These days, it’s easier than ever to feel like your life is ruled by technology. Between the pressure to stay connected to the office at all times, the lure of multiple social media platforms, and the many new ways to entertain yourself online, it’s not unusual to reach the end of the day and realize you’ve barely spent a minute apart from your devices. And that can start to feel unnatural and even unhealthy.
If you want to limit technology’s place in your life, but aren’t sure where to start, here are some practical ways in which you can unplug from the noise and relax without relying on your computer or phone.
Decide What You Need to Unplug From
For some, the cure to technology overload is taking a break from computers and phones altogether. But for others, only one aspect of technology is a problem. Before you decide to move to a remote island with no Wi-Fi, figure out what’s really bothering you.
Is it the physical strain of staring at a screen while sitting at a desk? Is it the competition or pressure to “keep up” on social media? Is it the nasty bickering in comment sections or the emotional impact of nonstop breaking news updates? Or is it that your tech habits have replaced other things you used to enjoy? You might just need to take regular 10-minute breaks from work, delete certain apps from your phone, or swear off certain websites.
If your day feels like a nonstop barrage of electronic beeps and blinks, it might be time for a tech time-out. This will look different for everyone, so do what you think will work best for you.
If you work too much, you could decide that you’re going to put your laptop away at 7:00 p.m. If you get sucked into responding to people’s messages, you could choose to check email and social media platforms only twice a day. If you wake up, grab your phone, and feel stressed immediately, you could plan to not even look at your phone until after you’ve had your morning coffee.
If you can’t break your tech habit on your own, there is—ironically—an app for that. Apps like Moment (for iPhone) and BreakFree (for Android) can help you monitor and limit your cellphone use. For your desktop, you can download a program such as Cold Turkey, which lets you temporarily block your own access to anything you choose, from specific websites to the internet to your computer itself.
Make Weekends Tech-Free
The concept of tech-free weekends has been around for several years and continues to become more relevant as technology creeps into more facets of our lives. It works like this: Commit to not using technology (or checking social media, or doing any work) all weekend, or just Saturday or Sunday, or whatever arrangement best suites your schedule. This shouldn’t be viewed as a restriction, like cutting out a fun activity, but rather as a celebration, a time to rest and enjoy life without distractions.
Replace a Habit
Stopping a habit cold turkey is hard, but replacing it with a similar but healthier habit is much easier. Just like you might replace soda with sparkling water, try replacing online games with board games or crossword puzzles. Or, every time you feel compelled to check your email, take five minutes to clean up around your house instead. That way, rather than trying to resist temptation, you’ll have an alternate activity already lined up.
Before every waking moment involved staring at a little screen, what did you do when you wanted to relax? Did you read books? Watch movies (in theaters, not on laptops)? Bake cakes? Call someone on the phone? The next time you’re feeling stressed out because of your technology usage, try doing that again.
Get a (Non-Tech) Hobby
If you’re filling your free time by surfing the internet, playing games on your phone, or doing extra work that doesn’t need to be done, consider picking up a new hobby or getting back into an old one. Find a passion that isn’t work-related and doesn’t involve looking at a screen or typing on little keys. It could be playing a sport, practicing an instrument, taking a dance class, doing crafts at home, or anything else that motivates you to join the physical world and let go of the virtual one for a while.
There’s something restorative about sitting by the water or walking in the woods, no unnecessary technology allowed. Even if you can only manage a stroll around the block at lunchtime or 15 minutes in your own backyard, simply feeling the sunlight and smelling the fresh air can really switch your brain from panicked work mode to a calmer and more appreciative mindset.
We can become tied to our devices because we are afraid that others—colleagues, friends, or family members—will grow angry or worried if we’re not available at all times. But most people will be just fine without constant communication, provided that you set clear expectations.
This tip works for one-time events: “I’ll be driving and unable to look at my phone for the next five hours, but I promise I’ll call you when I arrive.” It also works for setting up general ground rules: “I’m not a big texter, so don’t take it personally if I don’t answer you. If it’s an urgent matter, please call me.”
Work With a Partner
Sometimes, all you need to feel encouraged when trying to change your behavior is to know that someone else is trying, too. If a spouse, child, or friend also wants to limit their exposure to technology, make a pact to do it together, and discuss the experience as you progress. Even if you don’t know anyone willing to be your unplugging buddy, ask for support; your family or friends might be happy to spend the weekend on Twitter, but remind them that they don’t have to tell you about every trending hashtag.
Technology can be wonderful, and it can even help you relax. If an uplifting video, interesting podcast, meditation app, or Skype connection helps you feel better, that’s certainly a good thing. But there are times when everyone would be better off putting down their devices and appreciating the world around them. Once you break the nonstop-tech habit, you’ll almost certainly be calmer and happier.