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    Mind and Spirit

    Disconnect to Reconnect

    How disconnecting from digital devices can help you reconnect with friends and family.

    Unplug to Plug In: How Disconnecting from Digital Devices Can Help You Reconnect with Friends and Loved Ones

    Ever misplaced your smartphone? Did you feel lost? Panicky? Cut off from the world? If so, you’re not alone. According to a 2017 survey done by the American Psychological Association (APA), four out of five adults say they constantly check their texts, email and social media.

    Why are we so tied to smartphones, e-reader devices, laptops, and tablets? Because these days, we rely on these devices not only to reach a friend or family member when we’re on the go, but to organize our entire lives. We photograph milestone moments, navigate the roads, schedule appointments in our calendars, play games, and enjoy the freedom to check in with work wherever we are.

    “Smartphones have provided amazing benefits to us that could scarcely have been imagined even just a few decades ago,” says Cameron Gordon, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

    However, these devices come with some costs. One of the biggest consequences of being so connected: The more we engage with our devices, the more disengaged we become with those around us—our friends, loved ones, co-workers and other people in our lives.

    “Digital device overuse separates the user from other human beings in his or her presence,” says Alexander Bingham, PhD, clinical psychologist in New York City. “It is impossible to give another person your attention while on your digital device,” he says. “It sends the message that you and your device are more important than anyone or anything going on around you—it’s distancing behavior.”

    Those of us who constantly check devices are suffering the consequences, too. “Constant checkers,” as the APA calls them, are more likely to report high levels of stress than people who are less tied to their digital devices. After all, the more we check texts, email, and social media, and the faster we reply, the more we will be expected by bosses, family members, and others to constantly check and respond quickly.

    For all these reasons, taking an honest look at the degree of your connection to your devices—and realizing the good that can come from stepping back—is healthy. Here are some of the positives that can come from spending less time on a screen:

    You’ll be more mindful. “Sometimes your desire to take a picture or send a text prevents you from enjoying a priceless moment in time that can only be captured with your naked eye,” says Jonathan Alpert, Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Whether it’s your child blowing out birthday candles or a breathtaking sunset, by taking the device out of the scenario, you’ll savor the moment in real time. 

    You will communicate the old-fashioned way. “There’s an element of communication that simply isn’t captured when texting,” Alpert says. “We can miss, overlook, or even miscommunicate and misunderstand emotion. There’s something to be said for picking up the phone and returning to the lost art of communication—talking,” he says.

    You’ll be more comfortable with empty space. Smartphones and other digital devices give us a way to fill free moments in our lives—while we are in line at the post office, in the doctor’s waiting room, or even sitting on the beach. “If you go on diligently filling that empty space by staring at a screen, you’ll begin to become uncomfortable with having any empty space at all,” Gordon says. “These are moments you could use for self-reflection, connecting with people around you, or, depending on where you are,  absorbing the beauty of our surroundings,” he says.

    You’ll be off the hook. Literally. Think back to the last time you misplaced your smartphone. In the midst of feeling lost and disconnected, maybe there was also a part of you that felt a little free. Embrace that feeling as a positive and try to purposely seek it out by disconnecting more often.

    You’ll enrich your life. “The more you relegate your phone to the same usage as your toaster—used when you actually need it but forgotten at other times—the richer your life will be,” Dr. Bingham says. Put the phone down and start living life in the here and now.

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    Disconnect to Reconnect

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