6 Ways to Disconnect from a Connected World
This post is also available in: French
If you are anything like the average smartphone user, you spend about five hours per day on your device. In addition, you skim through work emails on vacation and check your social accounts before bed, poring over articles and double-tapping photos on Instagram. Maybe you aren’t aware of it, but the only time you truly unplug is when you’re asleep at night.
It turns out dependence on technology isn’t great for mental health. According to a 2016 University of Illinois study, mobile device addiction is linked to depression and anxiety—specifically when people use devices for escapism or to fill a void. Removing stress is an effective way to improve wellbeing, but this becomes difficult when people become addicted to the very source of their anxiety.
The good news? Awareness goes a long way, and there are a number of concrete steps you can take to disconnect in today’s connected world. Implement the following tips to unplug, improve your mental health, and ultimately boost your sense of fulfillment.
1. Leave work at work.
Make a point of relaxing after work hours—especially on weekends and vacations. Rather than treating these times like lighter versions of your actual workday, refrain from checking your work email or accepting calls that aren’t urgent when you’re off the clock.
If you feel your boundaries aren’t respected, gently inform your colleagues that constant connectedness can hinder workplace productivity. The 2016 study “Exhausted But Unable to Disconnect” reveals that it’s not only the time workers spend responding to emails after hours, but also the anticipatory stress, or the expectation of having to respond to after-work emails, that is stressing them out.
Similarly, if you work from home, try to maintain standard work hours. Keep your clients informed of these hours and avoid returning to projects during your off time. A little self-imposed structure will help you disconnect in a big way.
2. Take a social media detox.
Social media use has been linked to issues such as depression and social isolation. According to Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, those who reported spending more than two hours a day on social media had double the likelihood of perceived social isolation than people who spent just half an hour per day on social platforms.
This is why taking a social media detox can work wonders for your mental health. Either limit your use of social media to just once or twice per day or go cold turkey and take a full week off. Regardless of how you structure your break, the numbers are in your favor.
3. Engage in activities without your phone.
Disconnect by taking up device-free activities such as hiking or yoga. Team sports are another compelling option. Know from the start that you are making a conscious decision to use your phone less frequently and get in shape while you unplug.
For an added challenge, the next time you have the urge to look at your phone during what’s supposed to be a relaxing activity, go without your device. Rather than researching recipes online, grab a cookbook and spend a tech-free evening making dinner. Or if you’re meeting friends for drinks, leave your phone in the glove compartment of your car. In order to truly disconnect, you must get used to being without your device.
4. Disconnect with your loved ones.
Have you ever planned a nice night with your family, only to find that everyone is glued to their phone? Rather than banning devices outright, you and your family can agree to disconnect at specific times. This will make it seem like you’re working together rather than monitoring one another’s technology use.
So on dinner next Thursday, request that everyone go without their phone. Or plan a Sunday evening game night during which all devices must be in another room. Disconnect together in order to connect with one another.
5. Put all devices away before bed.
This is a crucial piece of advice. Do not look at your phone, tablet, or computer screen before bed or you risk compromising the quality of your sleep. A pair of Michigan State University studies indicated that smartphone use keeps workers mentally engaged late at night, which can interfere with their productivity the next day.
Not only that, but the blue light emissions from digital devices can throw your physiological clock out of whack. If you want to disconnect at night, keep your phone in another room for optimal results. No doubt, it will be waiting for you the next morning.
6. Commit to a daily meditation practice.
Pick a time and place and commit to a routine meditation practice. Embrace the quiet environment, even if sitting still proves a challenge. If you can only spare 10 minutes each day, that’s perfectly fine—your mind and body will thank you for the break, no matter how short.
These tips will help you unplug from your devices and disconnect from the chaos of your daily life. Make a point of taking time to unwind each day. In doing so, you will experience less stress and be more productive in the long term.
U.S. Consumers Time-Spent on Mobile Crosses 5 Hours a Day. Flurry Insights, 2016.
Tayana Panova, Alejandro Lleras, Avoidance or boredom: Negative mental health outcomes associated with use of Information and Communication Technologies depend on users’ motivations, In Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 58, 2016, Pages 249-258, ISSN 0747-5632.
Liuba Y. Belkin, William J. Becker, Samantha A. Conroy, Exhausted, but Unable to Disconnect: After-Hours Email, Work-Family Balance and Identification, Academy of Management, 2016:1 10353; doi:10.5465/AMBPP.2016.10353abstract.
Brian Primack, et al. Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 53, 2016, Issue 1, 1-8.
Andy Henion, Russell Johnson. Nighttime Smartphone Use Zaps Workers’ Energy. MSUToday, Michigan State University, 2014.