Amid the current crisis, we’re glued to our screens like never before – but at what cost? MOJEH explores why taking a digital detox could be the best way to start the year.
With social distancing protocols in place and hours of isolation taking a toll on our metal health amid the Covid-19 pandemic, screens have been a saving grace for many. In fact, during the crisis, Facebook reported a 70 per cent increase in Messenger group video calls, WhatsApp saw a 40 per cent increase in usage and views on Instagram Live doubled in one week. For some, these apps feel like less of a time-waster during this period, especially when used for both work and to keep up-to-date with friends and family members we can’t physically see. However, this increased screen-time, as well as the constant onslaught of news, is also having a negative effect on our mental health. “Throughout the last few years, psychological studies have shown a high correlation between social media usage and depression and anxiety,” Alfred Gull, Clinical Psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center Dubai tells MOJEH. “Neurological studies have even shown a changing of our brain’s operation for the worse with increasing dependence on our electronic devices.”
One of the most commonly cited problems with our scrolling addictions if that they don’t give us the full picture – instead, we view what is often a staged and filtered snapshot of reality, leading to people experiencing feelings of inferiority. There were indeed times during lockdown when we were unable to achieve much more than simply washing our hair, while we watched others setting up home gyms, baking banana bread daily, all while launching a successful side hustle… it was enough to induce deep feelings of failure. “Beyond the changes that technology has caused in our day-to-day life and personal relationships, there are also consequences that can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing,” says Dr. Bruno Ribeiro, head of the Cognitive Development and Brain Stimulation Unit at SHA Wellness Clinic. “If the brain spends too much time in the high frequency mode caused by staring at our smartphones all day, it can cause our nervous system to lose balance between action-reparation, causing a negative effect in our sleep, memory and general health.” As such, taking a digital detox every now and again can be like chicken soup for the soul.
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“A digital detox consists of freeing oneself of all technological devices and fully disconnecting, whether by reading a book, going for a walk, working out, cooking, or spending time with family and friends,” adds Dr. Ribeiro. “The pandemic and its confinements have further strengthened our dependence on screens and technological devices, increasing the cases of FOMO (fear of missing out). This fear is what makes us keep an eye on the device and, like any phobia, it manifests itself as anxiety, apprehension at the lack of almost permanent contact with the mobile phone.” A digital detox, however, is easier said than done, and that’s when a retreat comes in handy.
Starting small, the Mandarin Oriental Dubai’s Digital Wellness Escape is designed to provide a safe haven, with locked-away phones and no electronic interruptions. Instead of whisking yourself away to a phone-free retreat for a few days, the digital detox session condenses it all into a 90-minute treatment, massaging strained muscles – it focuses on the head, eyes, neck, shoulders, hands and feet – and redirecting focus from scattered attention spans, free of electronic distractions.
Alternatively, for something a little farther from home, the Villa Stéphanie – a 15-room residential spa annex of the luxury Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany – is a wellness retreat most famous for its copper-insulated Digital Detox rooms where guests, with the touch of a button, can block all electric and Wi- Fi signals from infiltrating the room. Victoria Beckham is a fan, and here some of Germany’s most revered doctors work alongside holistic practitioners, making it the perfect spot for rest and relaxation.
If booking a week off work to visit a far-flung location where your phone is confiscated isn’t on the horizon, there are small, manageable steps you can take at home to help curb your addiction. “Deleting social media apps off our phones, starting with a day or two once per month, can help us clear our minds and reset,” explains Gull. “Unsubscribe from online groups that have few benefits or distract you from your goals, and delete unused apps.” He also recommends using a standard alarm clock instead of your phone to wake yourself up in the mornings, as this will help avoid the temptation of looking at emails and texts just as you are about to go to sleep or wake up. “The next step is to keep your iPhone or tablet out of your bedroom,” he advises. “Always work with small steps. Start with mini goals and make your goals easy to achieve, especially in the beginning. This allows you to improve over time and you will feel like you are succeeding.”
- Words by Naomi Chadderton