December 22, 2022

How to Digitally Detox from Technology

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Dr. William Beecroft, Medical Director of Behavioral Health for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network. Together, they discuss ways we can digitally detox from our devices.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • Why we spend so much time on our phones and how it affects us
  • What is a digital detox and why we should consider doing one
  • The process of digital detoxing and how long it takes
  • Ways we can ease into doing a digital detox

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast episode 121. Coming up, we discuss digital detoxing and why it might be worth trying out. Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, a podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica, and every other week we’ll sit down with a certified expert and we discuss topics that cover nutrition, fitness, a lot more. On this episode, we are diving into digital detoxing and the benefits that that idea can have on your health.
With us today, Dr. William Beecroft, who’s a MD, also psychiatrist, medical director for behavioral health for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a Blue Care Network. We’re glad to have you back, Dr. Beecroft. How are you?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Oh, great. Thanks for having me. I appreciate the time.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, we’re glad to talk about this with you because there’s so much data coming out on this idea of being attached to our smart devices of any kind for too long a period of time. I’ve got some stuff to back this up. According to a mobile phone operating company Asurion, they say the average American is checking their phone 96 times a day. That’s once every 10 minutes. That actually sounded like on the low end to me for some people with the number of dings and alerts that you may get, but that’s what they say. According to another group, Statista, the average social media usage of internet users worldwide is now two hours and 27 minutes a day. Does any of that surprise you?

Dr. William Beecroft:
It really doesn’t. I mean, it’s another form of entertainment, and we can talk about some of the addicting qualities to use of the immediacy of technologies like this.

Chuck Gaidica:
We know this. We’re living in a time where we’re more connected. For a lot of us, that means it’s great that I’m connected to my kids, even my grandkids now, that they can somehow get to me fast. I can get to them. It’s a text. It’s a video chat. It’s a call. Although depending on your age demographic, calls don’t make much sense anymore. But we are all able to do this right from our fingertips. Upsides and downsides, right?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Absolutely. The upside is that you do have that immediacy and you can make decisions based on all of the information that you’re gathering. Being able to have that connection with family, being able to have the connection with news. It can be related to your workplace, that you can make actually business decisions based very quickly. All of that stuff reinforces that being connected. Because if you miss it, say you go 12 minutes and you missed a big deal on the stock market, say if you’re trading stocks, you lost thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars maybe. It’s a big deal to be that quick and be able to have that. But there’s a downside. You’re absolutely correct.

Chuck Gaidica:
I was at a conference. Actually I was a speaker at a conference and I was sitting next to a group of financial planning guys, and I said to them, “What’s the number one thing you tell your clients they should do to stay connected to their families, basically to their heirs?” They all looked at each other and then looked at me. They said, “We’ve told our older clients they’ve got to learn how to text. Because if you call your grandkids or a great grandkid, there’s no way. They’re not used to making phone calls. They don’t want to make phone calls. They want their info a minute.”
Some of this is age related. But yet even as boomers or 50 plus, we are now being attached to our phones just like millennials, according to an article I just saw the other day. It’s everybody.

Dr. William Beecroft:
It is. It’s a relatively easy technology to learn. It’s just a matter of being able to decide that’s the way you want to communicate. It’s not quite the same. You don’t have the same vocal intonation. Capital letters mean different things for different people. You have to learn how to be able to do things.

Chuck Gaidica:
Is there science about why we spend so much time on our phone and how it’s affecting us? Do you see that?

Dr. William Beecroft:
There really is, and it’s an issue of actually pleasure reinforcement. When you look at being able to access news information, let’s just stick with something that everybody does, being able to get that quickly used to be that it would take you months to get news of what was happening the other side of the world, whereas now you have it within seconds. You knew what happened in Turkey this weekend, the bombing that occurred there. You knew what happened with the accident at Dallas Airport. You learn all this stuff, and that is reinforcing in and of itself.
As for some people that really like the news and like being able to maintain that information, that’s pleasurable for them. Just like anything else that gives us pleasure, we want to repeat it more and more frequently. The immediacy accelerates that, that you do it more and more frequently. That 96 times a day, I think that’s kind of a small number.

