Time for a digital detox? | Education Support

Time for a digital detox?

Are you one of many people thinking about deleting your Facebook account due to the massive data breach by Cambridge Analytica? Could this be the spur you’ve been waiting for to try a digital detox? We take a look at the benefits of going “off grid”.

How does your day start? Are you woken by your smartphone? Messages pinging at you from various social media accounts? How about the rest of your day - soon as a lesson finishes do you watch your students turning their phones back on and find you’re doing the same? Everyone leaving the classroom or lecture hall heads bent down scrolling scrolling scrolling?

If the thought of leaving your phone at home or not checking it whenever you get the chance fills you with horror - and fear - maybe it’s time to think about a digital detox?

“Teachers and education staff are under an increasing amount of pressure - especially now with the exam season nearly upon us. So though it may not be possible to reduce the heavy workload one way of wresting back some control over your life may be a digital detox, perhaps during the holiday,” suggests Education Support Partnership’s Chief Executive Julian Stanley.

Why social media is addictive

When we think of addiction we usually imagine someone with a drink or perhaps a gambling problem. But people can get addicted to their smartphones too. Research collated by website Time to Log Off reports 80% of smartphone users say checking their phone is the first thing they do in the morning and 66% of UK smartphone owners report suffering from ‘nomophobia’, - the fear of losing or being without their phone. With 62% of UK adults also reporting they hate how much time they spend on their phones, this is typical of addictive behaviour. Something people want to stop yet feel compulsively drawn to.

Why do we find it so hard to switch off from social media? Dean Burnett, doctor of neuroscience at Cardiff University and author of The Idiot Brain says social networks stimulate our brains in fundamental ways. In an article in The Guardian he says, “Evidence points towards a neural network that governs social interactions. It’s heavily linked to the part of the brain that causes us to experience pleasure.” So Facebook and other social media platforms act on the brain in much the same way as eating sugary foods.

Social media at work

Molly, an FE English lecturer at a college in the north of England, says she finds it very hard to switch off. “I know I spend far too much time online. It's a form of escapism but also a way of connecting with the world outside work where everything is very intense - all everyone talks about at work is work! So if I want intelligent discussion on, say, the news I go online. And our college has a policy on social media. We’re actively encouraged to contribute to the official college Facebook and Twitter accounts. So I’m online a lot.

“I would definitely benefit from a digital detox and the Easter holidays seems a good time to give it a go. It would also give my eyes a rest. So I’m going to try to put my phone away for this break as much as I can and concentrate on family life and time with friends instead.”

Can’t switch off

Tanya Goodin ran her own tech company for 20 years. Now she specialises in helping people to turn off their screens. Tanya regularly goes into schools to warn about the dangers of digital overload.

“One of the things that concerns me is the inability to switch off. We’re expected to be ‘on’ all the time. Because of smartphone and emails it’s very difficult to leave a job behind but especially so for teachers and everyone working in education. That’s because it’s a calling as much as a job. But teachers really need to recharge and being bombarded all the time can cause real stress because it’s so hard to disconnect.

“Just putting away email-connected devices and messages so you can properly recharge at the end of the day is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Of course teachers have always taken work home but now with smartphones they’re taking even more work home and have much less chance to switch off unless they take strenuous steps,” she says.

Apparently 80% of people take their phones to the loo. And pick up emails there. “I have actually dropped my phone down the loo! That was one of the moments I realised I probably needed to take a break from it. And when someone asked me what book I was reading I realised I hadn’t read a book for two years as my attention span was shot to pieces!” adds Tanya.

Sleep hygiene

Research from Harvard Business School shows even if our phone isn’t switched on if it’s in the same room we’re still drawn to it – as if it’s “calling out” out to us. So it’s best not to have your phone in the bedroom as this can impair your sleep. Don’t use your phone as an alarm. Buy an alarm clock instead.

Teachers and education staff often report poor sleep patterns and insomnia. Sleep hygiene doesn’t mean having clean sheets but refers to good practice and forming regular sleeping habits which is the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. This means going to bed at the same time very night and getting up at the same time the next day. Combine sleep hygiene with digital hygiene by making sure you don’t look at a computer or smartphone screen for at least an hour before going to bed. This prepares you for sleep and helps you to wind down for the night.

Digital diet

Realistically most of us can’t give up our digital devices as we need technology. It’s not like alcohol, smoking or drugs where you can just stop. It’s more like food - you need some. So think of it as a digital diet instead. “Think about how often you pick up your phone every day. Work from that point and how much you’d like to cut down. Get an awareness of how much you’re using it,” says Tanya. One way to do this is to download one of the many free tracking apps that demonstrate how much you’re online. Since most of us underestimate how much screen time we have you may find it quite shocking.

Tips for digital hygiene

A digital detox is about balance. Making your devices your servant not your master. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Phone-free food. Turn your phone off during meal time
  • Turn off your notifications so you aren’t pinged at every time someone likes one of your posts or tweets
  • Turn off email on your phone so you check it when you want to
  • Go for walks without your phone
  • Put your phone into airplay mode so there’s no internet connection but you can still read books on it, watch a film and use it as a camera
  • Switch your phone off when you’re with friends
  • Don’t have your phone in the bedroom at night

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.