Cell phones are great for keeping in touch with friends and family while traveling — and it’s hard to beat having instant access to a high-end, lightweight camera. But on vacation, you want to take a break and unplug, right?
Well, no. Despite a growing interest in entire retreats dedicated to “tech-free wellness,” it turns out that we’re more addicted than ever.
According to tech-services company Asurion, Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation. And some people look at their phones more than 300 times each day. Even on a beautiful beach or immersed in a stunning cityscape, people are checking their phones once every 12 minutes on average.
As you can imagine, all of this screen time isn’t great for our mental and physical wellbeing.
When we put our phones aside, psychologist Jessica Nicolosi told The Points Guy, we experience a profound sense of disconnection. We feel lonely in a room full of people because we have stopped connecting, stopped saying good morning, stopped smiling at others. We no longer use our voices to communicate, choosing instead to send a text message — or worse, a picture meant to demonstrate our emotional state.
The odd thing is that we typically plan vacations designed to help us disconnect. That’s the entire point. Yet we cannot stop glancing at the screens we keep in our back pocket or the palms of our hands.
And not being able to detach can lead to physical side effects.
“My patients report a feeling of intense anxiety when they step away from their phones, and their description of the feeling is frighteningly similar to listening to someone struggling with drug addiction trying not to relapse,” Nicolosi said. “Studies have found that overuse of cell phones is related to reports of headaches, irritability and anger, along with difficulty concentrating and anxiety.”
If that’s not bad enough, too much time on our cell phones can also lead to sleeping problems.
“Obtaining restorative sleep is already challenging on the road because our sympathetic nervous system, the basis of our flight-or-fight response, is more active,” sleep expert Rebecca Robbins said. “Unfortunately, in the face of sleep difficulty, one common approach is to reach for our cell phones. But that hinders our ability to fall asleep.”
Why? Aside from the content on our mobile phones being stimulating — anxiously reading emails from a boss, for example, or scrolling through social media — mobile phones emit blue light that can suppress melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles.
Knowing how disruptive cell phones can be, especially if we’re unable to unplug even during a well-intentioned vacation, is a start. But sometimes, learning to disconnect is a multistep process that takes time and discipline.
Before your next trip, try these three steps to help you prepare for a legitimately tech-free (OK, maybe just tech-light) holiday.
1. Download an app
Yes, this suggestion seems counterintuitive. Stay with us. There’s an app called Moment designed to track how much you use your phone every day. In addition to putting the amount of time you spend on your phone into (sometimes horrifying) perspective, Moment can help you reduce the hours you spend on your device. (It’s free, too.)
Before you leave for vacation, set a daily limit. The app will notify you when you go over. At the very least, Moment points out how long and how often you scroll through Instagram or check emails — something you may not even notice.
2. Make small disconnection commitments
Like any addiction you want to break, you have to start small to make significant changes. That’s why Nicolosi suggests choosing one or two times during your day to put your phone aside to begin breaking the habit.
“Perhaps you choose not to look at your phone for the first hour of your day,” she said. “Or maybe you need to start much smaller, and commit not to pick up the phone when your partner goes to the bathroom. Whatever it is, take that time to look up and notice your surroundings. Slowly, you’ll become more comfortable doing it.”
If you start to get anxious, Nicolosi suggests using self-talk to remind yourself that whatever is there will still be there in an hour.
3. Power down before bed
Wouldn’t it be great if we could power down our minds like our cell phones? Unfortunately, it does take time. That’s why we have to look at the hours before bedtime as a part of the sleep-onset process itself.
“Ideally, you should avoid cell phones 90 minutes before you want to go to bed,” Robbins said. “If you can’t do that, at least 30 minutes will help, too.”
Replace that time with something relaxing such as a soak in the hotel hot tub, reading or meditating.
“Sleep is a process,” Robbins said. “If you find yourself tossing and turning, get out of bed, keep the lights low, sit in an armchair to read or meditate, and return to bed when you are tired. Don’t get on your phone.”