Online While on Vacation? How (and Why) to Unplug

It’s summer, otherwise known as vacation season, and I have a few questions for you: How much of a vacation is your vacation, really? Do you unplug from your job? From social media? If so, to what extent?

I’m asking these questions because I’ve noticed that over the past decade or so, the mountains have become a pine-scented office. The beach has become “just” a gorgeous backdrop for selfies. Stand in line at a theme park, and you’ll probably notice that a majority of the people around you are absorbed in their smartphones.

I’m not knocking technology per se, but I am suggesting that we all examine its role in our vacations. Vacations are supposed to be breaks—from our jobs and from our usual routines. They allow us to relax, recharge, and spend a large quantity of quality time with our loved ones. They boost our creativity and energy, and reduce our stress. But the more our gadgets encroach, the less of those benefits we tend to reap. We’re less mindful, less present, and often, more connected to the things that cause us anxiety.

If you’d like to unplug on your next vacation but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few tips I’ve learned through experience:

Know that plugging in is a slippery slope. You may think, Well, I’ll just respond to this one email, or, I’m just going to play one quick game of Words with Friends. And the next thing you know, an hour or more of vacation time that you can’t get back has passed! Plus, once you make your digital presence known, others know that you’re available, and it will be that much harder to shut down your work email or log off of Twitter. So think twice (and maybe a third time) before opening your laptop.

Talk to your boss beforehand. America is a work-oriented culture, and thanks to computers and smartphones, many of us are used to taking work home with us. Often, the compulsion to be available by email and to check in with coworkers extends to vacation time, too. That’s why I recommend talking with your boss about what his or her expectations are before you hit the road. Ask questions like: Do you expect me to check my work email? If so, how often? If I don’t receive a call from the office, can I assume that all is well? Are there any projects I can work ahead on to make sure that I won’t need to clock in on vacation? If you’re clear on what’s expected, you’ll be less likely to plug in out of paranoia, worry, or guilt.

Set some ground rules. I know that for many people, completely unplugging for days at a time simply isn’t going to happen. And that’s fine—just remember, all things in moderation! Whether you need to check your work email or enjoy scrolling through the latest Instagram updates, talk to the friends and/or family members with whom you’ll be vacationing and set up some ground rules. For instance, you might agree that mealtimes are to be totally screen-free. You might ask your spouse to gently remind you to put your phone away if you’ve been on it for more than 15 minutes. You may even want to set up designated screen times—maybe half an hour after dinner—that everyone adheres to.

Create barriers. What I mean is, make it more difficult to immerse yourself in your device (which, let’s face it, often happens on autopilot!). For instance, some phones allow you to configure their settings so that data isn’t used for specific functions or apps: email, social media, etc. While it’s true that these settings can be easily reversed, the fact that your Facebook feed doesn’t immediately appear may be enough to remind you of your intent to unplug. And if you feel you need to get more extreme, give your phone or laptop to someone else for safekeeping when it isn’t a designated screen time!

Bring other distractions. Often, our laptops and smartphones are sources of entertainment. To prevent yourself from pulling up YouTube every time you feel bored, pack a book, a board game, a sketchbook, a football, a Frisbee, your knitting—or whatever floats your boat!

Realize that your kids will base their habits and priorities on yours. There is a strong likelihood that your children will grow up to be like you. After all, they learn what’s normal, what’s right, and what’s valued by watching their parents. When it comes to influencing your children, your actions definitely speak louder than your words—so while your family is on vacation, be sure you’re not “telling” them that work is more important than family, balance, or happiness.

Yes, in a technology-dominated world, it can be difficult to step away from the gadgets and simply enjoy the here and now. But at no time is it more important to strike a healthy balance than when you’re on vacation. Remember, if you set reasonable rules and boundaries, you can still enjoy technology while not allowing it to take over your time off. And who knows? As the days pass, you might even find that your fingers itch less and less to pick up your phone.

Season of Peace: The Importance of Quiet Time

For many of us, this time of year—now through New Year’s—is very busy. There are parties, get-togethers, year-end events, concerts, receptions, and more. In my mind, there are several reasons for this December social crunch. The first is very simple: It’s fun and fulfilling to celebrate various holidays, as well as the completion of another year. From here on out, though, the reasons for our busyness get a little more complicated.

  • In our society, being busy is a badge of honor. The more booked your schedule is, the thinking goes, the more “in demand” and important you must be.
  • Many of us purposefully fill our lives with endless duties and distractions because the alternative—being alone with ourselves—isn’t attractive. We don’t want to have to think about and process our lives, and we’ve never learned to be comfortably quiet with ourselves.
  • We feel compelled to use our time constructively. For many people, sitting and doing nothing feels downright wrong because we think we can’t afford to fit that kind of indulgence into our busy lives.

I definitely understand these reasons for being and staying busy, no matter what time of year it is. There was a time in my life when I was constantly engaged in some activity or other—when being alone with no distractions was a foreign concept to me. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that “quiet time”—in other words, any sort of peaceful reflection like meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, taking a walk, etc.—isn’t something to be avoided. In fact, it’s something we should all cultivate for the sake of our mindsets, well-being, and personal development. Here are a few reasons why. Quiet time:

  • …strengthens your ability to focus and lengthens your attention span because your concentration isn’t being pulled in ten different directions.
  • …charges your creative juices. Often, you’ll have your best ideas and most imaginative thoughts during your quiet alone time.
  • …helps you connect to your innermost thoughts, intentions, desires, and values as you “converse” with yourself…without the often-distracting opinions of others.
  • …improves your attitude and puts you in better control of your life, because it gives you space and time each day to reconnect to your most important goals and dreams.
  • …can help you decompress and relax at the end of a hectic day. (And those seem to occur quite frequently this time of year!)
  • …can slow down your heart rate and even lower your blood pressure!

Throughout your life—and especially in the midst of busy seasons like the end-of-year social swirl—it’s important to proactively carve out quiet time in order to relieve stress, recenter yourself, and check in to make sure your life is reflecting your values. My best advice is to approach quiet time as though it were any other essential activity (which, in my mind, it is!): Plan ahead of time when you want to do it.

Personally, I meditate in the evenings. I find that taking 20 minutes around 7 p.m. is a wonderful way to process everything that’s happened throughout my day and to clarify my intentions about what I want to accomplish most in the future. I have also talked to many people who say that quiet time at the beginning of the day is helpful in developing a sense of deep-seated peace and a positive attitude that lasts through the day. Here are a few other ways to fit quiet time into your schedule:

  • Turn off the radio during your commute to and from work. This period of time might not be totally distraction-free, but I bet you’ll still be surprised by how peaceful the relative solitude can be.
  • Bundle up and go for a walk. If you bring your mp3 player, make sure the music you play isn’t intrusive. You’ll reap twice the benefits from this activity, because exercise is a form of physical meditation and is itself a great way to boost your brain, creativity, and mood. (In fact, some of my greatest ideas and personal revelations have occurred to me while I was exercising with no other distractions.)
  • Build in a buffer zone before you go to bed. Don’t turn the TV off and immediately crawl under the covers. Instead, dim the lights and meditate, pray, or reflect on the day for a few minutes before getting in bed and going to sleep.
  • Instead of eating in the office break room or watching TV while you down your meal, set up a lunch date with yourself. Use the time to really savor your food and think about whatever occurs to you.

I think you’ll be surprised by the impact the “sound of silence” can have on your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. So in the midst of accepting social invitations and connecting with your friends and loved ones, set up a few distraction-less dates with yourself. A few minutes alone each day is a small price to pay for increased happiness!

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