Chuck Gaidica:
And then this idea of the science being studied, and I know we’re being tracked and studied and they’re looking at all the data, that’s what these big companies are. We think they’re communication companies, they’re data companies tracking our habits. But when you look at this idea, this isn’t just about the immediacy of news. Forget waiting for 5:00, 6:00 and 11:00 to get the updates on stories. You’re right, we get them instantly. But then there’s that other part that seems a bit addictive. It’s the Candy Crush. It’s the let me search it up, here’s a dancing cat on YouTube. I mean, we just get pulled into this stuff, and that seems addicting all by itself for different reasons.

Dr. William Beecroft:
Oh yeah, the entertainment value that is seen with that. But again, it’s a way of being able to find out what makes you tick as an individual. You’re right, the companies are looking at tracking that to be able to then market to you much more specifically. There’s a benefit for you as the individual because you don’t have to share what your likes are, your wishes are, because they already know. So that when you go to a website and look for some particular item that you want to purchase, they already know your preferences and gets you specifically in the ballpark of what you’re looking for.
Then you make your selection, you purchase it, and you move on to the next item. That also adds to a reliance and a habituation to using that service when they can take care of you better. It’s like when you go to your favorite store and you have people that you interact with, you get to know them, they know your likes. They can be able to show you things a little bit more quickly. Same thing, except it’s on steroids with the cell phone technology.

Chuck Gaidica:
Define this idea of digital detox. I’ve also heard it referred to as a digital fast. But what is it, and why should we be considering doing one?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Well, just like any habituation or addiction, you recognize at some point that it is taking away from the rest of your life. You have to get to that point of recognizing that this is not where you want to be, that you’re missing out on your kids, you’re missing out on your significant others, missing out on friendship relationships. At some point, you make a decision that, hey, this is not where I want to be. Once you do that, then it looks like any other habit. You have to be able to start working your way away from that, looking at substituting other things that are pleasurable for you, maybe more so and ideally more so than the phone.
I’ll use phone generically, a digital technology of any kind, to be able to really move towards something that you want to be able to do and to shape your life in a different way. There’s also a lot of physiologic reasons in your brain that makes a difference too. You don’t have that same stimulation so you can actually sleep better at night, those kinds of things to be able to help you be more functional in your workplace and at home.

Chuck Gaidica:
This is a real tough thing. We’re talking about digital detox or fast as if it may be a different version of the word fast. It may be kind of quick. In our world, we hear of retreats an entire weekend long of going away and being quieter, going away into the woods. What would you recommend that we all start to do in terms of getting detached for a while? How long of a period should that be to at least start this process?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Well, with any habit, you have to have at least 20 trials to be able to create the habit and usually about 30 trials to be able to decreate that habit. This isn’t something that going away for a weekend is going to somehow solve your issue, that you will come back Monday morning and you won’t want to look at your phone. You have to really make a conscious effort that you want to make this change. Put things in place to be able to help you make that change, and then be able to follow through with that. Things like making sure that you have physical activity 30 to 60 minutes a day, that you’re not sitting looking at your phone.
Just that fact that you’re doing something else, even though you can take your phone with you. I know that the other step will be is that I can listen to something on my earphones. But the issue is that you’re doing something that is different than just sitting, looking at a phone in a passive manner. Being able to stop using the phone at dinnertime or at mealtime, being able to stop using the phone at family time if you have specific time that you spend with your significant other, that you really pay attention to that person that you’re with, not looking at your phone or having it in your hand or waiting for the notification to go off, all of which you’re reinforcing.
But you actually stop, put the phone down, look at the other person in the eye, and have a conversation and interaction with them that really is meaningful and that has pleasure and value in and of itself. You’re substituting one pleasure for another, but doing that in a methodical way. You’re not trying to blend your pleasures here. You’re trying to do them in a way that is helpful for you and your relationships. Make certain areas of your home no tech zones, bedroom, the living room, wherever you want to make that happen, that you put the phone down. Maybe when you come in the entryway of the house and your house is a no tech zone.
You only use it in certain areas of your home. Those can be ways of actually functionally putting in structure for yourself to not allow yourself to do that behavior. You’ve made a choice to make the change. Now you’re instituting how to be able to do that. You just have to follow the rules you’ve set for yourself to be able to make that actually happen.

