Money and mental health
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"My mental health issues made it harder to manage my finances. My financial problems worsened my mental health. Rinse, repeat."
Say ‘no’ to notifications
Conditions, practices, and expectations for making the most of a digital detox—whether you’re roughing it in the backcountry or taking a break between WFH stints.
Several summers ago, I spent nearly three weeks in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my husband.
Our days were strenuously monotonous: breaking down camp in the morning, hiking up and over mountains all day, and falling asleep in pure exhaustion at night. Nowhere in the routine was there time to check my email, post to Instagram, or scroll through Facebook.
Nor did I need to. As a self-employed entrepreneur, I anticipated this lengthy, out-of-pocket absence, and I planned several months in advance so it didn’t impact my business, hurt my client relations, or weigh heavily on my mind. Completely unplugging and being present with each footfall on the trail also left me refreshed and ready to tackle work again when I returned after being away.
My desire to check-out from constantly checking in is not an isolated one. Tech usage is a dominant part of our culture; the average U.S. adult spends over five hours a day on their smartphone alone. As a self-employed writer and editor, I spend even more time glued to my computer. Perhaps it’s no surprise that as time on tech increases, so does the desire to take a break from it.
According to a study by GlobalWebIndex, one out of five survey respondents reported taking a digital detox, meaning they intentionally avoided technology for a certain period of time. And there’s a compelling reason to step away: Numerous studies have shown unplugging from technology results in improved sleep, better interpersonal connections, and increased productivity.
Fast forward a few years after my backcountry trek when my husband and I booked a treehouse at a Swedish nature immersion getaway. Again, we turned off our devices and focused on the present moment. This time, however, there was a hefty price tag attached to our digital detox and very little quality for our investment. Smoked out by a clogged wood-burning stove, the only way to warm up in the frigid Scandinavian breeze was sipping hot tea out of dusty measuring cups. Despite being tech-free for the weekend, we left our “rustic” getaway frustrated, cold, and more high-strung than when we arrived.
So, what went wrong? It turns out the right conditions, practices, and expectations can make all the difference in a digital detox, whether roughing it in the backcountry or spending a long weekend in a treehouse. Read on for a few tips I wish I’d known before diving into my detox.
Going “cold turkey” on anything is difficult, and shuttering technology is no different. “It’s never a good idea to go from extreme to nothing in just hours, regardless of what negative behavior we are trying to break,” says Belinda Ginter, a certified emotional kinesiologist and mindset expert. Curb your digital distraction in small increments. Start by shutting off all devices by a certain time each evening then work up to longer periods of time. This naturally leads to a digital-free day once a week, and then you’ll be ready for a full week or longer without a tech connection.
That said, ongoing breaks from technology versus the rare, long-term break may be most beneficial, says Dr. Tenille Richardson-Quamina, a licensed clinical social worker. “A digital detox of 24 hours once a week is ideal as it gives our brains a chance to rewire from the dopamine spikes that occur from constant internet use. The more our brain gets used to going without these dopamine spikes, the more we are able to step away from our devices.”
No one wants to stress about an overflowing inbox during a digital detox, so plan ahead—especially if you’re an independent entrepreneur. “One of the ways to get the most from your digital detox is by setting yourself up to succeed,” says Alisha Carlson, a lifestyle coach.
Dr. Tenille Richardson-Quamina
Choose to get away during a time when there aren’t pending deadlines, schedule your social media posts in advance, and designate responsibilities that can’t sit idle while you’re gone. Let clients and team members know you’ll be gone and for how long — and that you won’t be checking messages in your absence. Set an out-of-office email message that specifies when you’ll be back.
For some people, signing up for a tech-free trip or checking into a digital detox getaway offers a necessary distraction. But if you can’t physically leave your hometown, that’s okay too. For those on a staycation, making plans to spend time with friends, having supplies on hand to practice a hobby, signing up for a class, or exploring new parts of town are ideal ways to occupy your time and mind. Intentional boredom is okay, but beware the temptation to reach for a smartphone to fill unplanned time.
It’s also important to keep things light during the digital detox. “Don’t use a detox as a way to avoid handling tough situations at work or otherwise,” Carlson says. “Ultimately, the goal of the detox is to help you clear your mind, declutter a bit, and come back refreshed and ready to take your business to the next level.”
The point of a digital detox is to find mental space and clarity amid all the digital noise, and the way each person reaches this mindset is different. “There’s no ideal time or conditions for a digital detox,” says Neelam Tewar, a business growth consultant. “The conditions are seldom perfect, but most entrepreneurs recognize the need to cut back or know they’re too plugged in, slowed down, and can’t create the pockets of thinking time to do actual work that could matter most in moving their business forward.” High-end resorts, tour companies, and other unplugged getaways are cashing in on digital detoxes, and some of these offer great benefits to the right people, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to find peace of mind.
This is part of where my husband and I went wrong in Sweden. We were lured in by those Instagram images of couples sipping steaming coffee out of oversized mugs while gazing out a picture window from a treehouse. When reality didn’t match the photos, our mental mindset about the experience took a dive — and it had nothing to do with technology. What worked to get me out of the slump — miles after miles of tough hiking — may not work for other people, and vice versa. It’s not the experience that matters, but the outcome. According to Tewar, a successful detox typically tends to create more energy and reduces mental chatter to bring more clarity and focus. “And,” she continues, “as a result, productivity increases.”
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