The Importance of Unplugging

yoga side plank mountain

A moment of meditation on top of a mountain … captured by an iPhone. Like we do. Credit: Jared Seymour

The beauty of working as a freelancer in online media is that, as long as I get the things done that need to get done, I can be somewhat flexible with my hours. Many of the things I do outside of work end up in a column or an article somewhere — a race recap, an interview, an epiphany, you name it. And many of the things I do for work are really and truly fun — I love Tweeting and Instagramming cool fitness events, so the fact that social media is a real part of my job is a real bonus.

But, that’s the very thing that makes it hard to step away from the phone and computer and iPad and just be, you know? I find myself in a humorous situation and I wonder how I can whittle its essence down to 140 characters, or, if I can’t do that, would it make a good blog post? I think about what the best angle for a photo would be, but make sure it can be cropped into a square without losing anything! And oh, man, wouldn’t this shot really pop with the Walden filter?

I check my phone constantly, partly for work and partly for, well, I guess fun. Neurotic, obsessive fun. I have it with me always, and when possible, I have it in a pocket so I don’t have to dig for it when I feel the need to pull it out every five minutes seconds. And while I’ll admit, I get loads of laughs and smiles from reading people’s posts and seeing their pictures and I learn at least 10 awesome new things every day from fascinating shared articles, it’s a lot for my brain to take. I know all this, but am I able to set the phone down and walk away for a weekend? Or a day? Or even a few lousy hours? OH, HELL NO. GIVE ME BACK MY PHONE.

Unless I’m forced. Which, last week, I was. I went to Canada with my husband, up to the wilderness of Wawa, Ontario, where not only did I not want to use my phone due to the international roaming charges, but I wouldn’t have even had service if I’d tried.

It was freaking glorious.

I’ll admit, I found myself reaching for it quite a bit for the first portion of the three-hour ride along the Trans-Canada Highway, but soon, I stopped looking for status updates and started looking for glimpses of Lake Superior and Inukshuk landmarks built along the sides of the road. I looked for bear and moose (no dice) and landmarks that had become familiar to me during my family’s yearly (since 1987!) summer trek up to Whitefish Lake. I wasn’t fiddling with my phone, and yet, I wasn’t bored for even a second.

By the second day, however, my phone was nothing more than a camera with music and alarm clock settings. We took them along with us on hikes and fishing, but only actually took them out when, you know, we wanted to use them. I stopped worrying about things that might be happening and focused on what was happening right there in front of me. I was, for the first time in longer than I’d like to admit, present.

Now, as soon as we crossed back over the bridge to the U.S., our phones were out, messages were being checked, and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram were being updated. But I’m making a conscious effort to spend more of my spare time reading or stretching or playing with my pets rather than checking my phone obsessively. I’m not batting 1000, but it’s an improvement, and you know what? I’ll take it.

Are you able to unplug — like, really unplug — or do you, like me, have to be forced by circumstance? —Kristen

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  1. I definitely have to be forced to unplug – just too much going on! I think I have a slight case of FOMO: Fear of missing out! I’m going to the cottage this weekend though so that will be a good test of no technology living.

  2. Nice post.

    It’s sad that in these times it’s so hard to “unplug”. Going out the house without my iPhone just doesn’t feel right, yet when I do leave it behind it’s so refreshing.

    I guess scheduling in some break-from-technology time is needed now for most these days.

  3. Gayle says:

    I need motivation very badly. I’ve noticed myself sinking into a pool of sadness and self pity and can’t break away from it 🙁 There’s a lot of things making me sad and I know that if you exercise it will help, but I can’t seem to break the cycle or maybe it’s that I just don’t care anymore. If you have any motivating words, please post for me… Thank you so much~!

  4. Well, it’s scientifically as well as statistically proven the dangers of never unplugging can have on your life. It has been tied into health and even life threatening conditions such as stress and frustration. It’s especially hard to unplug for those of us that actually make our living online, but it’s extremely beneficial for us to know when it’s time to step away from the smart phones, tablets, and MacBooks for a couple hours.
    This was a great post please keep up the good work

  5. Chris says:

    Oh I can so relate. My phone has to be pried from me and when without it I feel lost. I have been forced before to leave it aside when traveling out of Country and after a day or so of adjusting, it starts to feel absolutely wonderful

  6. Pete says:

    Good article. I try to leave my phone at home if Im not expecting a call. I mean, it’s what we did just 15 years ago anyway. I think it’s just a habit to check your phone all the time. Even if you don’t have to. Leave it at home when you can.

  7. Lisa says:

    @ Gayle

    Start where you are.
    Use what you have.
    Do what you can.
    Think a positive thought and
    have a good laugh every day.

  8. Lisa says:

    Oops, didn’t read the date on these comments…