Some refer to it as unplugging. Others call it disconnecting or going “off the grid”. How often do you take real downtime each day? How much time are you spending away from your phone, television, computer and other devices that keep us nearly continuously bound to the outside world?
I have found myself being drawn to my smartphone like a moth to a flame because I happily feel connected to the world…my family, friends, business acquaintances and everyone else (fashion designers, business moguls, Oprah) through Facebook and Twitter. I can also satisfy my somewhat insatiable curiosity around the clock thanks to the internet. I do google searches a dozen times a day on average. And while I may be better informed than when I had to revert to a library card catalog or set of encyclopedias to search for knowledge, I often find myself feeling frenzied and over stimulated in the midst of the satisfaction I feel from the constant contact. I find myself resorting less to the stack of magazines that show up each month or the multitudes of books I collect. On the positive side, the magazines and books do not come with an electrical charge and radiation and they do readily accompany me to the deck or the chaise just like my phone and computer. What they do offer me is knowledge without the busy-ness. I can escape into the pages of beautiful fashion, delicious food or how to get a flat belly without the twitchy urge to check my email or respond to text messages in the middle of it. The absence of that connectivity is the key to maintaining balance.
We all know our brains can hold a lot of information and it seems we have evolved into Information Age superhuman multitaskers and jugglers of very full schedules with a variety of jobs. But there is a limit to what our brains can process, store and retrieve according to the Limited Capacity Model (Lang, 2000, 2007). Social media fatigue, which according to one exploratory study by Bright, Kleiser and Grau, is the feeling of being overwhelmed based on information overload from social media (2014). Bright, Kleiser and Grau found positive relationships between self-efficacy (belief in your ability to use and participate in social media) and helpfulness (how beneficial social media is to you) and social media fatigue possibly indicating that the more comfortable you are with social media and the more useful you believe it is, the more you are participating in its venues causing overwhelm and “fatigue”. And when we reach this state of fatigue, two things are likely to happen in varying degrees – an increase in errors and a deterioration of mood.
Fortunately, I have found, partly through reading content on social media, several simple solutions to decompress and recharge that I am willing to swear by.
Step away from your computer and smart phone (far away). This one is obvious so I will not elaborate other than its best if these items are out of sight to get them totally out of mind. If you can’t see them you are less likely to cave to curiosity and pressure and reconnect before you’ve thoroughly disconnected.
Engage in conversation (in person or by phone but no multitasking). If you’re unable to talk to coworkers or meetup with friends, talk to a stranger. Everyone has a story and you may be surprised at how easily your life is enriched by someone you sit next to on the train, for example. The conversation will happen more readily if you think ahead of a few questions you want to ask your stranger. StoryCorps has a great app for phones that will record the interview if you’re so inclined and you can also find dozens of interview questions there. This tool is also good for interviewing friends and family and archiving the interviews for the future.
Place your bare feet in grass, dirt or sand. This is a grounding technique that not only helps you to connect with nature but physically and psychically allows the electrical energy to go back into the earth. It’s important to get this by-product of electrical devices out of your body. The natural ground is also a vehicle for stress to exit through the many energy points in the feet. Focus on the feeling, temperature and texture of nature beneath you. Let your thoughts go as you take in the sight of the rolling clouds, birds, butterflies and the sounds of the environment.
Sit by the water or a fountain. A fountain in your office may provide a more realistic alternative if escaping during the day is less than likely. The sound of water flowing is naturally soothing. The sight of it is also sensually pleasing and relaxing but if you can’t actually be by the water at least be able to hear it.
Do something precise that requires your undivided attention. Cooking a new recipe, quilting or performing some other activity, especially a fairly new one that requires your full attention will give you needed time away from the temptations and demands of email, work and social media. Dance lessons, for example, can provide you with not only exercise and entertainment, but can offer a welcome opportunity to pay full attention to something other than electronics. And you may meet the stranger you want to interview at the studio. Or your new best friend. If dance isn’t your thing, try a painting class (I’m limited to stick figures as an artist but had a surprisingly fun time painting in an art class), writers group, running club or whatever even remotely interests you. Even if you don’t think you can do it or you won’t be good at it revel in the fun of it and the escape.
Engage in some one on one time with your partner, kids or fur children. Sit at their level and play. Make eye contact and share energy. Feel the goodness they offer and the simplicity of the exchange. Stay engaged and challenge yourself to be an active listener. When your spouse, partner or children are talking, let them talk. Occasionally repeat what they have said so they know you are giving them your undivided attention. You are also more likely to remember what was conveyed if you restate it and you’re also giving them a chance to confirm that you got it or to let you know what they really meant instead. If you are engaging fur children simply enjoy and play. Stay in the moment past one or two throws of the ball and have treats and hugs.
Technology is amazing and literally has put the world at our fingertips. I thoroughly enjoy the ease with which I can learn something new, satisfy my curiosity, find a restaurant, shop and stay connected with old friends and meet new ones. But all things even good ones can cause us to feel fatigued and overwhelmed. Listen to your body and know when to disconnect. You will be happily rejuvenated and back to your networks before long and you will maintain balance- a useful lesson our small ones can learn from us as well.