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The Importance of Unplugging from Technology

If you’re feeling down, it may be a sign to disconnect

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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The uncertainty and stress of adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone a more tech-heavy life working from home, can negatively affect mental and physical health.
- Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller, medical director of the AllTrails app


With more time spent working from home and attached to computers, tablets, smartphones, and televisions, the collective screen time of the human race continues to increase. In fact, according to a report from Statista.com, more than 4 billion people were active Internet users as of April 2020, which encompasses 59% of the global population, with China, India, and the United States home to the top userships.

In addition, PewResearch.org reveals that about 3 in 10 US adults say they are “almost constantly” online. Nevertheless, medical experts say all of this screen time can have a negative impact on your health. Learn about the importance of unplugging, along with how to disconnect on a daily basis.

How Technology Overexposure Impacts Health

Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller has a background as a conventional OBGYN and more recently transitioned into integrative medicine. After discovering her passion for nature therapy, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller became the first fellowship-trained and board-certified medical doctor in integrative medicine, and continues her practice today. “We live in an always-on world – this often means we’re sitting down, inside, staring into the blue light of our devices,” explains Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller. “None of these promote positive mental and physical wellbeing.”

Furthermore, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller says that emerging evidence has revealed a correlation between low-stress, "parasympathetic" tone, and immune system stimulation (Kenney and Ganta, 2014). “In other words, our immune systems are happy when we’re happy. It does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to correlate the high-stress environment spent in front of screens, in our always-on world, with diminished immune system function.” 

Additionally, she urges us not to forget the blue light that our devices transmit can disrupt our natural circadian rhythms. “This results in poor sleep, which leads to rough mornings and a vicious cycle of exhaustion,” says Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller.

The Importance of Unplugging

So, how do we scale back on our overexposure to technological devices? “Time spent outside, moving, and appreciating nature can have immediate effects on our mood and physical health,” shares Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller. “When we’re outside, our brains produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Inhaling the phytoncides, and (safe) exposure to the sun’s rays, helps boost our immune system.”

Furthermore, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller references various studies that promote time in nature. In fact, she cites that within our first 5 minutes spent outside, our moods improve. “For many people, these 5 minutes can mean a quick walk outside, while taking a break from work and the computer,” she says. “If possible, I actually recommend spending more than 120 minutes a week outside, and recommend at least 1 hour outside per day.”

Go for a Hike

Moreover, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller is the medical director for the popular hiking app AllTrails. She recommends the easy-to-use app for people seeking to get outside who may be interested in new routes due to repetitive walking rituals as a result of months quarantined. “The app has thousands of new trails and places for you to discover, so you will never tire of the same path,” says Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller. 

A major proponent of hiking, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller encourages everyone to consider a trek, not only because hiking is generally accessible, but because you can customize your excursion. “The uncertainty and stress of adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone a more tech-heavy life working from home, can negatively affect mental and physical health. As we adjust to this new normal, we need to find ways to reduce stress and support our immune systems. Hiking is a great way to help that.”

And, when it comes to “tech-shaming,” such as listening to a Spotify playlist and/or remaining connected to AllTrails while on your hiking route, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller provides a different perspective. “The fact of the matter is, without some of these tools, many people wouldn’t be going outside in the first place,” she explains. “If you didn’t grow up hiking or exploring the outdoors, it can be a very intimidating thing. We all know it is good for us to go outside. The trick, however, is knowing where to get started.”

Additional Ways to Unplug Outside

If you do not have easy access to a hiking trail, Dr. Bartlett Hackenmiller says there are still plenty of other ways to disconnect and enjoy the outdoors each day. Consider the following activities:

• Backyard meditation.

• Reading on your porch.

• Gardening.

• Walking the dog with those in your household pod.

• A stroll through an outdoor market (while wearing your mask).

• Sidewalk chalk art, which is fun and creative for the kids, too.

A Tech Entrepreneur’s Struggle to Disconnect

With a degree in computer science and math, Shandee Chernow has been “plugged in” as long as she can remember. “Even as far back as middle school, I was taking computer science classes, and I remember sitting at home with my 14.4k modem being in Prodigy chat rooms,” recalls Chernow, now the president and founder of CertiStar, a restaurant-geared software program that assists eaters with food allergies and intolerances. “I started with a data and reporting company out of college and worked in that field, in various capacities, for nearly 20 years before starting CertiStar,” she says.

Moreover, Chernow admits that her screen time statistics are “probably a little bit scary,” given the combination of both work and personal time spent connected to technological devices. “I use my laptop, iPhone, Apple Watch, and iPad every day,” she admits. Chernow says that her phone, itself, along with email, text, and Zoom are her top-used apps for work, while social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, usurp her personal time.

Still, Chernow admits that most of her exercise activities are also accessed via a screen. “Even working out, I’m on a screen with my Peloton bike and treadmill,” she says. “It’s incredible how pervasive technology has become in all aspects of our lives!” she exclaims.

How to Unplug as a Tech Worker

Unfortunately, Chernow cannot set “hard limits” for unplugging. “Running a (tech) company makes it a little bit difficult to do that,” she says. “I want to support my team and my customers whenever they need me, so I always try to be available for them. However, I try my best to be present for my kids, friends, and family, so it’s easy to put the devices down when engaging with them.”

Furthermore, Chernow says she’s much better at unplugging on the weekends, especially when it’s a little cooler outside. “I live in Phoenix, so in the summer, it feels like we’re a bit cooped up,” Chernow shares. “But, my kids and I love to go for long walks or hikes and spend time in the park with the dogs.” 

Also, Chernow tries to enforce limits on her children's’ screen time (formerly 1 hour per day), but those rules were relaxed to compensate for distance learning, which has posed a bit of a challenge in the summer months. However, Chernow encourages her 2 sons to exercise daily, along with building – both forts and Legos – and creating their own games from recycled household materials.

Additionally, Chernow believes in the power of personal connection as an unplugging ritual. “The connection with other people is so much stronger when there isn’t a phone or two involved in the conversation,” she says. “I really feel more relaxed and ready to take on the problems of the day when I’ve been able to spend some time with a friend or my kids not involving technology. It’s definitely recharging to put the devices down.”


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The Importance of Unplugging from Technology

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