We use our phones for absolutely everything. Need to eat? Seamless or Grubhub is just minutes away. Need to send your exact location to a friend? Drop a pin. Need a date? Hop onto Bumble and swipe until you line one up. While 24/7 access to these technologies has greatly improved our quality of life in many ways, our mental health and social skills have also taken a hit, at least according to The TAF Preventive Medicine Bulletin.
Of course, there are also plenty of emotional benefits to our smartphones: Many folks live far away from family and old friends, and contemporary technology plays a vital role in keeping those relationships intact. But where do we draw the line?
When reflecting on this past year, I realized that I had gotten sucked into my online world with the good intention of keeping in touch with my loved ones, but that being connected 24/7 had cost me some mental health—and a lot of time. So I’ve resolved to make some major changes this year to help me disconnect, which will also help me focus on myself and my goals, and upkeep those relationships in a more healthy way. Here are 12 ways that you can do this too:
1. Join an accountability group (kind of!).
Sometimes because I work so much, I don’t get to see my friends very often. Weeks or months of "we need to catch up" texts will go by until finally, we find an hour when we’re both free (and exhausted) after work. At this point, the hangout, which is almost always grabbing a drink at the bar, can feel more like a chore than anything else.
But there are ways to combat this struggle—and the constant scheduling ping-pong that precedes it. Seek out friends who also want to unplug and take turns planning outings and evenings where you can leave your cellphones at the door and enjoy each other’s company instead. You can theme it up too: Get into a murder mystery game, host a wine tasting, do some karaoke...
2. Plan work lunch dates.
Usually, when I eat lunch at work, I end up blindly surfing the web. I feel like I desperately need to pause from the day’s tasks, but I don’t actually leave my desk, so I mindlessly browse Facebook or Pinterest... but I don’t ever take an actual break. And I’ve noticed that since I’ve fallen into this pattern, I don’t really have a lot of friends at work or know much about my co-workers.
This year, I’ve started asking my co-workers to eat lunch with me. I’m learning more about my colleagues, which is fun, and also helps out when navigating how to alleviate tension at work and understanding how my colleagues work best. It’s also great for avoiding that end-of-day technology hangover.
3. Give yourself a home project.
This year, I decided that instead of sitting on my couch looking through Instagram on the weekends, I’d give myself small projects in my home, starting with a super-easy DIY chalkboard wall, working up to redecorating my bathroom.
Pinterest can be overwhelming—especially considering how many Pinterest endeavors, once you actually try them, end up being epic fails—but there are a few good ones in the pile. One of my favorite projects that actually panned out was this pallet coffee mug organizer, only with one alteration: I used "S" hooks that you can buy at your local hardware store instead so that I can switch out what I hang there. Sometimes I use it for my mugs, other times to hang herbs. Another successful project: DIYing old glass jars into decorative containers to store bathroom items like Q-tips and bobby pins.
4. Get a workout buddy.
You may have a fitness goal this year, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend half your time at the gym adjusting your playlist and snapping photos on your Instagram Story. Look! I worked out! Here’s proof! You end up leaving the gym two hours later with only about 45 minutes of actual working out accomplished.
Next time you work out, bring a buddy and leave your phone in your locker instead. You can’t get lost in your own world if you’re busy catching up in between sets, plus your friend can push you to achieve your fitness goals and vice-versa.
5. Schedule phone calls and Facetime.
I often find myself overwhelmed by a deluge of text threads from out-of-town family and friends. Keeping up with those relationships is very important to me, but sometimes I feel like I’m taking hours at a time to catch up via text. Worse yet, I usually feel like we never even truly connect and instead just gush about how much we miss one another.
This year’s solution: scheduling phone calls and Facetimes with my loved ones so I can give them my undivided attention. Sure, yes, I’m still on my phone, which isn’t exactly disconnecting, but a one-hour, high-quality Facetime or phone call allows me to catch up with my loved ones way more than hours of distracted text messaging can. What’s gained? Time and real connections. Plus, we can plan for when we’re going to talk, so it’s convenient for both of us—and we have far more real news to catch up on by the time we can speak on the phone.
6. Make a reading list.
As a kid, I loved reading, and as an adolescent, books helped me escape. But as an adult, I’ve fallen completely flat. The excuses are endless, but primarily center around the same concern: I feel like I don’t have the time. This year, I decided to make a reading list so that I couldn’t make any more excuses.
