The True (and Verifiable) Power of Disconnecting

Step away from the smartphone, please.

How many times have you been told to shut down your brain? To disconnect for a while? To step away from the computer or look up from your phone? To be present?

Maybe there’s a reason we’re so reluctant to heed that advice. When we think of “shutting down” it brings about a slew of negative connotations. Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person just shuts down? They stop feeling, they stop communicating. When someone shuts down, whether in a personal relationship or at work, simply put, things just stop. We live in such a fast-paced world that the thought of stopping, even just for a few minutes, is scary to many.

But maybe it’s time to repurpose the phrase “shut down” and look at the benefits it can provide for us. Disconnecting on a certain level is vital not only to your health and well-being, but your job and relationships as well.

But maybe it’s time to repurpose the phrase “shut down” and look at the benefits it can provide for us.

Last year, I was at a Wanderlust Festival in Austin, Texas, and went on a guided hike as one of my sessions. Our only instruction was to turn off our phones. As a writer there on assignment, I felt immediate anxiety. I had to take notes and write down the leader’s quotes for the purposes of a great article—that was my job.

After an agonizing half mile of repeating the same sentences over and over in my head in hopes of remembering them an hour later, I gave up. Then I gave in.

I was relieved I did not have to type furiously into my phone (and come across as rude to others) and was able to enjoy all the senses throughout our hike—the sights, smells, sounds, and people around me. I was present.

Later that night when I sat down to write my piece, I realized that the more I felt, the better I wrote. I was able to pull words and thoughts from within, rather than an electronic notepad. And while I may not have remembered exact quotes, I remembered so much more: I was able to paint an accurate picture of what happened during that hour-long hike.

Sometimes life, and our work, is more about perspective and feelings than facts and quotes. I got into writing because I was good at storytelling and putting my thoughts onto paper. As my career has progressed, it’s been more about citing quotes instead of feeling anything. That hike showed me that what I loved most about my work is what I had lost.

A simple “break” in the middle of Mother Nature reminded me to crave the creativity and feeling that led me to my career in the first place. I was no longer afraid that just because I couldn’t jot down a note that I’d miss the point. In fact the opposite was happening—I was starting to see the point as a human being with purpose as opposed to just a writer. And it was all due to my detachment from technology, even if temporary.

“There is no question that technology has allowed us to connect in ways we could have never imagined just a few decades ago,” says Haresh Yalamanchili, M.D., a board certified physician based in Houston. “Although it has had many positive effects on our ability to work and be more productive, there has also been an eroding divide between work and play. Not being able to ‘turn off’ when you leave the office can quickly build up stress that can have significant health issues over the long run,” he says. Some issues include insomnia, depression, and anxiety, according to Dr. Yalamanchili.

He notes it’s important to consciously make time to completely unplug from technology—put the phone down even for a short while. This will give your body and brain the chance to really recharge.

Disconnecting is easier in some jobs and situations than others, but here are a few simple ways to disconnect, even if just briefly:

  • Take back your workday. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the 9–5 workday and began checking emails and filing reports after hours. Pick a schedule that works for you and set an out of office message for after hours. If going cold turkey isn’t feasible right away, start by designating one night a week to answer emails late, or respond with a simple “I’ll answer you tomorrow during business hours.”
  • Make your meals about meals. Whether you’re eating lunch at your desk or having dinner at home with the family, keep it device-free. Talk and be present.
  • Even just 15 minutes a day of no distractions can make a huge impact on your day. And if you think you’re bad at meditating, you’re not, I promise.
  • Set aside dedicated “break time” for social networking, as opposed to having constant interruptions throughout your day.

Photo by Megan Kathleen 

jayme-lammJayme Lamm is a sports + travel + fitness writer based in Houston, TX. She lives for telling fun and unique stories and when it comes to sports and athletes is always on the hunt for compelling human interest stories. Her work has appeared in ESPN, CBS, Women’s Health, and many others and she also founded the award-winning sports column The Blonde Side. Follow her many adventures on Twitter and Instagram @JaymeLamm.