Finding time to unplug and recharge without electronics

Friday, April 21, 2017
Young woman using cell phone to send text message on social network at night. Closeup of hands with computer laptop in background

Recharging.

It's something anybody with a mobile electronic device is familiar.

We all know the routine, plug it in before you go to bed and wake up with a full charge.

For the user, it's not always quite as simple.

While technology has become integral to everyday life, making many tasks much easier -- "Look, Mom, I ordered a pizza through my app" -- it does have a downside.

Cutline Email/Stock:Stock photo

The constant bombardments of emails, text messages, text alerts and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can take their toll. While some may be welcome and useful, their nonstop nature can be intrusive. From dealing with work questions or problems away from the office, to news alerts about developments on the other side of the world to remarks made online that might affect one personally, being plugged in can generate stress.

There seems to be a growing consensus that our society is staring down too much instead of looking up.

Dr. Sharon Braun of the Community Counseling Center in Cape Girardeau applies those words literally.

"There are so many things people miss out on because they're into technology so much," Braun says. "I mean just walking outside and looking at the sky and the amazing clouds. Just standing there being with that -- just simple things like that."

In a world where "Cloud" has taken on new meaning, there is a spectrum of how tethered individuals are to mobile devices. The resulting effects can be harmful, ranging from mild stress to depression.

While the connectedness of social media can be positive, it also can lead to negative feelings with comparisons to others' portrayal of their lives. It can leave some feeling dissatisfied with their own lives, fostering feelings of jealousy, envy and loneliness.

Braun said recognition of a problem is the first step in addressing it, and she recommends a simple self experiment.

"I would say, put the phone away for a day and just see what your reaction is," Braun says.

She also recommends when you are using such devices to look for trigger mechanisms.

"Do like an internal questioning, or check your emotions when you get an email," Braun says. "Are you getting messages from yourself, 'Oh, I don't like this,' or something?

"I'm telling myself I don't like this, but what is it that I'm not liking? Because a person may not even know that unless a person is real astute."

A common reaction is preoccupied thoughts, transporting a person away from the immediate environment. Time spent with one person can suddenly become time spent elsewhere. Others start off preoccupied and remain that way.

Turning off a mobile phone can help people find and stay in the moment. Braun calls it an intentional choice to be present.

"It's called mindfulness, to be very present," Braun says. "Much of technology, yes, it lets you be present with what you're doing, but to really be present and living life, you can't have a cellphone to your ear, you can't be in front of a computer. You have to interact with humans and be present."

Braun said any time there is extreme overindulgence, there is not balance.

That imbalance, whether it be hours sitting at a computer or regularly texting in lieu of live conversations can have consequences.

"There are different ways that people run from themselves," Braun says. "Most overindulgence, at some point you're going to hit it head on, or it's going to hit you head on, and that's when change occurs as well. We can be blind about ourselves."

Studies have shown that using light-emitting devices at bedtime can interfere with sleep, which can result in fatigue and increased levels of anxiety. It's generally recommended that such devices be avoided at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

Braun advises when you unplug, you should also plug into engaging alternatives, with one-on-one conversations topping her list. She also recommends meditation, yoga and exercise and activities you enjoy such as nature excursions and cooking as ways to promote stillness and awareness in the world around us, reducing stress and fostering mental wellness.

She acknowledges there is a prevailing sense that we must respond to emails and texts immediately, and not replying can be perceived wrongly by others.

"If you don't respond, people get upset, but that's their problem," Braun says. "It's kind of a Catch-22."

There's no doubt that blocking off quiet time can be challenging in a time of unstoppable noise and societal expectations.

A solution can be to message close friends or family that you are "unplugging" for a while to avoid confusion or worry.

And in an unfiltered world of opinion, whether it be through such online social media or through conventional outlets like radio or TV, it can drain one emotionally. It's important to get in touch with your own thoughts, and what might be affecting them.

"Bottom line is, if you have negative thoughts, you're going to have negative feelings," Braun says. "If you have positive thoughts you're going to have positive feelings. ... Change your thoughts, you'll change your moods."

Braun recommends professional counseling if struggles persist.

"If you think that you have such a problem that you can't draw yourself away from social media or mobile devices and it's interfering with your life, then absolutely seek out help," Braun says.

Unplugging suggestions

* Commit one hour each day to power down completely. Pick a time that works for you. It will promote discipline.

* A day of rest. Commit to certain days or weekends where smart phones are used for calls and texts only.

* Turn off sounds and alerts when at dinner and put device out of view.

* Avoid lit screens 30 minutes before going to bed. Read a book or magazine before going to sleep.

* Make a list of enjoyable activities. Check the list when the urge to plug in hits.

* Make your own guidelines for times and what devices can or cannot be used.

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