline do not believe that digital detox is the “answer” to digital addiction. And integrative psychotherapist Burke also warns that total detox can trigger ‘gorging’ afterward—to balance the feeling of prior deprivation. 

As a result, Shine Offline hosts workshops to address digital addiction and its underlying behaviors in situ. Its employees teach specific techniques that bring users into a healthy balance with their mobile phones and laptops.  

Everyone can take small steps in their daily lives to reduce their time online, and there are a host of tips to cut back on digital device time. Burke and Shine Offline’s Kotwinski offer the following five simple steps: 
  1. Be honest. Assess how much time you spend online, and determine where that time could be better spent. Perhaps you could spend more time with your family or cultivate a new hobby with your newfound free time.  
  2. Monitor progress. Recognize your achievements and how they make you feel. When you consciously note positive changes in your life, you are more likely to continue good habits. 
  3. Turn off notifications. You will check your phone less often when you eliminate these distractions. You will feel more focused, which will reduce anxiety and increase productivity. 
  4. Hide your devices. Put digital devices out of sight to avoid temptation when you have an important deadline. Set them aside during certain times of the day, such as dinnertime, too.
  5. Use other tools. Set an alarm clock or jot notes on paper to avoid using your phone, which may tempt you to check emails and social media.

It’s OK to Go Low-Tech 

Whether you are a full-on or borderline digital addict, time away from technology can offer a refreshing break. Retire on a retreat, head on holiday or simply take time to smell the roses. Just allow technology to augment your life—not overwhelm it.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Shine Offline

24 The Green, Twickenham, Middlesex, England
+44 7954 107 263, shineoffline.com

Villa Stéphanie of the Oetker Collection

Schillerstrasse 7, Baden-Baden, Germany
+49 7221 900 602, oetkercollection.com/destinations/villa-stephanie

Written by Alison Roberts-Tse, who has been haphazardly scribbling in journals since she was a small-town small-fry. She has degrees in communications and dance from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She now lives in London, spends time on Sanibel and obsessively plans getaways, both near and far.
Life+Leisure 2018 july-august technology

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