Technology can be super helpful when you want to compare prices on Nintendo Switches or catch up with friends in Brazil, but it can also distract you from real-life relationships. "Technology was not built for emotional wellbeing," Larissa May, founder of the mental health non-profit Half The Story, tells Bustle. Half The Story is a partner of Global Day Of Unplugging on August 1, a movement to start August by stepping away from phones and tablets, switching off Netflix, and reflecting on how technology shapes your life.
"Our goal with GDU is to create a collective movement of consciousness and reflection," May says. The Global Day of Unplugging is a partnership between Half The Story and National Day Of Unplugging, which advocates for 24 hours of tech-free time on the first Monday of March around the U.S. The GDU wants to take that mission worldwide.
May hopes that people end their analog day with four things: an understanding of how screen-free time makes them feel, a space to reflect on how technology has affected their lives, ideas about how they want to build healthier habits around technology, and a daily commitment to what she calls "tech hygiene," meaning a healthier, more mindful relationship with tech.
Science suggests that briefly stepping away from technology can help sleep, mood, and relationships with others. The light from electrical devices is known to disturb sleep patterns, so getting them out of your bedroom can help your Zzzs. Research also shows that digital detoxes can reduce symptoms of depression and lift mood.
"In order to develop a healthier relationship with your phone, you need to make it a daily ritual."
Unplugging, even for a day, can be hard, so planning ahead for August 1 might help. "You might want to set clear boundaries with family, friends and co-workers about your need to disconnect from technology," therapist Heidi McBain LMFT tells Bustle. "Be clear with yourself about why you’re taking a break from tech. This can also help if you get pushback from the people your care about in your life regarding your break from technology." Postpone that Zoom chat with your camp friend and make other plans to fill your day.
May suggests you plan ahead for the Global Day Of Unplugging by setting up automatic away messages for your devices, including smartphones, so that any messages or emails get a friendly "not here right now" response. But your prep might need to extend beyond the practical. McBain notes that even one day of unplugging may feel lonely, especially given limited options for socializing during the pandemic, and you should prepare to be in your feels if you aren't using technology for 24 hours. Researchers at Boston University have discovered that logging off for a short time can create digital anxiety, a kind of FOMO, and worry about being disconnected from others. A study published in Addictive Behaviors in 2019 also found that heavy smartphone users started to feel cravings after only 24 hours of no-phone time. Have some ideas about what you might do if you start feeling anxious and crabby; August 1 could be the day when you start writing that novel you've been putting off for, well, years.
Staying offline successfully for one day can feel like a big deal, but May thinks people who enjoy the Global Day of Unplugging can go further. "In order to develop a healthier relationship with your phone, you need to make it a daily ritual," she says. "A simple step you can take is to charge your phone outside your bedroom so you can count on screen-free evenings and mornings." McBain suggests keeping a firm schedule for technology-free time every day; have a time when you switch off, and stick to it as much as possible. Your electrical bills, data usage, and sleep patterns will thank you.
Hunt, M., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018) No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (37), 10, 751-768
Lin, L. Y., Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Radovic, A., Miller, E., Colditz, J. B., Hoffman, B. L., Giles, L. M., & Primack, B. A. (2016). ASSOCIATION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA USE AND DEPRESSION AMONG U.S. YOUNG ADULTS. Depression and anxiety, 33(4), 323–331. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22466
Wilcockson, T., Osborne, A., & Ellis, D. (2019). Digital Detox: The effect of smartphone abstinence on mood, anxiety, and craving. Addictive Behaviors, 99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.06.002