If your summer is packed with Instagram-worthy barbecues, vacations and trips to the beach, first of all, congrats! But if you’re not careful, you may spend most of your time glued to Facebook — or, worst of all, your work email. While you might assume keeping up with your inbox gives you peace of mind, research shows that reading messages from the office often just makes people angry. Talk about a summer bummer.
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It’s one thing to know you should take time for a digital detox, but it’s entirely different to actually pry that phone out of your hands. Whether you’re addicted to refreshing your Gmail, or can’t stop scrolling through your phone out of habit, quitting your gadgets can be tough.
Instead of going cold turkey on tech, try these expert-backed tips for how to limit your time plugged in, so you can get the R&R you really need.
Digital Detox, Done Right: 7 Ways to De-Stress
1. Stop Blaming Your Job
There are some people with high-risk jobs who have to check email at all hours. (Hi, Barack Obama.) But there are many others who don’t need to — and do so anyway. “That’s unhealthy because there’s not a reason for your nervous system to be wired to ‘workaholic,’” says Marilyn Puder-York, Ph.D., a psychologist and executive coach for CEOs and executives in New York City. If you’re responding to emails at 10 p.m. because you decide to, not because your job dictates, take a step back. Tell yourself you can check your inbox — but that you’re not going to respond unless it’s something really important.
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2. Set Boundaries with Your Boss
Talk to your boss before you leave for vacation rather than assuming you still have to be ‘on’ 24/7. Puder-York advises saying something like this: “Before I go on vacation, I want to double check that I can unplug and check emails only once a day. Is that OK?” (We bet they say yes.) Then, put your autoreply up. “Doing so shows accountability and respect for others,” she says. And don’t forget to turn off phone notifications so you’re not tempted all day.
“Your brain is addicted to the stimuli, so when you don’t check, it’s like, where’s my fix?”
3. Don’t Give Up Email Entirely (Just Set Limits)
We’re giving you permission to check email during downtime — but limit that to certain times of the day. (Like before your family is awake, or after they wind down at night.) Try to set a time limit, too. Whether that’s 20 minutes or a half-hour will differ for every person, says Wendy R. Boswell, Ph.D., a professor of management at Texas A&M University. Setting the right boundaries (rather than going in without a plan and checking all day) is key to making everyone happy.
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4. Get Your Partner on Board
Tech drain can be contagious. In one study, people who used email during off-hours didn’t think it was a problem in their personal life. But their spouses felt differently, saying it had a negative impact on their time together, says Boswell, who authored the study. Push your partner to have a chat with his or her boss. If he or she doesn’t expect employees to be glued to their devices at all times then there’s no reason that you two can’t have “alone time” to chill out together.
5. Be Strict
When you see that an email pops up, or a like on your recent Facebook post, you get a rewarding hit of dopamine. “It feels good because you’re being recognized. That’s why it becomes an addiction to check who’s reached out to you,” says Puder-York. Still, it’s important to give yourself a break. Downtime recharges your brain and protects against things like burnout and loss of productivity. Julie Morgenstern, a productivity expert and author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning, says her clients tell her they have success by repeating mantras, like the common canine command ‘Leave it.’ It sounds funny, she says, but it works.
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6. Take a Deep Breath
Scrolling through Instagram or checking Gmail is so ingrained it almost feels wrong not to. “Your brain is addicted to the stimuli, so when you don’t check, it’s like, where’s my fix?” says Morgenstern. The key is to breathe through the urge. “Clients tell me that after taking a few calming breaths, they can feel a gear shift happening in their brain. They can move from tech-addicted to being social and engaging with others around them,” she says. Warning: Resisting the urge to Instagram may feel difficult at first, but eventually you’ll strengthen your will (just like a muscle) and shift into tech-free mode faster.
7. If All Else Fails, Hide Your Phone
You know the diet advice that tells you to keep trigger foods (ice cream, cookies, chips) out of the house? Use the same technique for your phone. Morgenstern advises turning the dinger off and putting the device on the other side of the room or in another room altogether. If it’s near you, you can’t help but resist the impulse. But if it requires you to get up constantly? Well, that phone won’t look so attractive anymore.