Monday, March 13, 2017

5 Amazing Things That Happened When I Took a Digital Detox

We went to Iceland a few weeks ago, and I decided to delete all the social media apps from my phone. We were only going for three days, and I didn't want to be preoccupied with editing photos, posting them, and responding to comments. More importantly, I wanted to enjoy spending time with John. Like, really spending time with him - not pretending to listen to him while I adjusted the filter on a photo. So, before we left for the airport, I took a deep breath and hit that "x" button next to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

The effects were immediately apparent: the instinct to check my phone every five minutes or surprised me. I hadn't quite grasped the extent of my social media addiction and noticed that I'd reach for my phone whenever I was bored or wanted to procrastinate. In short, it was a distraction. And nothing more than that.

I remember getting the train to Luton from City Thameslink and laughing when I came across the strange cluster of four seats somewhat randomly arranged in the middle of the station. I pulled out my phone to take a snap and share on Instagram stories/Twitter before remembering that those apps no longer existed. Confused about what to do next if I wasn't sharing every single detail of my everyday life, I finally pulled out this thing called a book and started reading while I waited for John to get to the station. Novel, right? (Pun intended.)

That was just the beginning. Here are five amazing things that happened during the rest of my digital detox:

I felt more relaxed.

For the first time in a long while, I didn't feel any of those familiar physical symptoms of anxiety building up as we embarked on our trip: my chest didn't tighten, I could breathe properly, and that gnawing feeling in my stomach had miraculously disappeared. On our first night at the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon, we waded out into a secluded, pitch black patch of the private lagoon, the voices of other guests in the distance, and I rested my head on my arms near the edge, listening to the water trickle into the stream below. It felt utterly amazing. And because of this ...

... I had the best sleep ever.

Without a bright screen to keep me awake and the constant, anxiety-provoking buzz of posts, captions, and comments to create a whirlwind of emotions in my mind, I was able to sleep ten times better than I had in months. By the time we reached our beautiful Airbnb in Borgarnes, I felt lighter. Happier. The fresh air helped, too, and after a long hike, followed by a home-cooked dinner, I found myself nodding off around 9 or so and waking with the sun when it began to rise at 8. My body clock was restored.

I felt more connected to my surroundings.

Because I work full time, I'm constantly looking for Instagrammable subjects at every free moment away from the office - or, at least, thinking about it. 'Obsessing' would probably be the better word for it. Whether it means waking up an hour early to compose a flatlay in the best-lit room in the house or stopping by a newly opened restaurant during my lunch hour just to snap a photo of the newest food trend, it all requires so much effort. Enjoying our trip to Iceland sans social media was entirely the opposite - it felt completely effortless. I didn't think about how to communicate my experiences in real time because I literally couldn't - I'd deleted all my apps. As a result, I've never felt more "present" and at one with my surroundings than I did during those moments. Conquering the sheer slopes of Mount Hafnarfjall felt metaphorical, powerful, and intense. I'd been missing out on that intensity for so long, I'd forgotten that it was possible to feel that way.

I felt more connected to my partner.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson of my experiment was recognizing just how much time, attention, and love I'd taken away from John on our holidays every time I picked up my phone. Without the distraction of "performing" for this invisible, anonymous audience, I laughed more; played more. We talked more, sure, but the most precious times we had together were those moments when we weren't talking but watching the sun set from the deck of our Airbnb or jumping over not-so-tiny streams on our shoreline walk to a lighthouse.

When we came back to London ...

... I decided to delete Facebook forever.

When we got back, I reinstalled all the apps but quickly realized how unhappy Facebook made me. All the posts, the troll-like comments, even the news stories - made me either angry or depressed. So, I deleted it again - this time, for good. I hardly ever update my personal page anyway (except for the occasional outrageous news story from the US, which happens - let's face it - every other day), but mainly use Facebook to share posts from this blog.

I enjoyed my digital detox so much, I'm tempted to do it every time I travel. Don't get me wrong - I still snapped photos wherever we went (and shared them when we got back), but then again, I've always done that. It's always just been the pressure of editing photos and posting at the optimal time and adding the hashtags and replying to comments and tagging the right people, places and things and (admittedly) checking the number of likes - that has nearly ruined my vacations. Because when that happens, it's no longer a vacation - it's work.

So, that's why I decided to keep my trip to Iceland out of that tangle. I wanted to reclaim that time for myself. For that time to be personal and precious; to be mine. To be ours.

And it was. Now, I have glorious memories of floating in the piping hot, private lagoon; looking up at the inky night sky and feeling the rain on my face; tempting curious Icelandic ponies to come closer so we could pet them.

Have you ever taken a break from social media, or even your emails? Would you do it again?

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