02/04/2015 02:59 EST | Updated 04/06/2015 05:59 EDT

Is it worth trying a 'digital detox'? Experts suggest that might be overkill

TORONTO - With virtually everyone spending increasingly more time plugged-in to the Internet, some are considering a digital detox, an extended time-out from the online world.

Prolific political writer Andrew Sullivan recently announced plans for a break from blogging after 15 years of pounding the keyboard. In a note to readers on his website, The Dish, Sullivan wrote of being "saturated in digital life" and wanting to "return to the actual world again."

Last May, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt also posted a lengthy note on Facebook announcing a summer hiatus from social media.

"If I don't, I feel like my psyche is going to suffer permanent slippage," he wrote.

Michael Harris documented a month spent without his phone or Internet access in his book "The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection" (HarperCollins).

The Vancouver native said he came away from his digital detox feeling the need to be less passive with his tech use.

"These technologies are very ruthlessly designed to capitalize on really basic animal instincts to grab your attention," he said.

"In the same way that you can't just walk into the grocery store and buy whatever food that (your) desire for sugar and fat is telling you to buy, we have to engineer our media diet for ourselves."

While some may feel the need for an extended "digital fast," Harris said another approach is to make manageable adjustments in your daily life.

"Something like 50 per cent of us sleep with our smartphones on bedside tables. And when we wake up, the first thing that we think is: 'What did I miss?' instead of thinking: 'What will I do with my day?'" Harris said.

"Take that 30 or 40 minutes to say: 'I'm not going to let my Twitter feed colonize my brain right away. I'm going to have a shower, I'm going to make a cup of coffee.'"

Scott Schieman, principal investigator of the ongoing Canadian Work, Stress and Health Study of about 6,000 Canadians, said some workers are increasingly stressed by job-related pressures compounded with "role blurring" — sending and receiving work-related communications outside of office hours.

"If it's your work and you're constantly doing that, then it might be really healthy to make sure that the other parts of your non-digital life are really satisfying and rich. I just think in general people just get burnt out," said Schieman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and the Canada Research Chair in Social Contexts of Health.

Vancouver-based business and leadership coach Lauren Bacon said she's not of the belief that individuals need to unplug completely to experience mindfulness.

"I do think cultivating consciousness and awareness of what our own priorities are, of what we really want out of a day, is kind of step one," said Bacon.

"We need to start there if we're going to make any headway.... We need to be really clear on what matters to us to get done in a day, what emails can afford to be left unread or unresponded to, and what interactions really do feed us and make us feel connected, versus what interactions are just kind of demanding and draining."

— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter


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