On Disconnecting to Reconnect

Our campsite

Our campsite

Last weekend I went camping. Out to the middle of nowhere. Which meant no cellular service or Internet access. 

Oh it was glorious!

Now, obviously, I’m big on connection. Connection to others. Connection to our inner self. Connection to something greater. Connection is absolutely necessary for fulfillment in life. Huge fan here. 

Connection to an electronic device, not always so much. Even though connection is often the goal behind technological advancements, particularly those related to the Internet. Easier, faster, more efficient connection.

In many ways technology has improved the ability to connect with others. Long distance relationships no longer have to sustain themselves through the agonizing wait of weeks between love letters (Although, I still find this to be incredibly romantic.). Soldiers can video chat with their families and friends. Logistics can be handled through a quick text message. Social network platforms increase our social capital.

But… (Yeah, you knew that was coming.) there are limits to this. If we use technology too much, which many are, we can feel lonely, isolated, and disconnected. The opposite of the original goal. And it’s difficult not to do this, when technology’s interaction with our brains can be addictive

Easier, faster, more efficient isn’t always better. We also need slow and simple to really appreciate and nurture the relationships in our lives. We need intentional, well thought out communication. We need face-to-face contact. We need physical touch. The good ol’ days really had a lot of good.

Some sort of electronic-related stuff.

Some sort of electronic-related stuff.

I struggle as much as the next person. As a business owner, I use the Internet more than I ever did before. Email, social media, maintaining a website, notes, scheduling. There’s some stat that if a therapist doesn’t respond to a potential client’s phone call or email within three hours, they’ve lost that client. Fair enough. When people need help, they need help. But that’s led to me checking my phone far more often than I’d like. And the truth is I feel far better about life when I’m not on my phone. 

I’ve already written about electronic addiction so I won’t go back into the nitty gritty of that. There’s info everywhere right now if you want to learn more about it. What I want to talk more about is the actual experience of disconnecting from electronics. 

When I’m overly connected I feel on edge. Not necessarily full out anxious, but there’s a level of anticipation that’s difficult to shake. I’m sure it’s those addictive chemicals being released in my brain. I don’t particularly enjoy the sensation. In some ways it’s akin to the excitement you feel before a favorite holiday or happy event, but there’s never the truly fulfilling moment that then relieves that nervous anticipation. Finally getting that email or phone call I was waiting on doesn’t match the build up. I don’t like it.

It’s not all bad, though. This has actually been a helpful signal that I’m too connected and need to disconnect. I think that’s an important distinction to make if you want electronics to be a part of your life. When is this activity helpful to me and when is it harmful? When I’m mindful I can recognize that I’m nearing or at my limit and make the choice to disconnect to better support my health and wellbeing. 

How I disconnect and for how long varies:

During the Work Day

If it’s time to get down to business and I can’t disappear from the world wide web for the entire day, I’ll take shorter breaks. It might just be a few seconds to take some deep breaths. Or a few minutes to meditate. 

I’m a huge fan of midday runs or hikes when I can make them happen. I always make sure to have some sneakers with me. 

Dog resting on the beach. Now this is disconnection at its finest.

Dog resting on the beach. Now this is disconnection at its finest.

I might make a meal. No need to combine hangriness with electronic overload. 

I keep a work-related book or magazine nearby for a quick reading break if a screen is getting to be too much or I have a break between clients and don’t need to do anything on an electronic device. 

Sometimes I write poetry or paint. I may also be known to have a spontaneous dance party. 

Or not as fun, but sometimes I’ll do a chore or two if I’m working from home. 

I actually keep a list of non-electronic things I can do just in case I need a reminder. The idea is to disconnect just long enough that you’re able to get back into it and feel okay about it. 

A Disconnected Lifestyle

I also build disconnection into my lifestyle overall. 

My latest thing is no phone an hour after waking up and an hour before going to bed. I don’t know that I’ve been completely successful at this yet, but the intention is there and I just know it’ll make a huge difference. 

I also try to have a morning routine. I’ve never been able to make it the same each and every day as many thought leaders recommend, but I’ve made peace with that. My schedule varies every single day and I like it like that so it makes sense for me that my morning routine varies too. I have a few disconnected activities that I aim to fit in each and every morning, but if I don’t get to them I don’t beat myself up and make time for them later in the day/night. Breakfast, though, is one thing I rarely skip. Me being hungry is no fun for anyone. 

In addition, I make sure to exercise in some form each and every day. When I’m training for a race, I keep the training plan in my work area and have each day’s training scheduled into my day so I make sure it happens. Sometimes it’s in the morning, which is awesome because I already feel accomplished going into my day. Sometimes, like I said, it’s in the middle of the day because that’s the only free time or it’s necessary to burn some energy off. Sometimes it’s at night because the wind down at sunset is one of my favorite things about life. I often do some yoga in the middle of the day because it’s a good break and so rejuvenating, but that varies too. And any day I can start the day with a surf sesh in the ocean is bound to be the best day ever. Exercise helps release all that pent up nervous energy and provide a solid base for everything else.

The river we camped next to. Total disconnection and the ultimate connection.

The river we camped next to. Total disconnection and the ultimate connection.

If I’m with others I try my best not to be on my phone. I really think we need to bring back the good ol’ fashioned if everyone isn’t at the meeting spot at a certain time, too bad, you miss out. I want to be with the people I’m with. And if I don’t then I really need to look at why I’m there and if I shouldn’t be in the future. I’m lucky that I have friends and family who share very similar values and who are a lot of fun so it’s rarely an issue. Surrounding yourself with people committed to connecting in real life is very important. The good stuff is in those shared moment of activity, conversation, laughter, and even tears.

Extended Disconnection

I love those days I can just leave my phone at home. Usually it’s by accident, but if I don’t need it I don’t even miss it. I’m free to adventure. No one’s going to interrupt me. I don’t have to worry about leaving it anywhere. I might have to stop and ask a stranger for directions, which can be dangerous these days since many no longer seem to know how to give proper directions, but it’s fun to talk to someone new and not know exactly what lies ahead.

I find it easiest to disconnect in nature (Yeah, you knew that was coming too.), especially if it’s impossible to get a signal. I absolutely love when I can’t get a signal. There’s no other thought about electronics and the Internet after that. Whatever or whoever is in front of me is in front me and I get to fully experience them. I know how to read a map. My compass skills are probably a bit rusty, but I’d figure it out if I have to. 

This past weekend camping was incredibly rejuvenating. Our campsite was next to a roaring river full of freshly melted snow from the mountains. The water was rushing so quickly and was so loud we couldn’t hear any of our neighbors. We slept under massive trees and infinite stars, hiked, rested, played chess, cards, and bocce ball, cooked and chowed down on delicious food, and had deep and interesting conversations and lots of laughs. All the stuff that makes life worth living. We didn’t know what time it was until the ranger came to kick us out on Sunday. And we waited as long as we could to turn our phones back on to loved ones wondering how we’d managed with an earthquake. Oops, maybe should have written the requisite “I’m safe” Facebook post before disappearing off the grid. For the record all is well and I have no regrets over my temporary disappearance (Also, because I’m not a total jerk I did let my immediate family know I was going off the grid.).