By Dana Bender
With the growing utilization of technology in both personal and professional life, there seems to be less time to “just be” without a plethora of stimuli around us. Between computer use at work, smartphone use in our personal life, and the popularity of utilizing fitness devices and apps to track food, workouts, and water intake during the day, less time is spent away from technology.
In some cases, individuals check and respond to work emails outside of work hours due to the accessibility and convenience of technology. In many ways, this ability to multitask and stay connected no matter where we are is helpful; however, it can negatively impact our health and wellness if we do not incorporate breaks from technology.
Keeping this idea in mind, it is important to consider how our high levels of technology utilization may impact our wellbeing. A more important question to ask ourselves is, “How is our own internal state, and ability to be mindful, impacted by our connection with technology?”
To be mindful means we focus our attention on the present moment – nonjudgmentally. By practicing mindfulness, the goal is to cultivate the ability to be present to internal cues (thoughts, feelings, and sensations), external environmental experiences, and our own breathing in order to stay grounded within a specific moment. This skill helps improve health metrics like blood pressure and heart rate, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and in time change our response to stressful situations. As this demonstrates, mindfulness is a skill that we practice and improve upon. But how can we do this when we have app notifications, email pop-ups, and multiple screens open in our phone all at the same time? Even if we have the notifications turned off, we might still check our phone just as much.
Personally, I believe the more we utilize technology, the more it is essential that we take “mindful breaks” away from that technology. As research tells us, high technology utilization can increase anxiety and depression which negatively impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Alternatively, being able to focus our attention to the present moment, without judgement and technological distraction, can become the “meditative reset” that we need to significantly improve our mood and energy levels. We all need breaks from technology stimulation in order to connect to our internal state and personal intentions.
When I experience high volumes of technology utilization, I feel a strong internal cue within myself to unplug and reset. My regular mindfulness practices like yoga, pranayama, and meditation have helped me notice when I need to distance from technology more regularly. Even the other night, I felt this internal cue and chose to read a chapter in a book instead of watching Netflix for the 20 minutes I wanted to unwind at night.
If you would like to check in more to your internal state and cultivate more mindful breaks from technology, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you taking time to pay attention to your internal state (energy, mood, stress) throughout the week following high technology use?
- If yes, how do you notice when you need to detach from technology and reset? What happens in your body and/or mind when this occurs?
- If not, when and where could you start incorporating this mindful check during your week? (Once selected, I recommend writing this down as helpful accountability).
If you are aware of your need to unplug but struggle to put this into action, here are a few tips on how you might go about taking a “mindful break”. These tips will help you be more successful in unplugging from technology and incorporating mindfulness.
Tips to Mindfully Break from Technology:
1. Put Devices Away & Silence Them
Place your technology devices out of sight, and make sure all notifications and sounds are turned off. For example, put your phone in a drawer, and make sure it is on silent. Take off your Fitbit and put it somewhere where you cannot see it. Feeling it on your wrist could be a distraction. Turn off your computer and go to a room free of devices.
2. Choose the Right Environment
Go to a room with the least amount of distractions besides technology. This might be hard depending on factors like pets, kids, and clutter. If that’s true for you, go somewhere in nature like a local park, beach, or your backyard to unplug. Set yourself up for success by choosing the right environment.
3. Shift Attention to Sensations
Start by quietly noticing items in your environment in order to shift your attention to the present moment. Look at the colors in your environment; connect to the sounds around you; notice if there are any fragrances present.
4. Breathe Deeply
Deep breathing is the best way to connect inward and feel more comfortable in stillness. It also helps us to connect and activate our relaxation response. The more you practice this, the easier breathing deep will become.
Close your eyes: If you are in an appropriate environment for this, gently close your eyes, and connect to a smooth, even breath. Please note that gently closing your eyes is optional, and you can also keep a soft gaze at a spot in front of you if preferred.
6. Keep Focusing on the Breath
As the mind wanders or distractions emerge, keep focusing on your breathing pattern. Work to slow down the breath and even both the inhale and exhale. Notice what it feels like to both inhale and exhale. Stay present to this experience.
7. Give Yourself Permission to Just Be
Give yourself permission to just be in this experience. Give yourself permission to take this mindful break, and perhaps turn it into an affirmation. Say to yourself as you inhale and exhale, “I am giving myself permission to unplug”. Repeat this to yourself.
After a dedicated amount of time, allow the breath to return to a natural rhythm, and open your eyes. Take a moment to self-reflect and notice any internal changes to mood, energy, or awareness following the mindful break.
As wellness singer song-writer David Roth would say, “Practice makes progress”. The more you practice these steps, the easier each of them will become. In time, these steps will help bridge the gap between wanting to take breaks from technology and doing so successfully.