What I Learnt From Unplugging


Imagine this…. You’re sat at your desk studying, or working, or on the phone, or… fill in the blank.

How many times do you check emails and social media?

The answer for me was: too many times to mention. I felt distracted all the time. It was like an itch I constantly wanted to scratch.

There were times when having my phone to hand was a welcome distraction. Times like waiting for a delayed flight or on a long train journey, for example. Facebook, email, Instagram, Twitter all help to pass the time. More often though, they distract me from the present moment, from the day I intended and the tasks I wanted to do.

It got to the point where I found myself checking my phone upon waking. A quick download of emails and, just moments later, I would be rushing off in response to something I had read. I’d become reactive from the moment I opened my eyes. So much for my morning routine! Meditation, yoga, journaling, starting my days in a peaceful way… I’d found that all so beneficial to my wellbeing. What had happened to it?

It had to stop.

Starting my days in this way led to less productivity and more frenetic energy. Being reactive, my mind felt fuzzy, overloaded, my attention span ever-shortening.

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I love finding new blogs and devouring articles. Yet I started to notice a habit forming where I’d start to skim-read any blog post over a certain length. If a Facebook post was longer than a short paragraph, I’d skip over it. Why was I in such a rush?!

And it wasn’t just about a short attention span. For quite some time, I had a feeling of overwhelm. Hundreds of emails filled my inbox, many of them containing articles and links to review. Little red notifications appeared on every app on my phone; messages would come in all day long; I had an ever-growing inbox where emails I wanted to reply to would be buried instantly.

A growing feeling of discomfort, an underlying sensation of tension and constant overwhelm fed my increasing awareness that I needed to make a change, before stress levels started to spiral out of control.

I decided it was time to make some changes. I started with a technology detox and unplugged Friday evening through to Monday morning.

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Here’s what I learnt.

After an initial period of withdrawal – yes, withdrawal! – I realised how much more time I felt I had. Over the weekend, I read more, enjoyed spending time with my family without being distracted, speaking in complete sentences, without being interrupted by my phone alerts. My thoughts had the space and freedom to reveal themselves to me. As a result, the days unfolded at a more leisurely pace.

After some discomfort, my time away from technology was a breath of fresh air. I felt so much more relaxed, present and free without it. It was as refreshing as taking a mini-break!

I’m committed to unplugging on a regular basis and hope to involve my nearest and dearest in creating a technology-free zone.

After my technology detox, I eased myself in gradually and gave myself two hours in the morning before checking email or social media.

I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of emails using unroll.me. If you haven’t heard of it, I suggest you check it out right now. It got my emails under control in less than an hour. I can feel my tensed-up shoulders dropping just typing that… it felt good!

I turned off social media alerts and organised myself a little better by checking emails twice a day at set times to allow myself to focus on tasks in between.

The result? I’m so much more productive. I feel happier at the end of my day. My mind is clear and contented. And I’m sure that over time I will reap the benefits of a healthier spine, good sleep, a relaxed mind and an overall happier way of being.

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Is it any surprise that having so much information at our fingertips, receiving instant updates while we go about our daily lives, is leading to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and stress?

Listening to the lively show (if you haven’t discovered it yet, check it out), Jess talks to Jay Papasan, author of The One Thing, about how to find more clarity in your life and improve the results you get from your efforts. They explained how multitasking creates stress in the body. Jess quotes from the book, “You need to be doing fewer things with more fact, instead of doing more things with side effects.”

They discuss how smartphones provide us with so much information, but we haven’t gotten up to speed with how to focus and take action, or how to make use of that information.

Jess and Jay go on to cover how multitasking causes the brain to produce cortisol, the stress hormone, and dopamine. So while we may enjoy our multitasking activities, we’re also creating stress in our minds and bodies.

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There is much research relating to how technology use is linked to growing levels of fatigue, stress and depression, particularly among the younger generation, but also a volume of evidence of the physical effect of spending so much time on our phones. A new health risk among phone users termed ‘text neck’, affecting the curvature of the spine. For the full article read here.

To quote the article, “The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds; at 30 degrees, it’s 40 pounds; at 45 degrees, it’s 49 pounds; at 60 degrees, it’s 60 pounds.”

Can you believe using your phone puts so much pressure on your neck?! It’s no surprise neck, shoulder, upper and lower back pain is so common. I wonder how many of us would make the connection between our phone use and neck pain though. The effect I had witnessed in myself was enough to want to change my habits, but after some wider reading on the subject, I feel like maybe, just maybe, I’m not alone…!

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How about you?

Are you checking social media throughout the day, responding to emails at all hours of the day and night, and constantly multi-tasking? Do you find yourself distracted when you’re meant to be doing other things? Check your phone before you’ve even stepped out of bed? Use social media to distract yourself so you don’t have to think about that issue you have at work, or a conversation you know you need to have but don’t want to face?

Is it time to go on a little detox of your own? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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10 thoughts on “What I Learnt From Unplugging

  1. Guilty!!! I’m fairly new to the craze but sitting here thinking of all the things j should be doing while I check my phone just one more time.
    So thank you for the nudge, Nichola! Time to make some changes xx

    1. Yes, it is such a distraction from our to do lists! I have to keep working on it, over and over. It’s so easy to fall back into the habit of being online all the time x

  2. Guilty as well. This is a wonderful reminder of how important it is to step away. I am leaving on a week-long vacation tomorrow and I plan to have at least a portion of it unplugged entirely. And, funny that I am already thinking this far in advance- but my partner and I have booked the 26 of December through January 2nd. in Big Sur to be away from everything to bring the new year. I can’t wait!
    This is a fantastic post.

  3. Thank you Caroline. Enjoy your holiday and time offline! Your new years break sounds fantastic. I think we all intuitively know we spend too much time online, we just need a little nudge from time to time x

  4. I love this post. I have been having these same issues where I need to unplug. I tried it this past weekend and I couldn’t believe how stress free I was. I didn’t even answer phone calls. I was able to relax all weekend and it was much needed.

    1. Thanks Laura, it is amazing the difference being offline makes to how you feel isn’t it?! I’m so glad you felt the benefits. I need to keep doing it on a regular basis.

  5. Great post Nicola! I too feel this overwhelm and over the last few weeks I don’t allow myself to check emails or anything for at least two hours in the morning, write and read first. I’ve also developed really bad shoulder/upper back pain, the cause – iPad overuse! So I’m on a detox too and it feels great – more human connection. It does seriously make me question running an online business too…how do I balance technology time with the rest of life? Very easy to hide behind technology busyness too…something to ponder.

    1. Thank you Dal. I think setting boundaries around working hours is a great place to start and scheduling in social media time, as well as time to reply to emails stops them taking over your entire day! No email in the mornings is great for productivity and I feel so much better for it when I c an stick to it!

  6. Great post! When you were describing how you felt during the “tech addiction” moments, I could relate SO much! Actually today I felt almost all day stressed out and overwhelmed because of that. For the people like us that spend quite a lot of time connected , also because we love the positive effects of it, it’s so important to unplug , get out and get some fresh air! I need to remind myself of it more often. Alessia xx

    1. Thank you Alessia. Schedule in some time offline and see how you feel. I need to remind myself everyday otherwise I fall back into checking emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night!

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