When’s the last time you took a walk during the work day or sat down with a friend for a cup of coffee without looking at your phone or feeling it buzz you? How often do you have to cancel a get together because you were catching up with emails from the day? When you’re willing to put off connecting with someone you love because you’re getting enough “likes” on social media, you’re heading into a dangerous mental health zone.
Research has shown that increased screen time correlates with higher depression, anger, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. It’s not only the absence of friends that causes loneliness and feelings of sadness. It’s the loss of what living means. When your human connection is largely compromised by who reacts to you virtually, you begin performing and trying to be someone you’re not. You become jaded and a shell of the person you use to be. Friends lose interest in you if they haven’t seen you because true friendships require people spend quality time together.
Just like you cut back on sugar or increase your exercise, you must practice putting away your gadgets to reconnect with real life. If you feel like the quality of your life isn’t what it used to be, or you find yourself at home on the weekends feeling numb, lonely, or left out, it’s time to make changes. The American Pediatric Academy cautions parents to limit children’s and parents’ screen time to prevent mental and physical illness. Kids need their parents to set an example by limiting screen time and shutting gadgets off. Below are the life experiences that improve mental wellbeing and restore connection:
Human touch and voice. Hugging people, laughing together, sharing stories, and hearing their voices resonates with our bodies and helps us feel emotionally and physically connected. The goal is to have at least one human interaction per day. Touch is so important to your children so hug them or caress their shoulder every chance you get over the summer.
Reading books (real books). No matter how old you are, real books (although cumbersome) touch us on several sensory levels. The texture of the page, the smell of the book, and the lack of digital notifications allows you to comprehend more easily and slows your mind down. When parents read to children, it not only helps them learn but creates a bond.
Go for a nature walk. Being in nature releases stress by helping us breathe slower and deeper. It helps clear racing thoughts and relieves feelings of urgency. Make it a goal to go for a walk every day. It’s not the distance that matters most; it’s the experience in the here and now.
Get together with friends and family. This is one of the single biggest measures correlated with wellbeing and longevity studies. Connecting with others in person isn’t only something to enjoy, it’s something that changes our bodies mentally and physically. Plan a meet-up with a friend or family member at least once a week. When eating dinner as a family, make the dinner table a “no screen” atmosphere. Nothing going on in your virtual life equals what these people mean to you.
Spend time with your pets. There is an incredible healing power that animals have with humans. Research studies have shown this healing power doesn’t have to be with a pet you own – it can be experienced by going to a zoo and watching animals or petting a neighbor’s dog.
The internet has vastly changed the amount of news and ease of which we can talk to each other all over the world, which everyone can benefit from. However, humans need human experiences. You know you best; when you no longer feel as connected or cared about as you once felt, or you begin feeling more annoyed and disheartened about life, look for ways you can reconnect. The first step is the toughest – shut off your gadgets.