Last week I committed to a 72 hour #DigitalDetox. This meant no phone, no computer, no internet and no TV. To explain how extreme this was for me, I have not been off my phone for 24 consecutive hours since the iPhone was first launched in 2007. I own a company with a team of 30 professionals managing social media channels for large companies, which means we are logged on 24 hours a day.
It may seem strange that someone whose bills are paid by social media would be writing about digital detox, but to me it makes perfect sense. I am a huge believer in the use of digital services and what they can do for business and social relationships. I also recognize that social media is a powerful tool with the potential for harm as well. The tool is never the problem. Humans wielding the tool determine whether it will be used to improve lives or ruin them. I choose improvement, but I got caught up in overuse and it negatively affected my life.
Identifying A Need
For the past couple of months, I had been feeling extremely depressed. Visits to a therapist and my doctor offered little relief. I tried many remedies (more exercise, eating healthier, vitamin and herbal supplements, getting more sleep) but I wasn’t feeling better. I also felt ashamed for feeling depressed. There was nothing in my life that warranted my low mood. I’m a CEO with a wonderful life, a fulfilling marriage, a fabulous daughter, a healthy family, great friends, food, shelter - you get the picture. I felt as if I didn’t have any reasons to be depressed, but I was still not myself.
I started to wonder if my addiction to a constant stream of digital information and interactions could be contributing to my depression. I noticed that when I looked at Facebook, the political comments and name calling got me particularly stressed. Don’t worry, this is not a political article. It wasn’t the content of the conversations, it was the tone between friends and strangers. The divide I could see between people. I needed to see less of this. I needed to see less of everything. It had just gotten to be too much, and I yearned for quiet, nature, comfort and self reflection.
Finding A Plan
Here is how I did my #DigitalDetox. I checked into one of the top 10 spas in the world - Lake Austin Spa Resort. I put my phone to sleep in a charming little sleeping bag that they have for guests who want to truly disconnect. I knew I couldn’t trust myself to not use my phone, so I gave it to my husband and stayed at the spa alone.
After pocketing my phone, my husband promised to pick me up three days later, kissed me and pulled away from the spa. I expected the world to implode without me, especially my company. It was terrifying to be disconnected during the workweek for the first time in 9 years. I expected that I would crave my phone uncontrollably, yearning to be reunited with emails, tweets, posts and chats. I also wasn’t sure how I would stay busy enough to not go crazy without working. But did I miss work or my phone? I realized the lines become blurred since social media is my job. I explained all of this to my hosts at Lake Austin Spa Resort, and asked they build me a busy schedule to keep my mind occupied. Although their service was wonderful, I was skeptical that I could overcome my digital cravings.
72 Hours of #DigitalDetox
So what happened during the next 3 days? I was without my phone, my husband, my daughter, my employees. For the first couple of hours it was odd. I kept reaching for the familiar lump in my pocket that had been a constant companion for years.
My daily schedule began with a class called Strum. It was easy, gentle yoga with a peaceful teacher in a dim room. A mysterious fellow in a dark corner strummed his guitar and my soul. It was beautiful, and unexpected tears dropped down my face as the sparse light kept my release a secret from the others trying to perfect downward dog. Of course after I finished the class, I wanted to post a picture of the cool yogi and the mysterious guitarist and share it with all of you. But my phone had left the property.
Next up was meditation. This I knew I would hate because I have tried it many times before. My mind never quiets down. The end result is less a sense of calm and more a certainty that I am a meditation moron. But this teacher was different: she gave me permission for my mind to wander and just told me to notice it. That I could do, and by the end of the hour I felt my thoughts slow further.
I went back to my room to unpack. It was a gorgeous little bungalow with high count sheets, delicious lavender smells and a patio with a view of the lake. I thought about posting a picture of this gorgeous place. I wanted to tell my husband about the meditation and the yoga but…. still no phone. There was the land line supplied by the hotel, but I had agreed not to use that either.
Once the realization hit me that there was no way to document my every move or share my experiences immediately, I was forced to be alone with my thoughts and live in the moment. The sensation was foreign and uncomfortable. I journaled and the thoughts poured out of me onto the page as fast as I could write. Using an actual pen and paper instead of a keyboard had become an odd sensation.
At dinner that evening, I was nervous. I was alone in the restaurant with nothing to distract me. I love food, and I was scared that I was in for 3 days of kale and gluten free wafers. I didn’t know what to expect from a top ten spa. I sat down in a gorgeous restaurant with a view of the lake and was given my menu choices for a 4 course meal (including dessert!). The food was healthy, but to my amazement I loved it. It was different and satisfying and it comforted me. It was also a beautiful experience, and I felt disappointed that I didn’t have my phone to take pictures of it to share. And then I realized that you really probably don’t care what I had for dinner that night. I also realized that I’m ok with that.
