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How a 10-day digital detox totally changed my life

In need of a mental reset, Radio presenter and author Sonya Barlow ditched her phone for 10 days. Here's what happened

Woman basking in the sun
September 2, 2023
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As someone with a busy career and an even busier brain, I suffer from chronic migraines and my recent adulthood diagnosis of ADHD means I have an inability to stay still, so I'm always on the hunt for moments of silence to help quiet my mind.

I have tried countless pieces of wellness advice in the search of a quieter brain, from daily meditation to deleting my social media profiles. Some things work - routine, exercise and having fun have eased the noise, but other attempts such as going vegan didn't help and my mind remained constantly on the go.

To help in my quest for quiet, I booked myself onto a flight to Ibiza, justifying the spend as a well-deserved vitamin vacay. But even on the island's incredible beaches, I didn't switch off. As I listened to my audiobook on the sun bed, I scrolled through emails and Instagram, not really relaxing.

Woman in front of sea smiling
Sonya's time in nature helped her quiet her busy mind

So, I did the unthinkable. I locked my phone in the hotel room safe and asked the hotel if they had any books that other guests had abandoned. I was willing to read anything to get me away from my phone.

The hotel receptionist handed me a 300-page hardback thriller. I couldn’t put it down. Away from my screens, my brain felt like it was charging – I could almost feel the red battery slowing juicing into the green.

RELATED: I ditched my phone for a whole week – here's what I learned 

I didn't just imagine the sense of calm - research shows that taking yourself offline for at least three days helps to rewire your brain, boost your mood and make new memories, and I certainly noticed the benefits.

Young woman in a pink jumpsuit in nature
Sonya takes time off social media to decompress

Back in London, I craved the silence I'd found in Ibiza, so I used my loyalty points and booked 10 days in Mauritius. I didn't change my phone setting to work over there, plus there was limited WiFi on the island, meaning my phone was as good as useless.

With six books packed and social media apps deleted, I let go of the expectations and experienced a newfound sense of self. I visited the tea farms, swam with dolphins and surrounded myself with nature. And again, I found myself recharging.

Ten days offline was just what I needed. It made me feel alive and whole again, and since then I've taken more than 10 tech-free solo trips, decamping anywhere from Kenya to Cornwall.

Although the saying goes, ‘work hard, play hard’, I have an alternative: work hard, recharge harder.

young woman in a white hat looking out over scenery
Sonya finds that time in nature helps to ground her

I used to spend my money on clothes and bags. Now, I have a separate saving pot for offline moments, which includes taking myself on weekly dates, travelling off-peak and investing in my wellbeing.

I prefer to travel to seek my refuge, but by no means does it have to be a bougie trip to experience the quiet I know my brain needs.

READ: How to practice gratitude for a happier life: an expert's guide 

If my budget doesn't allow, I like to explore my local neighbourhood, leaving my phone at home. The aim is to connect to the present and rediscover curiosity, playfulness and rest.

Before any 10-day digital detox, I research places to see and create loose schedules for my time there, so there's no pressure. My plans normally include waking up late, immersing myself in the local history, people-watching, and slowing down. I turn on my out-of-office and trust that I won't be hit with waves of FOMO.

Young woman sitting at a table in amazing scenery
Travelling helps Sonya find peace

During my recent ten days offline in Greece, I read seven books, went on a hike and jumped into the sea - something I have been too afraid to do in the past.

Going offline and not having to consider what others would think of my trip helped to boost my confidence and willingness to try new things.

Young woman drinking a coffee in front of a fountain
Sonya is always looking to quiet her mind

Switching off the noise of the internet for ten days has done wonders for my life. But I want to remind others that you don't need to wait for a holiday to take yourself offline.

Use daily timers on apps that tell you when enough is enough, explore new places on the map, take yourself on a date, say no to moments that don’t serve you, try different activities, set boundaries, consume positive media and most importantly, be confident in figuring out what works for you.

Watch Sonya's video on her digital detox below...

11 days Social Media Detox & Vitamin Vacay: burnout, books, recovery, travel, mental & happiness

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