Every now and again, the unthinkable happens: I’m rushing out the door and, in my haste, I forget to grab my phone. As soon as the reality sinks in that I’ve left my most-used gadget behind, there’s a paradoxical one-two punch: a feeling of panic at the thought of missing an important call or text, coupled with a distinct sense of freedom. Yet, on those rare days that I find myself untethered from the ringing, pinging, and buzzing that normally punctuates my day, my productivity skyrockets, my stress levels decrease, and I move through the workday with a sense of levity. Is it just me, or is my phone more of a hindrance than help?
A case for disconnecting
As it turns out, it isn’t just me. A growing body of science-backed evidence points to the benefits of unplugging from our devices, not just to increase productivity, but to improve the overall quality of our lives. From better focus and prolonged attention spans to deeper sleep and healthier connections with the humans in our lives, the simple act of disengaging from our screens both big and small can have profound and lasting implications.
Studies show that technology–while without a doubt beneficial and vital to so many aspects of our lives–can actually make us feel depressed, lonely, and stressed out. Social media, in particular, can foster feelings of dissatisfaction with our lives, especially when we compare our own experiences to those of others (whose carefully curated feeds don’t necessarily reflect an accurate reality). And taking a break from our devices not only supports our mental health, but our physical well-being, too; the act of staring at a screen for hours upon hours each day takes its toll on our eyes, while unchecked scrolling can lead to strain in our neck, hands, and arms.
The struggle is real
Taking a reprieve from our phones, laptops, and tablets—if only temporarily—isn’t always as easy as it sounds, though; many of us depend on them for our work, and these days, our personal lives are inextricably interwoven with our apps, too, be they for social media, dating, or even everyday wellness. The global screen-time average hovers just below seven hours per day, which helps explain the discomfort we feel when we’re not connected. Toss in FOMO and that unease can begin to grow.
So prevalent and irresistible are these external demands for our attention that a growing cadre of hotels and retreats are marketing themselves as “wifi-free destinations,” with no (or limited) connectivity capabilities. In theory, this allows guests to hit the proverbial reset button on their lives and return to a healthy baseline before returning to our hyperconnected lives.
So while quitting your device cold-turkey may not be realistic, there are baby steps we can take to experiment with the idea of disengaging from our devices and seeing where the experience takes us. Try it for a day, a weekend, or—if you dare—for the duration of your next vacation. Even If that sounds like Mission Impossible, there’s still hope.
Instead of completely disengaging, try setting limits. That might look like turning off your device an hour before you hop into bed, and leaving your phone and computer in another room while you sleep. It could also be the bold act of deleting one or more social media apps (so liberating!). Or it might be simply scaling back on the number of times a day you check your email. These tiny adjustments, over time, add up to behavioral change that can offer new perspectives about how we function in our often-addictive relationships to our devices.
Once you step back and recalibrate your relationship to your screen, you’ll see that missing out on the latest TikTok video or tweet is a worthwhile payoff for developing deeper connections with friends and family—and with your relationship to the present. With perspective and behavior modification, we can integrate a healthier, more intentional relationship with our devices back into our lives.
As you take the empowering foray away from mindless scrolling, try these ideas for reengaging with real life and see how much richer your day feels. These are opportunities for living with integrity and intention, without the need to document the occasion with photos, phone calls, or video. Simply enjoy each activity and savor the moment!
21 Ways to Unplug
Go for a hike
Make a fabulous meal from scratch
Read a book or magazine
Invite a friend over for tea
Go for an early morning walk
Bake something scrumptious
Do a puzzle
Watch a movie
Tackle a sewing project
Write a handwritten note
Take a day trip
Listen to music
Learn to knit
Play an instrument
Go on a picnic
Volunteer to walk dogs at an animal shelter
Run errands for a neighbor
Sit at a café and people-watch
Work in your garden