I’m not going to beg and plead with you to disconnect from the world. I’m not going to tell you the value of unplugging the technology and plugging into your senses and the earth around you. And I’m not going to tell you that technology, when it comes to making you unhealthy, is more evil than a chocolate lava cake. While there’s certainly a case to be made that technology and the habits that go with it can be a source of stress, we can’t just make a sweeping statement that eliminating the technology will eliminate the stress. Remember, the stress doesn’t disappear just because you get away from it all. So what happens when you unplug for a good, long stretch? You worry about what may be awaiting you when you plug back in, you feel out of it, and you might even feel more stress being disconnected than you do when you’re overconnected.
I will share an example from my own life. I was recently visiting a place where phones and technology weren’t allowed. I went for five days, and when I returned, I had four thousand emails waiting for me. Really: four thousand. That doesn’t help relieve stress, it adds to it. While I felt more relaxed after a few days without my tech, I can tell you that I felt anxious, worrying about patients and other responsibilities. De-teching doesn’t always mean de-stressing.
I learned a few things about technology from that trip. First, at a practical level, I can put an out-of-office reply on my email: “Sorry, I will not be able to respond to this. Please email me again in one week.” And I also learned that just because something is techy doesn’t mean I have to think of it as being “bad.” The trick—and this is different for everyone—is that you have to find the sweet spot where you can balance both. Can you find a way to stay semiconnected when you’re disconnected on a vacation or a family outing? Maybe it’s promising to check email for only thirty minutes in the morning. Maybe it’s just sneaking a peak at your phone while everyone else is taking showers. Maybe it’s making a deal with your family that if you can have two hours a day to work, the rest of your hours will be 100 percent theirs. Or maybe it is taking that week or weekend with no tech at all. That’s okay too.
What you’re after: finding that time in your life where you can take some time for yourself while not creating even more stress and anxiety as a result of being away from your work. After all, vacation doesn’t mean that the problems disappear. Knowledge, in fact, is a great stress reliever. So as long as you know that everything is under control, it is possible to experience peace even knowing you will return to your task list at some later scheduled time. It’s when you don’t know what’s waiting for you—or when you feel you have no control over what might be waiting for you—that you feel the most angst.
So my advice to you when you’re trying to get away is this: Make a deal. Make a deal with yourself, and make a deal with your family. Find the least amount of technology drip you need and then stick to your plan. If you need some time to handle the occasional emergency, fine. Remember, your goal isn’t to eliminate stressful events, it’s to manage your response to them and not let your stress response get the best of you.