Chuck Gaidica:
Following those rules that you’re setting, and again, it’s based on your own context, that idea of 20 or 30 tries, this also implies, doctor, that we’ve got to have a little patience with ourselves, right? Because it is a bit like a diet or anything else. You’re going to have to practice to become perfect at whatever it is you’re trying to achieve with your digital detox, right?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Absolutely. You have to have contingency plans to cut yourself a little bit of slack. You make a mistake. It’s not like the whole world ended. You’re going to be getting back on the horse and riding it again. You got to do this over and over and over again until you’re able to achieve that balance of where you’re using the technology and the tool for what’s good for you, what’s good for your environment, but also good for the rest of the people and the other parts of your life that you want to have.

Chuck Gaidica:
I think you have woven into this in just the past couple minutes this idea of being in the moment with somebody. We’ve had previous episodes about that idea, that we are actually in the moment with the people who we want to be in the moment with. But it seems to me that there’s something real profound here. That when you’re sitting with your kids or your spouse or your friend and you keep checking your phone, you are implying, not necessarily saying, you’re implying, “Well, you don’t matter as much. I’m really much more busy on my phone.” And that can be a debilitating thing for a relationship. Am I wrong?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Put yourself in that position, do you want somebody to do that to you? No, you don’t. You really want them to be genuine with you. You don’t have those moments. You have your phone all the time. You don’t have those moments with other people. If you don’t grab them now, you won’t have them. That’s the other thing to remember is you got to grab life with both hands and grab it and hang on because you won’t have it again.

Chuck Gaidica:
If we come up with this idea of a digital detox and we now are starting to practice it, I guess, what would be some of the benefits that we would start to notice and when would we start to notice them, that somehow we are literally detaching from this digital world that we’re in?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Well, we can stay in the theme of relationships. You’ll see over a period of one or two weeks people really have more interest in you. They have more interest in being with you, asking you to do things with them, those sorts of things. When you look at your mental capability, you’ll be more clear. You’ll be able to more focus on the tasks that you’re really wanting to work on and not be distracted and not be thinking of being distracted, thinking of the next time you’re going to get on the phone. Those kinds of things will happen relatively quickly. Sleep. Basically the electronic device does have a flickering to it.
Even though it’s DC current and that sort of thing, there is a stimulation in the brain that suppresses your melatonin in your brain. That’s what we use bright light therapy for for people that have seasonal mood disorder. That is enough, that depression of your melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you go sleep. If you depress that, then you’re going to sit there awake at night longer. You’re not going to get as much sleep. The sleep you have is not as restful. If you stop doing that, say you put the phone down 60 minutes before you go to bed, same thing with TV, you stop the TV about 60 minutes before you go to bed, what’s going to happen is you’ll be able to initiate sleep better.
Your sleep will be more restful. You’ll go through the normal phases of sleep that are programmed into us for the benefit. Consequently, the next day you’re going to be a more awake, alert, clear, attending better, have better performance at work and wherever else you want to be doing things. You’ll see that relatively immediately within a week. It’ll be really very quick that you’ll see that. Physical health, if you do those walks and that, you’ll be better off too.

Chuck Gaidica:
I want to get back to that because the physical part of this is one thing, but a lot of this is common sense. If you’re putting down a device, it also pushes you toward I don’t want to use the phrase old fashioned, but tried and true things of getting a little sleepy. Maybe it is time to pick up the book. How many of us get a book for a holiday and then we just keep going back to our device to play Wordle and we don’t read the book? We don’t even pick it up anymore.

Dr. William Beecroft:
It really taps into other parts of your brain, doesn’t it? When you have to do something like a book or even doing some just quiet time thinking about things that you want to do, you start to tap into your imagination. You start to tap into your creativity. It’s not just given to you and all of a sudden it’s kind of a done product in front of you that you enjoy. It’s something that you create that is yours that you really have to have. That also slowing you down, being able to get ready for sleep, those kinds of things also are benefits from that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Back to the physical idea, it would seem to me that even though we have a podcast that we love and we know people actually will take with them when they go on a walk to be healthful and well, that oftentimes it’s not a bad idea to also listen for the birds or to take that walk in the snow or whatever it is. You’re taking us down that path, aren’t you, to say that there’s a healthfulness to this detox to walking away from your device and just get involved in something physical.

