Going on vacation used to mean switching off life’s usual responsibilities. But thanks to having email on our phones and feeling the need to share our most picturesque, or noteworthy, moments on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, even the holiday season doesn’t offer a respite from the pressure of being always connected.
This constant fear of missing out makes it hard to take a break from the stress of our daily lives. And it has gotten so bad that it’s spawning cottage industries dedicated to helping us shut off.
“Many people suffer from being hyperconnected during the year and their holidays,” says Gauthier Peyrouzet, founder of Digital Detox Holidays, which maintains a database of hotels offering programs that help visitors unplug. “There is a real demand from people to get the opportunity to disconnect from the continuous flow of information that they receive on their phones, tablets and computers.”
Whether we use them for work or pleasure — or, increasingly, both, as our social media identities become part of our résumé — there’s definitely an addiction component to our relationship with our devices. But using them more isn’t making us better at anything but feeling less connected, according to neuroscientist Earl K. Miller at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The problem is that our brains are ill-equipped to deal with so much information,” he says. “We are remarkably single-minded and terrible at multitasking, but we want to do it, because our brains find information rewarding.”
Being able to get in touch with anyone and share information at all times has its benefits. But we tend to prioritize that ability at the expense of our health.
“A smartphone owner picks up their phone more than 1,500 times a week. The relationship with the world is made through an object, which is reassuring but also creates a bubble, preventing you from seeing what’s out there,” explains Peyrouzet.
There’s nothing we should be doing 1,500 times a week except breathing, so take the holiday season as your chance to break the cycle.
A lot of offices run software or encryption programs that make working remotely either cumbersome or impossible, so being physically away from the office is a great chance to say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” That includes not checking emails you can’t deal with — especially ones that require input from someone else on your team. Set your out-of-office message and actually be out of the office, instead of making to-do lists and preparing to be back in it.
The problem with the routine of daily life is that your priorities are set. Most of our days start and end in bed, holding our phones. “The consequence is that there is no real off time,” Miller says. “Being well-connected means people expect more from us. That’s a lot of pressure.”
When you’re forced out of that comfort zone by traveling during the holidays or just seeing the mental shift that comes with remembering what’s important this time of year, it can put things in an unexpected perspective. Instead of trying to fit the holiday and your loved ones into your usual routine, let them set the schedule. You’re sure to experience something new, and you won’t be able to justify taking out your phone “just to check Yelp reviews,” a move that turns into 20 minutes of browsing Twitter.
Experiences worth sharing
If a single photo is enough to tell a whole story, it might be because you were too busy taking the picture instead of experiencing the moment to give it context and meaning. Having everyone, whether it’s friends or family, in the same place at the same time is an opportunity to deepen relationships, discuss the past or your hopes for the future. That’s the stuff that doesn’t fit in one Instagram post.
Stay at a hotel
If you need a little help, as Peyrouzet puts it, to “rediscover the pleasure of disconnecting from everything,” check into a hotel with a special digital detox program. Whether it’s an on-site spa, a class that teaches better tech habits or being rewarded for turning over your phone for a brief period, there are clever ways to keep you in the moment if you just can’t be trusted to manage your digital life.