After getting updated on everything happening in Ukraine, I want to suggest something radical. I propose that we take some time for our mental health and give ourselves a break.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 86% of Americans constantly or often check their email, texts and social media accounts. They refer to this modern-day tendency of ours to be a “constant checker.” On their 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” constant checkers reported overall stress levels of 5.3, compared with 4.4 for those who don’t check as frequently (APA, 2017).
Let’s power down to power up.
Knowing that this Friday, March 4 is the National Day of Unplugging, I tried out a digital detox last weekend. That meant keeping my phone, laptop, and all social media powered off for the entire day. In this post, I’ll quickly lay out some pros and cons of taking time to unplug, how I like to unplug, and what I learned after unplugging for 24 hours.
Sure, there’s benefits to staying plugged in
- You can stay up-to-date on late breaking news.
- You can stay up on what’s happening in the lives of your friends and family.
- You can follow new voices from outside of your physical circle of friends and family, like this rainbow-flavored voice you’re reading right now.
- You can monitor all your expenses in one place, with apps like Mint. This makes it easier to spot a charge to your credit or debit card that you may need to dispute, or a service you forgot about that it’s time to cancel.
While those benefits above are nice, they will all still be there in 24 hours if you decide to do a temporary unplug for yourself. Here’s some of the benefits that await.
The power of unplugging
- Unplugging forces us to stop and “sharpen the saw.” This is a popular idea from Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’re not familiar with his quote, imagine someone working tirelessly to saw down a tree with a dull blade. They’re sweating and toiling away. They think they just need to work harder to get the job done, when really they need to take a break to sharpen their saw so their efforts are more effective. If you really want to help with major problems at home or in other parts of the world, don’t forget to take time to put the oxygen mask on yourself, too.
- Unplugging improves the quality of our time with family and friends. After declaring that I would spend 24 hours unplugging, I realized that I’d need help. I asked a friend if he’d be willing to hang out with me for the day and be my “handler.” Then I texted a handful of people to let them know they could reach me through him if something came up and then passed his number along to them.
- Financially, I see unplugging as a tangible way to practice being less reactive to the volatility of the market and the endless barrage of a never-ending news cycle. I’ll admit, I’m still susceptible to my emotions and can sometimes feel the urge to “rebalance” when I see big swings in the market. My goal this year is to be more zen with any disturbing news that’s happening in the world and focus on the things I can control.
My favorite places to unplug
Living in San Diego, there’s lots of local options to get away for a few hours. And there’s even more options for a weekend warrior who wants a full 24 hours to unplug in a new environment. I’m a dog dad with a 15-year-old senior pup so my favorites usually involve activities that are dog-friendly. I hope this short list helps spark ideas for you. If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about your own favorite spots to unplug.
My picks for a half-day digital detox:
- Coronado, CA. There’s nothing like taking an hour or two for some sunbathing and energetic grounding at Coronado Dog Beach with my pup. And my favorite spot to hit on the way home is The Brigantine in Coronado for their all-day Sunday happy hour with some of the best margaritas and fish tacos in town.
- Pine Valley, CA. If I’m doing a hike, I love going somewhere with big trees. My pup can’t walk very far anymore, so you’ll have to enjoy this one without me. For a nice dose of unplugging, check out the Pine Creek Trailhead. This trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (also called The PCT). When I’m on this trail, I like to imagine I’m playing Reese Witherspoon (playing Cheryl Strayed) in the movie Wild.
- Descanso, CA. If you’re up for a challenge and want an amazing destination to hike to, search “Three Sisters Falls Trailhead” on Google Maps. (The trailhead isn’t on Apple Maps for some reason.) Then follow the directions to this hike named for the three waterfalls located just over an hour outside San Diego. After hiking down to the falls, you can sunbathe on the rocks, enjoy a picnic lunch, and if you’re feeling brave, follow some of the locals down the falls for a natural rock waterslide. (I made sure other people made it safely to the bottom first before I tried it myself.)
Ideas for a full-day digital detox:
- Palm Springs, CA. Just being in the peacefulness of the desert, I feel like I can’t help but take a deep breath and relax. If you want to combine your unplugging time with a little LGBT nightlife, check Airbnb for a local spot near Las Arenas Road as the location to host your next digital detox. When looking at listings, I always search the distance to “Hunters” bar as my epicenter to the gayness.
- Idyllwild, CA. There’s nothing like going to a wooded area to do some unplugging and nature bathing. What makes Idyllwild unique is that it’s the home to pine trees you’d normally need to travel all day to Northern California to see.
How things went during my 24 hours unplugged
I’ll admit, it was tricky to make it work for a full 24 hours of my cell phone being turned off. In addition to working out the logistics with my “handler,” I had to finish all my blogging and homework before bed on Saturday night (yes, I’m a FT employee and FT student, which is cray-cray but hey, gotta get that #GIBillHousingAllowance). Getting ready for a digital detox can make for a stressful start to the weekend, but I really think it’s worth it in the end.
On Sunday morning, I woke up with a newfound feeling of calm and relief. Instead of being assaulted with a mental list of “have-tos” and “need-tos,” I started thinking about all the “get-tos” that were suddenly opening up to me by not having the burden of things I should be doing on my laptop or cell phone. What first came to mind: reading a physical book, having focused time hosting friends, and spending time outside without the guilt of work I “should” be doing.
Throughout the day, I appreciated how there were no notifications or updates I had to compulsively check my phone for, because it wasn’t even in my pocket. My phone was powered off in a drawer back home in my closet. This freedom from digital handcuffs is the feeling that retirees rave about, and the best part: we can all enjoy small doses of that feeling anytime!
After doing this experiment for a full 24 hours, it’s something I now look forward to as part of my Sunday routine for as long as I can during the day.
As an experiment, I’d challenge you to try unplugging from your normal routine for one day this coming week, even if it’s only for a few hours. Could you get through a full 24 hours with your phone turned off to detox from constant texting and social media updates? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.