Lisa Dunbar's Digital Detox: What happened when my husband and I ditched our smartphones

We wanted to break the cycle of internet and phone addiction

Lisa Dunbar

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Lisa Dunbar

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Lisa Dunbar

Lisa Dunbar conducted a digital detox in her home

PART ONE: PLANNING OUR DIGITAL DETOX

Two months ago, my husband and I ditched our smartphones in favour of “dumb phones” - mobile phones that are just for calling and texting, no internet.

I’ll fill you in on what’s actually happened since we made the switch in Part Two of this article, but to begin I wanted to explain the main reasons for why we did it… 

To reclaim our lives!
At what point did mobile phones stop being something that enhanced our lives and gave us more free time, to something that actually just sucks life and time from us?

There’s a report from Deloitte suggesting we look at our phones on average 57 times a day.

There are apps that can track your mobile phone usage and we often talked about downloading one. Funnily enough, we never got around to it.

The truth is, we were afraid to and, well, we didn’t need an app to tell us what we already knew - we were wasting what probably added up to HOURS each day scrolling mindlessly through the internet on our phones.

For our physical health

A couple of years ago I experienced really bad neck pain and headaches on one side of my head. Being prone to anxiety and hypochondria, I had convinced myself it must be a brain tumour !

A few months later I realised myself that the pain was caused by the way I was holding and looking at my smartphone!


For our mental health
Most concerning to me was the effect our smartphone use could be having on our mental health. A couple of years ago, when my anxiety was at its peak, we decided to do a digital detox for a week – no internet at all.

That week was like going on a retreat. I was the calmest I had felt in a long time. Since then, I have always known there is a link between the time I spend online and my anxiety levels.


People say social media contributes to anxiety and depression because you are looking at everyone’s “best life” and making comparisons. However, I believe it has a lot to do with the bright light, the constant interruption and stimulation, the addiction...


We were addicted
You know the digital detox I mentioned? And how it was the calmest I’ve ever felt? Well, I actually felt much worse before I felt better - the first 12 hours of that digital detox were actually the most anxious I’ve ever felt.

The compulsion to reach for my phone every few minutes was completely overwhelming. This made me realise I was addicted to my smartphone.


Since that detox, we’ve tried lots of things such as setting time constraints on going online. But the temptation is always there and we would always fall off the wagon.


I knew I was addicted and I HATED it. I hated the control my phone had over me. I hated that I could not stop myself from reaching for it again and again and I felt angry every time that I did. But yet I couldn’t stop.


Despite what we told ourselves, we didn’t need them!


Over the last few years, we’ve come up with dozens of excuses as to why we couldn’t get rid of our smartphones. We told ourselves we “needed” them. The truth is we didn’t need them, we chose to have them. 


We felt we needed to be “informed”. But the fact is, the internet is a 24/7, never-ending, bottomless pit of information and rather than being informed, we were being constantly OVERWHELMED and INUNDATED.


Of course, the internet is a big part of modern day life and an important part of how I run my business. To be clear, I haven’t quit the internet. The internet has its place. But that place is no longer in my hand or my pocket.

PART TWO - HOW WE SURVIVED WITHOUT OUR SMARTPHONES 

In Part One of this article, I outlined the reasons why my husband and I decided to switch our smartphones for “ dumb phones ” with no internet. And in Part Two, below, I’ll explain how the switch has actually gone.


First, though, I must mention our “rule”. Our phone switch was not about quitting the internet altogether. The internet has its place, but I desperately needed that place to not be “in my hand”!

So we decided we could still use the internet whenever we wanted, but only in our spare bedroom/office where our computer and laptop (and old smartphones!) are kept.


So, back to what happened when we decided to make the switch…

1 – I Resisted!
As the health coach, I really thought I’d have to drag my husband kicking and screaming into our new smartphone-free life. But actually, because of the way our phone contracts were ending, he was the first one to get rid of his smartphone and quite frankly my reaction was one of “oh crap, we’re actually doing this then?!”


I was addicted to my smart phone and, despite being adamant about giving it up, for all the very good reasons that I listed last week, it was NOT going to be easy. But I couldn’t leave my husband hanging like that, so I made the switch too!

2 – People’s Reactions Were Mixed
Firstly, the staff in the phone store reacted with confusion, not understanding why I didn’t want the internet on my phone and why I didn’t want the “amazing FREE smartphone” that I could get with my plan. Free?! Smart phones come at a cost…to your health!


Now that we have the new dumb phones, people are quite shocked when we whip them out! Many stare at them (and us!) with a look of pity on their face.

Others joke and say something like “I think it’s time for a new phone!”. But once people get past the initial shock and amusement and we explain why we got rid of our smartphones, the reaction of most is “You’re dead right! I’d love to do that!”

3 – The Addiction Was Hard to Break
As expected, getting rid of our smartphones and abiding by our “only in the spare room” rule resulted in an immediate DRASTIC reduction in the time we spent online.

Woohoo! Mission accomplished…right?! Except that, well, I noticed something a bit disturbing in the first week or two - we basically wore a trail in the carpet up and down to the spare room to log onto the internet on our computer!


I was frustrated. I felt yet again like we hadn’t really FULLY achieved what we set out to do. We had broken the addiction with our smartphones, but we were still basically addicted to the internet! But then, something changed…

4 – We Woke from Our Internet Coma
Because our internet use was confined to the spare room, we gradually became SO AWARE of what we were actually doing on the internet and I realised that 90% of what I was looking at did not motivate me, did not inspire me, did not educate me. I started to think to myself “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING!?”.


It really was like waking from a coma and beginning to see the reality and the ridiculousness of what we were doing and how much time we were wasting with things that offered no value to us whatsoever.

It completely changed how we now approach the internet, drastically cutting the time we spend online even further. No more traipsing up and down the stairs and getting sucked into the bottomless pit that is the internet.

We get in, we look at the things that we get value from, the pages and websites that inspire, motivate and educate us…and then we get out!

5 – We Are Living Our Lives
Smartphones have made us lose the ability to be bored, to be alone with our own thoughts, to just, well, ‘be’. But now we’ve learned to be present in the world around us, to pay attention to where we are, what we are doing, what we are experiencing, who we are with.

Now when we are with family and friends, we are WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Our engagement and connection with people is in the form of real-life conversations.


Time is so precious and yet every day we were wasting so much of it on the internet, on things that aren’t important to us.

I can honestly say that getting rid of my smartphone and everything that has happened since has made me calmer, happier, less distracted and more productive, efficient and motivated than ever before.

I am PRESENT in my life. I am LIVING my life. Getting rid of my smartphone – smartest decision ever!

Lisa is a Nutrition and Health Coach based in Dundalk. Having used diet and lifestyle changes to help recover from physical and mental health challenges, Lisa is now on a mission to motivate others to live a healthier life. See: www.lisadunbarhealth.com/ or follow Lisa at www.facebook.com/lisadunbarhealth/ This article also appears in the print edition of this week's Dundalk Democrat.