Dining alone at a restaurant with no phone seemed incredibly challenging. Should I look around? Should I meet the stares of other people sitting alone? Should I ask them to sit with me out of desperation? What do I do with my hands between courses? Should I go get a magazine? God, where the hell is my phone? What did people do before phones? Jeez!
I decided to stop asking myself all these damn questions. I put my feet on the floor and took some deep measured breaths (brand new learnings from meditation). I looked at my food. I chewed more slowly. I engaged all my taste buds to enjoy each morsel, and I took in all the delectable smells around me. I paused to look out the window at the lake. I watched two boys about my daughter’s age in their kayaks show off for each other. They paddled along and fished without any success, but they didn’t care. The lake was shimmering, the sun lightly kissed their sunburnt, cherub cheeks and nothing but that moment mattered to them. I was thankful watching the sun disappear behind the green hills framing those boys fishing on the lake. I didn’t need to take a picture of this. It was a treat just for my eyes. I felt peaceful and I felt my depression loosen its grip just a bit.
After dinner I went to the Lake Austin Spa. I’ve been to many spas, and this is the largest and most gorgeous spa I have ever seen. I started to realize that I’ve become a spa junkie because when I am getting a treatment, I have to put my phone down. It also occurred to me that for the past year during a manicure or pedicure, I was still using my phone and definitely not getting the same relaxation out of it that I should be. That night at the spa, I had a treatment called Lavender Dreams. It was a massage, scrub, wrap, hair treatment. A crazy luxurious experience, and I couldn’t use my phone! I lost myself. I focused on breathing, and I relaxed. That night I had a tough time falling asleep without my phone; but I finally slept peacefully, remembering that I am a human who exists and has value simply because I am.
There were signs scattered around the resort prohibiting cell phones. It was interesting to watch people come to a gorgeous place seeking peace and tranquility, but struggling to keep their cell phone in their spa robe pockets. I spoke with other guests about their own digital addictions and I heard repeating themes. They were upset by political discussions with hate language online. They felt trapped by their phones. They had FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They wanted to be off their phone but they found themselves time and time again gazing at that tiny screen without realizing their intentions.
A Dawning Relaxation
What followed during the rest of the 72 hours included classes on happiness, tarot, stress, hula hooping (loved it), working out with drum sticks (so fun!), tai chi (not for me), nutrition, healthy cooking, stretching, and astronomy. It was also filled with walks, journaling, boat rides, massages, facials, outside shower, hot tub and staring off into space. The staff was made up of understanding, accepting, non judgemental and kind strangers, which is exactly what I needed. I got comfortable eating alone and sometimes ate with new friends who glanced at their phones, while I was thankful to be free of mine. I laid on a hammock and looked at the sky, I sat on the pier and looked at the shimmering water.
I remembered how to do nothing.
I had realizations and questions like:
Cold gravel on bare feet on a sunny day is highly underrated.
What the hell time is it? I have no phone or watch!
I want to cook more and eat better quality food.
OMG, do I actually like boats and nature? I think I might.
I want more time outside with my daughter in the sun.
Journaling and walking daily is necessary for my mental health.
I do not want to work as hard as I have been. I want to work less.
My heart slowed, my mind slowed, and I thought about my life. I had horrible realizations about how I had been living it. I realized that I was working too much, and my phone had become my crutch to excuse my disconnection from family and friends. I realized that I wasn’t paying full attention to my husband and daughter because the phone had become more important. I realized my phone had even siphoned off the very last bit of devotion I used to give myself. I was disgusted with my behavior and sad that it had taken me so much time to realize it.
A Future Plan
I understand that I am extremely fortunate and that not everyone can escape three days on their own to one of the best spas on earth. That is ok. I’ve been there too and we can all find time and ways to take better care of ourselves.
Now that I am home and back in the real world, here are the rules I would like to set for myself so I can overcome the bad habits I’ve built around my phone.
No phone in the bedroom, charge it in the living room.
No phone on or on the table during meeting times and meal imes.
Take two hours daily when my phone is turned off.
Take one day weekly when my phone is turned off.
I want to use the power of digital to grow my company, to help other companies grow and to help social causes. I also want to help people set limits that keep this powerful tool in check.
I hope that my story helps and that you examine your own possible need for a #DigitalDetox. I’d love to hear about what struggles you have with this and what guidelines you use for you and your family.
When my husband came to pick me up, he asked if I wanted my phone. The truth was, I didn’t. I just needed him, because I had already rediscovered myself.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.