The art of switching off and why it’s become so hard
Switching off has become very hard; I am sure you feel this way too. These days, we are so constantly “switched on” that every waking moment feels like a competition for our attention. We have multiple devices to deal with, often multiple email and phone numbers, dozens of apps like WhatsApp and Google Hangouts pinging us messages and then the constant onslaught of social media; which as we all know, can quickly turn toxic and make us feel terrible.
Ten years ago, I undertook a strong meditation program, that would see me meditating several times per day. This was back in 2008, and although I had a mobile phone, it was no a smartphone at that stage, and it pretty much left me alone. Fast forward a few years after that and I attempted to do my fourth Vipassana silent mediation retreat. I found it so difficult – so much harder than before, as I was now well and truly addicted to my smartphone – I wanted to know what was going on back home, so very desperately.
Now – the time has come for me to switch off for a couple of weeks, and I am having a really hard time with the idea of it. My new little family and I are off to beautiful Bali in a few days, and I have decided that I need to unplug, unwind, and reconnect with the people I love – and give them my full attention, without endlessly scrolling, posting, conversing with strangers and worrying about work.
Why is it so hard to switch off now?
A recent article in Forbes talked about the six most negative effects of overuse of social media. IT pointed to a study by Swansea University that found that people, “experienced the psychological symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using (this went for all internet use, not just social media).”
According to Forbes, “Their recent follow-up study found that when people stop using, they also undergo small but measurable physiological effects.” Sounds pretty serious, right? The real issue is that it’s hard to “switch off” and it’s just getting harder – with more and more “platforms” edging their way into our already busy lives.
What are the repercussions of not switching off?
To put it bluntly, you might become moodier, lonelier and obsessed, according to research discussed by Susan Biali M.D. on Psychology Today. ““In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines, staring at a screen for at least eight hours a day, more time than we spend on any other activity including sleeping.” How worrying is that?
Apparentl,y we all now send over 400 texts a month, and the number is growing. Anyone who has been on vacation or annual leave knows the pain of coming back to work with hundreds, if not thousands of emails to go thorough; let alone the people pinging you on platforms like Slack, or workflow programs like Monday.com which my work uses. It’s great – but honestly, it stresses me out. So much to check, so much to stay on top of, all of the time. I’m exhausted.
Can being “too connected” cause anxiety?
Yep. It definitely can. According to the acclaimed writer on technology and culture, Nicholas Carr, being online too much, “leads to behaviour that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively.” And it’s true, we have all felt this, right?
There are now online bullying stats that suggest that one in five teenagers is bullied online, but I would think the number was much higher than that. I was also surprised to read that, “Instagram is the network of choice for cyberbullies in 2017, with Facebook close behind,” because whenever I head to Instagram I find it so vacuously “over-positive” and posed. Everyone on Instagram is now “living their best life” and even poor decisions like tummy tucks and “body transformations” are gaining applause, despite their high risks and potential to cause real, permanent harm.
5 things to check to make sure you are fully present
So, are you really present? Mindfulness is all the rage now, and yet next to no one really practises it, because it’s actually very, very hard for most people. Our minds are like “monkey minds”, constantly being naughty, mischievous and swingling wildly from place to place. Here are five ways to check that you are really, fully present.
#1: Return to the senses
Read my article on Four Quick Concentration Exercises and think about this, “What can I hear, feel, taste and smell? Return to your five senses for a short time and try to concentrate on really feeling these faculties at work. You are a living, breathing receptacle for the world – what is it trying to communicate to you today?”
#2: Do something physical
Nothing gets you back into the present like doing something physical. Slightly complicated activities can be really helpful for this. I once heard a trick that when you are stressed out, do something that requires concentration like plucking your eyebrows – just be careful that your stress doesn’t make you pluck out too much!
#3: Talk to a child, or babble to a baby
I have to say that my adorable baby girl is always in the present. She doesn’t think about yesterday or tomorrow, she is only concerned with what’s happening right now. If you are struggling to be in the present, then strike up a conversation with a child, or play with a baby. They will teach you a lesson or two about how to live in the now.
#4: Let go of intrusive thoughts
We all have intrusive thoughts and they are a challenge. One of the biggest challenges with them is that people think that they are not normal, but they are. The challenge is letting them go. remember that you are not your thoughts, you do not have to be ruled by what you “brain is telling you”. You are in charge; let the thoughts go.
#5: Unplug, disconnect, unwind
I heard a great anecdote from the Australian bush. A city slicker comes to a country town and sees all the children running around, without tablets and smartphones. “Wow, your kids are so full of life,” the city slicker says. “My kids are always on their iPads – how do you do it?” The country dad smiles; “Oh, its easy,” he says, “We just have really crappy reception out here, so they have no choice!”
The lesson here is, if you can’t trust yourself to unplug and unwind – then go somewhere where you will be forced to.
So – Alyce Vayle will be switching off for a couple of weeks
And with that, I will say good bye for a couple of weeks. I am taking The Boyf and our baby to lovely Bali for a couple of weeks where we will be swimming, playing, hanging out together and really connecting as a family.
If you would like to contact me when I get back from my break, please use my Alyce Vayle contact form above.
I hope you also get a chance to relax and unwind a little bit as well. Take care, I love you, Alyce.