Unplugging from technology is healthy. Here's how to do it.
Take time to unplug.
March 5th is the #NationalDayofUnplugging, which nationaldayofunplugging.com describes as a day “designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.”
It arrives not a minute too soon.
‘Plugged in’ does not begin to describe how many of us feel about our relationships to technology at the present moment. In fact, the solidity and stability suggested by the phrase ‘plugged in’ to represent, for example, the effect of a microwave on shredded cheese, is much more comfortable. And it’s closer to what is actually happening when we sit down at a computer or pick up our phones. This is not hyperbole: Excessive (read: normal for most these days) internet use actually melts your brain. Committing to a little break from being plugged-in is actually good for your health. And, well, just as we care about what you’re putting in your body, we care about what’s happening to it.
And how can you enjoy your monthly subscription if you’re too far down the dark web black hole to remember they’re there?
These days, unplugging is no easy feat. But many of us are ready for it. If you’re one of those tech-exhausted peeps who already knows you need to put the screen down, scroll ahead to our list of five things you can do to start unplugging. If you want to learn more about why it’s so important, read on.
Why we need to unplug
In 2020 many of us moved our work to our homes, and we found that this made a disturbingly small difference in the nature of our work. In fact, it meant we had less of that down-time we used to have driving in to work, visiting with colleagues in the office kitchen as we pilfered almost-breakfast food before settling in at our desks.
Our time has remained just as chopped up and portioned out among meetings, calls and emails, as before, but now without the ‘breaks’ (what does that even mean anymore!) and water cooler gossip. Who woulda thunk we would miss the forgettable life updates or our peripheral acquaintances and co-workers? Not us, but here we are.
Writer of the Well + Good article, Actually, Casual Conversations Are Legitimately Helpful for Keeping You Healthy, shares research to support that there’s a physical reason we miss it ...
“ Another study from 2014 found that people who interact face-to-face with others they don’t know well—relationships referred to as weak ties—felt happier overall than those who don’t. Not to mention, finding a sense of community is one of the nine pillars of the Blue Zones lifestyle, which are habits employed by the regions of the world where people live the longest and most well.”
We believe it’s healthy and natural to be able to identify a contrast between our social and work lives. Thanks to technology, our social lives have begun to resemble our work lives to an unnerving degree. We maintained (or even rediscovered) our social connections, but they migrated to the same channels as our work.
We did drinks with the girls, but over Zoom, which, sadly, is a little too much like doing it in a conference room. Employers suddenly enjoyed unfettered access to our time as the physical boundaries between work and home became meaningless. So did our friends: Many of us found that reconnection with old friends was part of the new normal. Unfortunately, with this expansion of our social network came new obligations and demands on our increasingly scarce hours of leisure. We love people. We cherish our friends. But, if we never see another Zoom call for the rest of our days, we will be just fine.
It probably doesn’t help that, even when we get relief from our work screen-time, our ‘free’ time is often screen-related as well. Since we can no longer go to the movies or out for an unfettered night of fun, we have become ever more reliant on digital entertainment. We tend to slide with nary a thought from hours of meetings with colleagues over Zoom to hours of bingeing on episodes of Gilmore Girls. The photons, the blue light….our poor eyeballs.
But it’s not just Zoom and Netflix. There are also all the apps (Candy Crush, anyone?) The apps keep us connected, right? Well, actually, no. A recent study suggests that use of social media apps can in fact increase feelings of loneliness and isolation during COVID. This isn’t altogether surprising.
A 2017 study found that people who used social media apps for more than 2 hours a day were twice as likely to report experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation. It bears mentioning that study participants consistently lowballed their level of use.
An earlier study linked depression and heavy social media use. This may be because the use of these apps is physiologically very similar to anything that gives us a quick hit of ‘feel-good’ chemicals. And if we’re honest … really honest … most of us are “in it” for the ‘likes’ over the connections. And most things that we do for a quick and easy shot of dopamine do not go well for us in the long run. At least not when, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, we keep pressing that button (which in this case we we literally are). In fact, 5-10% of internet users cannot control how much time they spend online. Whoa.