Dr. William Beecroft:
There was actually just a story, an article that was released, at least I read about it this last weekend, about mindfulness being as effective or more so than medications for people with anxiety disorders. Mindfulness is just that, being able to be in your space, to hear the sights and sounds around you, to pay attention to the birds, pay attention to the wind, pay attention to the squirrel or the chipmunk that’s running around in the leaves.
Those kinds of things are really important because it helps to focus your mind and be able to actually relax, not have those chemicals that make us anxious be stimulated in our brains. You don’t need to have a drug to do that. You’ve got it right in your own head to be able to do that.

Chuck Gaidica:
I can just tell you that I know that I may be calm, but if I’ve got squirrels and birds out there when the dog’s taking me for a walk, I know they’re there, because these guys are just like bing, bing, bing. They’re keeping an eye on them for me. It’s hard for me to get my eye off of that. There must be some difficulties we’re going to encounter outside of the obvious that we’ve talked about. This idea that it takes a minute, 20, 30 tries to try to get ourselves in some kind of groove where this is happening. What other difficulties may we experience with detoxing from technology?

Dr. William Beecroft:
Well, it depends on the job you have. We have so many requests from people in our employment to be able to take care of emails on the weekends and nights and this kind of thing. Unless you’re a physician on call or somebody in emergency services that is on call, that needs to be doing that kind of activity, the question becomes, are you able to keep up that level of mental activity and be productive time and time and time again? Or is it time for a break from that and really say, “X hour at night comes along, I’m putting it down and I’m not answering any more emails.”
Your workplace also has to get along with that because that may be a requirement of your job. But the issue becomes that benefit of you being able to have that break actually makes you more creative. You become a more creative employee. You become a happier employee. Again, in your family, you become a more creative and happier individual in your family life, which then directly gets back to you that you’re a happier person in general.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s, of course, going to have effects that rub off, right? Because you’re rubbing shoulder with family members and others, your friends, your coworkers. Well, as we start to wrap this up, anything else you want to leave with us about this idea of a digital detox? I guess, for me, what I’m thinking is I’ve got to… And I do practice this to some extent, but I’ve got to begin it to start it, right? I mean, if you don’t begin something, you just aren’t starting it. Maybe it is a New Year’s resolution. Maybe that’s a good way to look at it. But what other advice would you have for us?

Dr. William Beecroft:
UsWell, I think it goes along with everything else in our lives, you have to do everything in moderation. When you start to moderate the pleasurable things of your life, you enjoy them more when you do do them. But on the other hand, you’re able to really spread that out across your life experience and be able to enjoy other aspects of your life. Everything in moderation is good to a point. Overdoing it, then you get into trouble.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, it’s good to have you back with us, Dr. William Beecroft, who’s an MD, a medical director for behavioral health with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Blue Care Network. Thanks for this advice. You’ve encouraged me. I have another issue I have to admit to you. I sometimes feel like if I don’t return an email or a text first thing in the morning, if it’s much after somebody contacted me, they’ll think I’m a slacker and that I sleep in too long. I’ve probably been up two or three hours.
That’s something I’m going to work on as part of my resolution is to understand that I need to give myself some elbow room and maybe not care as much if somebody thinks they haven’t gotten a response for two hours.

Dr. William Beecroft:
And it may actually help them.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, good to have you with us, doctor. Thanks again.

Dr. William Beecroft:
Yep. Thank you for the time today. Appreciate it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Sure thing. Hey, thanks for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show, you want to know more, check us out. You can go online at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave us a review or a rating on Apple Podcast or Spotify. You can follow us if you like on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and you can get new episodes, old episodes on your, speaking of smart devices, on your smartphone or your tablet. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And if you take a break from listening to us from time to time, we won’t tell. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Be well.