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Unplugged: The Important Benefits of Taking Breaks from Electronics - by Tad Lusk, LPC

“Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the Internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to, and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master.”

– Gretchen Rubin

First, I’ll acknowledge the irony of discussing the importance of “unplugging” in an online post. However, reading a self-help blog, and spending all day every day on your device are different.

And I am by no means anti-technology. In fact, there are countless ways technology improves our lives.

It streamlines tasks, enhances learning, connection and entertainment. There are wonderful apps to help with healthy lifestyle choices. My laptop allowed me to create this article and share it with you. So there are many fantastic things about technology that make it a good “servant” as Rubin says.

But unfortunately for many of us, technology has abandoned its role as servant and usurped power to become the master in our lives.

The accessibility and speed of technology means that it’s accessible virtually anytime, anywhere. Likewise, this means that you can be accessible virtually anytime, anywhere–IF you don’t choose to purposely turn it off or get away from it sometimes.

With all of the luxuries and conveniences that come from having a world of information at your fingertips, there are also emails, texts, calls, requests, deadlines & appointment reminders.

And because communication is so much quicker now than it was in the pre-digital era, quick responses have become the norm and the expectation.

People who were once busy professionals working 40 hrs per week have essentially become always-on-call employees. Many busy people wear devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers like another appendage that’s always there.

Technology can also be distracting. 

Sure, we can get distracted by games and idle chatter on social media. But there are also the constant pingings and dingings of push notifications reminding you of to-do’s, incoming texts and calls, new likes and comments. All of these vie for your attention. I’ve even had clients in therapy become sidetracked by their smartwatches.

The mental awareness of numerous obligations, deadlines, and people pulling at you, needing something from you is stressful. It creates the perception of never quite keeping up, which can be exhausting, discouraging, frustrating, and overwhelming.

In addition to stress, there can be other profound mental health effects. I used to work in a psychiatric hospital with kids and teens, and so often the source of their conflicts and emotional pain stemmed from “cyber-bullying” or hurtful taunts and rumors being spread on social media.

For adults, it’s often comparing our lives and accomplishments with the seemingly perfect, version of life that others curate on social media. Even though most of us realize it’s a facade, it doesn’t take away from the worry, self-doubt, low self-esteem and depression that can come from thinking you’re failing to achieve the happiness and success that “everyone else” seems to be doing so well at.

Too much screen time can disrupt your health too. The screens from most electronic devices emit a spectrum of light known as “blue light” which has a stimulating effect on the brain. Staring at screens at night can therefore can keep you too alert and active, and make it more difficult to fall asleep and get much needed rest.

Smartphone addiction is becoming more widely recognized as a real phenomenon. Just as addictive habits like smoking or gambling can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin that keep people coming back for more, experts believe that smartphones activate the same reward pathways in the brain. Some people experience anxiety and withdrawal-like symptoms when separated from their phone.

There’s even an informal name for this: “nomophobia” (as in, no mobile phone phobia). One young female client I worked with recently told me about experiencing sadness and panic-like symptoms when she was in the mountains camping with her sister and had no cell service.

Clearly, if you want to gain control over the stress in your life, it’s incredibly important to have boundaries and limits on the times you spend “plugged in” or connected to electronics.

But the rewards–empowerment, enjoyment, relaxation, mental clarity, and calm–are amazing, and more than worth it.

And there’s no better way to experience those benefits than to try it.

Try This… 

  • When your device needs charging, turn it off completely to let it charge. If even your device needs to recharge sometimes, you do too. Treat this as a natural time to leave it alone, and go do something that doesn’t require any electronics.
  • When you take breaks at work, allow them to be breaks completely. If you have your device with you in the break room, or on your walk outside, you might be tempted to answer emails and texts. So turn it off or leave it somewhere else during your break.
  • Pick a timeframe each day to turn off all electronic devices and take a break from anything with a screen. Choose an amount of time that feels do-able for you, and gradually increase it. Start small with a timeframe you’ll be successful with.
  • Ever see people who are working on their laptop or taking business calls on vacation? Don’t be that person. Don’t work while you’re on vacation. Turn it off and go have fun at the beach, already.

What Do You Think?

  • What feels difficult about “unplugging” currently? What worries or discomfort do you notice when it comes to turning off electronics?
  • What’s a reasonable timeframe for you to be electronics-free (“e-free”) once per day?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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