Now every time someone recommends a book, I write it down in my planner with a note on the genre or subject matter so I have a running list to choose from. Instead of surfing the web, I make sure I use that critical 30 minutes before bedtime to read. According to The National Sleep Foundation, unplugging before bedtime improves the quality of your sleep. Combine that with the positive effects of reading, including increased connectivity in the brain, and you’re out of excuses to avoid doing something you already love.
7. Pass The '90s Test.
Being a child of the new millennium, I have no idea how to date without social media and cell phones—we’ve grown up learning to take our social cues and flirtations from Instagram, Snapchat, and text messages. I was thinking recently about what my relationships would be like if they weren’t so rooted in online communication and realized that most of them would be effectively nonexistent. So I realized I needed to stop developing more 2D relationships and focus instead on seeing potential romances in person.
So I came up with what I call "The '90s Test." I’ll only use my phone to set up a date with a person (like you would when you called someone’s landline back in the day). I make sure to leave on time so I don’t have the crutch of texting updates when I’m late, and I bring a book to read while I wait if they’re late. I’ve found that this also sets the standard of not using phones on the date, so that it’s uninterrupted and genuine. This way, if it’s a good date, you’ll know quickly that you have a real connection—and if it’s not going anywhere, you won’t have to wonder. You’ll figure it out fast instead of hiding behind your phone.
8. Invest in a camera.
The beauty of the modern age is that we don’t need 800 different devices to do everything we want; your iPhone can do practically everything. But how many times have you been on vacation or at an event where you promised yourself that you’d only bring your phone for pictures, but end up posting all over (and subsequently scrolling through) Instagram, or pretending to be occupied with something on your phone in order to avoid mingling or diffuse an awkward situation? I’ve done that so many times, and I walk away from the experience feeling like I kind of missed it all. This has led me to buy a simple camera. It makes me stay in the moment, and later, if I really want to upload any to Instagram when I’m bored at home, I always can.
9. Pioneer nights.
Growing up in Florida, this is how my parents used to make losing power during a hurricane fun. My parents would challenge my brother and me to avoid using anything electric all night. We’d eat by candlelight, talk instead of watching TV, and go to bed when we were actually tired.
Try this at home alone or throw an adult sleepover with friends: Break out your favorite candles, no-cook snacks (cheese, wine, and a box of frozen cupcakes should do the trick), and board games, and spend the night sans electronics. Go to bed early, and you’ll feel like a million bucks the next day.
10. Get a pen pal.
A while ago, my friend Lauren and I decided to become pen pals. You might assume that going old-school this way would make keeping up our friendship harder, but while we speak less than we might otherwise, the quality of the communication is much higher. I feel like so much online communication is one-sided, but as pen pals, we’re forced to ask questions about each other’s lives.
When I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, who is a mutual friend, I sent Lauren a letter about it. About a week later, I received a letter from her expressing her condolences and agreeing that he was a jerk, and a week after that, I sent her a letter back, updating her on how I was doing. By the time she’d sent the next letter, I was already healing and there wasn’t any room for petty he-said/she-said talk. It felt like a really natural way to process the breakup and receive support from a friend. Now we send each other goodies like homemade jewelry in the mail too, and she’s one less friend I have to worry about texting—we’ve got our own thing going.
11. Take a class.
I’m the biggest culprit of complaining I have no time for anything, but then spending hours on my phone, doing a whole lot of nothing. I’d always like to go to that yoga, painting, or acting class, but then my day flashes before my eyes. This year, though, I plan to go to a class once a week.
I know it’s not possible for everybody, but if you can, consider trying to build an extra $30-60 per week into your budget. Learning new things is an amazing act of self-care. And when you actively engage in learning as an adult, not only will you feel an incomparable sense of accomplishment you can’t get at work, but you’ll also just become a more interesting human.
12. Jump into your side hustle.
Probably the only thing more popular than the puppy filter on Snapchat right now is having a side hustle. So many of us are coming into our own as creators and want to be in charge of our own source of income. Whether that means making personalized t-shirts or starting your own production company, consider starting to take baby steps toward your entrepreneurial dreams instead of endlessly checking Facebook. When you’re doing something for yourself that you’re passionate about, the benefits are endless.Anie Delgado is a freelance writer, actress, and musician based in NYC. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @anie_delgado and check out her music on Spotify.