National Day of Unplugging is soon upon us. For the good of your mental and physical health, unplug your smartphone – not just for one day a year, but routinely.
Instead of a smartphone, I have an old school cellphone.
I can’t use it to check social media sites to see what my friends are up to. It won’t help me avoid traffic jams. And if I want to order a pizza, I need to use it by actually speaking to another human being.
I use the phone as little as possible. I know. I’m an anachronism — an old fuddy duddy who is out of step with the march of history.
But a slew of new research is revealing that my inability to immerse myself in my phone may be good for me, just like unplugging from your phone on occasion may be good for you.
March 9-10 is the National Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour respite from technology aimed at getting us to disconnect from our devices so we can connect with ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
It was created by Reboot, an organization dedicated to affirming Jewish traditions that everyone can apply — in this case, the value of slowing down and enjoying a Sabbath. The National Day of Unplugging highlights the fact that our smartphones have become like another appendage that we can’t seem to take our eyes off of. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 per cent of Americans now own a cellphone of some sort, and 77 per cent of them are smartphones.
Despite not having a smartphone myself, I became aware of all the negative consequences of being constantly connected because of the research I conducted for a book I recently wrote called Boost: The Science of Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands. (Information Age Publishing.) The book, coming out this spring, explores the benefits of occasionally cutting the virtual cord and unplugging from your phone — and trust me, there are plenty.
Unplugging is good for your health
Having smart technology constantly at our fingertips has its advantages, but as a professor of organizational behaviour, I’ve also determined it comes with a slew of disadvantages, particularly when it comes to our health and well-being.
For starters, being constantly connected creates unpredictability. Your peaceful Saturday morning can take an abrupt turn because of an email message from an annoyed colleague. Being constantly connected can suddenly propel you from relaxation mode to work mode, and this unpredictability causes stress, insecurity and a constant state of activation.
In fact, research shows that compared to employees who are never contacted outside of normal working hours for work-related matters, those who are contacted, even occasionally, suffer numerous health impairments.
Not only can this constant connection wreak havoc on your physical well-being, but on your mental health as well. One of the greatest benefits of unplugging from your phone is that it helps you relax and mentally get away from your job.
There is a growing amount of research showing that using phones during our leisure time interferes with our ability to psychologically disconnect from work and recover from the stress and demands we face on a daily basis.
When we unplug, we give ourselves the time and space to decompress and recharge, which makes us feel better and actually makes us more effective when we return to work.
Unplugging enhances your relationships
Because our phones help us connect to others, we tend to think that they enhance our relationships. To be sure, when we are apart from others, our phones can keep us linked together.
But when we spend time in the presence of other people, our phones can push us apart. Known as “phubbing,” spending time on our smartphone when we are with someone hinders our relationship with that person.
How often do you check your phone when you’re out for a meal with friends or family? Have you ever considered that checking your phone for updates could undermine your dining experience? New research shows that when people check their phones while sharing a meal with others, they don’t enjoy themselves as much.
They don’t feel as close and connected to other people, they suffer more tension and are more bored.
And what do people typically do these days when they sit down at their table at a restaurant? They put their phone on the table, right? Well, research shows that simply having a phone in your line of sight compromises your experience of the quality of the relationships you have with others.
If you want to enjoy feelings of closeness, connection, and intimacy with your friends and family, you need to put away your phone.
Unplug and give yourself a breather
It can be tough to cut the virtual cord on occasion and disconnect from your phone.
But it’s a smart strategy to keep your head straight in an online world that is increasingly full of vitriolic trolls, apps that are intentionally addictive, and propaganda-inspired media that serves to confuse instead of enlighten.
So how do you do this? In my book, I provide strategies on how to successfully recover and in this particular area, how to recover by disconnecting. Instead of one day dedicated to unplugging, I argue it should be a daily ritual.
I suggest setting aside a block of time each evening when you will not check your phone at all and instead do something that is technology-free such as walking the dog, playing with your kids or pursuing a hobby.
Another tactic I suggest is to use different phones for work and personal matters. This way you can ignore your work phone when you are away from the office. Or you can set a time limit on how long you make yourself available electronically after the work day is over.
This could be the moment you hop in your car and drive home or when you sit down for dinner. It all depends on what you feel comfortable with.
But if you do this, it’s important you stick to it. If you end up caving and answering emails or texts during your off hours, then you set up the expectation from others that you are and will be available at all times.
Another tactic is simply turning off the ringer or vibration that goes off whenever you receive a new email or text message. For some, these subtle signals are impossible to ignore, so it’s best just avoid the temptation altogether.
And if all of this leaves you feeling stressed about how people will respond to you being disconnected, you can set up your phone to send automatic replies to people letting them know you will respond to them later.
It’s likely I will need to get with the program and begin using a smartphone soon. I don’t want technological life to pass me by. But when I get my new phone, I plan to use it consciously, appreciative of its benefits, but also aware of its drawbacks.
I’ll also take periodic vacations from my smartphone to keep my head clear and foster the best life I can. And I’m pretty sure I’ll reminisce fondly about my old school phone, mindful that its many limitations offered their own advantages.
About The Author
Jamie Gruman, Professor of Organizational Behaviour, University of Guelph