But, you probably already knew all that. Because you use these apps and you know how they make you feel. A friend recently said, “The good stuff -- the memory-making, the big ideas, the a-ha moments … they happen when you’re at rest, not when you’re rushing from Zoom to Zoom.” And if we’re honest, our memory doesn’t seem to be quite as sharp. Can you relate to that feeling of time running together? To the anxiety that comes from realizing you’re not even really sure what you’ve done in a week?
Many believe the ‘blur’ we’re experiencing is not because we’re working from home, but because we’re not giving the tech a rest the way we once did on those daily commutes and lines at the coffee shop.
Maybe we would know how these apps make us feel if we took a moment to stop posting, emailing, tweeting and zooming to reconnect with our feelings.
Remember feelings? Not the butterflies you get when someone retweets your hot takes; not the surge of validation when someone ‘hearts’ your vacation pictures; and definitely not the FOMO you get when scrolling through someone else’s digitally curated life. No, we are talking about the feelings of actually sitting on a beach, or on your front steps, or…literally anywhere. We are talking about whatever you happen to be feeling right now.
And therein lies the problem: As we become more plugged in, we are less present in our surroundings, less connected to the individuals in our immediate orbit, and less aware of our own selves. Shameless plug here. Being less connected to yourself means being less connected to your body. And when this starts happening, you’re likely to skip out on nutrition. (Luckily, you can drink our wellness shots so quickly that nobody on Zoom will even notice.)
This lack of presence is brilliantly described by Jenny Odell in her book, How to Do Nothing, which is great reading in the run up to #NationalDayofUnplugging. Odell writes that the increasing demands on our attention, as we are driven to be more productive, more engaged, more plugged in, prevent us from experiencing the places and moments that we actually inhabit. The result is a fragmented self, a mind unaware of its environment, and an individual less, not more connected with those around them.
If all this feels too real and maybe a little hopeless, worry not! There is a way out of this tech muddle.
How to unplug for your health
- Put the apps down and try turn off notifications
- Meditate - it’s a great way to reset and reflect
- Read something … not on a screen
- Move your body and get outside
- Simply exist
1. Put the apps down and turn off notifications
Incorporating a meditation practice is a great next step toward recovery. A first principle of meditation is that the aim, simply, is to be present. The experts tell us that once we make the effort necessary to be present, we rediscover the humdrum details of our daily existence, the stuff of life (think of Thich Nhat Hanh’s How To Eat). Our engagement with these daily items becomes more joyful, more mindful, if we are present for them. Putting down your phone and ripping your eyes away from that screen for one whole day might be more than the start of a ‘detox’: It might be the start of a more joyful, more good-feeling, more warm-bath-and-fresh-towel-like existence.
3. Read something
Now that we are present, how about reading a book? No, not the kind that lives in your iPad or Kindle or even (ouch, your poor eyes!) on your phone. We mean the real, hold-it-in-your-hands, make-of-paper kind. Maybe start with 15 minutes at a time. And even (gasp!) try turning off your phone while you do it.
4. Move your body and get outside
Try taking walks or doing Yoga (away from the screen!). We think that when you feel the wind on your face, or get that deep, uninterrupted stretch, something will happen. You will feel yourself becoming part of the moment. You will feel yourself release (a little) the worry of what viral meme you might be missing out on. Breathe. It’s ok. There will be another.
5. Simply exist
One of our personal favorites is sitting on the couch and telling our frenchie that he’s cute. Given a moment to come up for air, we might find that these seemingly mundane, unproductive moments of joy and delight actually give us the mental sustenance we need most right now.
In the present moment, as we begin to re-inhabit our bodies, it might be a good idea to think about what we’re putting into them, too. It’s much easy to peel yourself away from the phone/couch/tv/computer when we feel healthy and energized. For starters, the Vitamin C and Turmeric blended into our Immunity Helper and the Green Tea in our Energy shot are really good for getting your head right.
You still have a couple days before March 5th to emotionally prepare yourself, and we know you can do it. Just put down your phone, turn off your computer, and don’t turn on Netflix. See? Baby steps! You are here, you are free, and you are ready to do whatever you wish. Even if that is nothing at all.