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Unplugging from electronics beneficial for health, mood

At any given moment, the simple ping of a new message or notification from one’s cell phone can pull them out of reality and into the digital world. Quick check-ins with our social media apps can turn into mindless scrolling sessions that completely detach us from the present, causing responsibilities and the real world to seemingly fade away. When free-time activities turn into consuming distractions that feel impossible to look away from, how does one begin to navigate unplugging from their phone for even a few hours at a time?

College students especially struggle with the notion of purposefully detaching themselves from their social media feeds. “Americans ages 18 to 24 are substantially more likely to use platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter even when compared with those in their mid- to late-20s," according to the Pew Research Center. Snapchat and Instagram are especially popular platforms which users return to multiple times throughout the day. Fifty-one percent of social media users in this age demographic reported to Pew that they would have difficulties giving up their usage.

Disconnecting from a digital environment can be beneficial for mental and social well-being. Anxiety, depression, self-esteem, relationships, envy and loneliness were all found in numerous recent studies to be affected by repeated social media use, according to a BBC report. The feeling that spending a significant amount of time on social media was a waste was a common factor found in two different studies examining depression and mood levels. Digital interactions with others, as opposed to real life conversations, could also have negative outcomes.

Deciding to unplug from a smartphone or laptop is a little more complicated than simply turning off a device or logging out of an app. These tactics may be effective for a short period of time, but it is just as easy to turn a phone on or sign back in and end up in the same state of addictively scrolling. What a person does with their free time unplugged from their device is just as important as the act of unplugging itself.

For those persistently checking their social media feeds in order to feel connected to others, establishing technology-free quality time with friends or family may be a way to avoid the urge to check one’s phone. This tactic especially reduces the need to be online because, "if you’ve got face-to-face interaction with your crew, then you’ll have no need to text each other, anyway," according to SELF Magazine. Attempting to unplug at the same time as a group of people could also help a person keep both themselves and others in check from using their phones.

“I do consider my phone to be a distraction when I’m doing something I don’t really want to, such as studying,” said Susie Pinon, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.  “That’s why I’m a million times more productive studying with others because the human interaction keeps my attention. When I’m engaging in activities I enjoy or are neutral, I have no urge to go on my phone because I really try to live in the moment and appreciate my surroundings.”

Introspective measures outside of social media can also be a way to ensure that unplugging is successful. Creative outlets, such as drawing, coloring, reading, cooking or baking can help keep one’s mind engaged yet relaxed. 

If the idea of going completely without a phone for a few hours seems too difficult to attempt, another alternative is to limit the amount of times accounts can be checked. “As for productivity, when studying I use my phone as an award — finish this page then go on Instagram for 10 minutes, etc.,” Pinon said. “The system usually works out.”

Starting out small by spending as little as a half hour a day tuning out one’s phone may even develop into a daily habit. Taking some time off from social media altogether could potentially be beneficial in the long run. 

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