I recently spent a week in the Caribbean at a resort. I had planned, before leaving on this trip, that I would unplug from the internet and be present in every moment of my vacation.

I didn’t post a check in at the airport to let others know where I was going and I didn’t feel the need to post photo updates on my time away. Those who needed to know I was away, like close friends and family members were informed. 

My job requires me to be online quite substantially. Much of my research is done through the internet; I need to have presence on my network and business social media sites, I receive and return emails and texts with existing and potential clients, I moderate a social media page for parents, and I do webinars, interviews, consults, and coaching online. It’s important for me to establish healthy boundaries, otherwise there would be no breaks from these various media.

More importantly, it’s essential that I practice what I preach or walk the talk, so to speak. One of the talks I am doing now covers strategies that can be implicated to use technology in a more balanced and healthy method. I advise my audience to take breaks from their digital devices, not necessarily week-long breaks, but certainly routine breaks during their day. So, I try to put these into practice myself.

I really wanted to take a deep dive and understand how it would feel to unplug completely from the internet for several days. My husband joined me in this task and I appreciated that support.

I can honestly say that it felt quite liberating not having to check my phone and log onto my laptop at all for an entire week! I had time to think, to daydream, to take in my surroundings, people watch, talk to others, meet new people, and focus on my relationship with my spouse. My senses were awoken; the sea air smelled fresh, the waves rippling in the sea made a calming sound, the music of the island had me tapping my feet and feeling alive, the sunshine and heat felt so good on my body, and time slowed down.

Technology and handheld devices create a solitary space around us and we see these small devices as an individually used item filled with solo activities. Sure, we are sharing with our virtual connections, but we are not sitting with another person, sharing as we scroll. We tend to do this alone. During my talk, I have my audience members pass their phone to the person on their left, to be held as I speak, for several minutes. When I ask for feedback on how this feels, most people consider it invasive. One person described it as feeling like she had the woman’s purse in her hand. We all need some time alone, but did you know that the average person picks up their phone every twelve minutes or eighty times a day? Is this too much time to shut out those around us? Absolutely!

We are hiding behind our screens and the internet and moving further away from making meaningful contact with one another. We have become mindless and not mindful of our usage.

And while I am not suggesting that we need to stop using our phones altogether, I do think it’s time we become more aware of how much time we are not fully present with others around us, and make more of an effort to take digital breaks and re-connect, not only with others, but with ourselves.

Here are just a few of the suggestions I make during my presentations to create healthier boundaries around technology:

Don’t pick up your phone immediately upon waking. Create time just for you; focus on how you want your day ahead to look. Make a to-do list, if you need to. And think about three things you’re grateful for. You will spend much of the rest of your day bombarded with emails, text, and social media updates. Take time to be fully present in your own needs first.

Opt out of Continuous Play on YouTube. Have you ever clicked on a video link on a  social media post, watched the video, and then found yourself sitting watching several more as YouTube continues to loop the next and then the next recorded broadcast? YouTube has an Auto Play button that you can turn to Off to stop this mode.

Change the setting on your phone screen to black and white. You’ll find this option in your phone’s settings. Studies have shown that you will spend less time on your phone and the world will appear more colourful around you.

Use time on and off the internet to teach yourself patience. Technology provides us instant gratification and we are losing the art of restraint and moderation. Be willing to wait. Give yourself a task or several tasks to do, offline and away from your device, before rewarding yourself some regulated time to scroll.

Put your phone/screen down an hour before you sleep. The blue light from your screen interrupts melatonin production, essential to quality sleep, and disrupts your sleep cycle. 

Once you find yourself more free of your chronic tech habits, you will find that you will feel calmer and more focused. You will be in a better state of mind, and have fewer distractions. It might even feel as refreshing as taking a short vacation!