By

Dr. Heidi Hanna

| 03/22/2017

Why We Desperately Need Digital Downtime

Why We Desperately Need Digital Downtime

According to the 2017 Stress in America survey from the American Psychological Association, almost two-thirds of Americans agree that periodically “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important for their mental health. However, only 28 percent of those who say this actually report doing so. This may be a result of our overly busy schedules or our growing dependence on tech to keep us feeling connected. Either way, science shows that being overly connected is actually leading us to live disconnected lives – too often physically present at times when our mental and emotional energy is someplace else.

“Presenteeism” not only decreases our attention and performance in the moment, it’s hazardous to both our health and our relationships. When we’re kind of here but kind of not here, the pressure of mental flip flopping increases toxic stress hormones in the brain and body that cause a dramatic increase on internal wear and tear. According to the American Institute of Stress, chronic stress has been connected with approximately 75 – 90% of medical visits and increases the risk of cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart attacks and stroke. While we cause internal chaos in our body, we also wreak havoc on relationships sending the message that whomever is in front of us is not as important as whatever our device might be telling us to pay attention to.

So how can we create better balance between staying connected with what’s out there while paying full attention with what’s right in front of us?

Rules of Engagement:

1. Make it a rule to never use the phone while driving. Everyone knows texting and driving is dangerous, but many people don’t realize that driving distracted can be just as harmful. Studies show that focus is decreased by 27% even when using a hands-free device. Remember, hands-free is not brain-free! Pay attention to the road. If you need to make a call or send a text, pull over to a safe spot first and then resume driving when you can fully focus.

2. Turn off notifications when you’re not mentally available. Airplane mode is a great function that works even when on the ground. By simply shifting your phone’s settings to be unreachable, you also send a subtle but powerful notice to the brain that you can completely engage with the task or person at hand. Whenever possible, leave the phone in a bag or another room when not in use.

3. Set boundaries for social media. Technology can be a great way to stay connected with the people and things that matter to us in the world, but it can also provide a serious rabbit hole to fall into and wander for much longer than we intended. Before entering into a social media experience, give yourself a time limit and set a timer so that you don’t start drifting or chasing squirrels that pull you off course or trigger a stress response.

4. Manage expectations, especially around how quickly you will be able to respond to the multitude of ways for people to hijack your attention. If something or someone is urgent and you want to be reachable on demand, let them know the best avenue to connect (email, text, call) and turn everything else off. You can also use the settings on your smartphone to let certain messages through while blocking all the rest. For general correspondence, know that your response time will set a tone for others’ expectations. Allow non-urgent communications to settle for a while so that you’re not just reacting to every new message that comes in. You can also respond and save drafts to send out at a particular time each day, so that you’re not creating the expectation that you’re available 24-7.

5. Disconnect regularly and prioritize downtime. Put recharge time into your schedule and make it just as important as any task you would do for work or for someone else. Remind yourself that your own fuel supply needs to be recharged regularly in order to be there for those you love, and that taking care of yourself is not selfish but enables you to serve with your best energy and engagement. Create a recharge tool kit that you can turn to in those blocks of time when you can recalibrate and reconnect with what’s most important to you. Guided meditation, deep breathing, stretching, gentle movement, spending time in nature, watching a funny video, listening to music or reading something inspirational for a few minutes can help to decrease stress hormones and optimize brain-body chemistry for better health, happiness, and performance.


As an experienced speaker, Dr. Heidi Hanna has been featured at many national and global conferences, including the Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women in Business Summit, ESPN Women’s Leadership Summit, and the Million Dollar Round Table. She is founder and Chief Energy Officer of Synergy, a consulting company providing brain-based health and performance programs for organizations, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress, and a frequent lecturer at Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona.

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