Opinion: Disconnecting even for short periods of time can help protect your mental health

Back in July, I visited southern Mexico with some of my family and a close friend. The first night there, we were hanging around the pool at our vacation rental. After a few drinks and hours of dancing later, I dropped my phone in the pool.

I quickly fished it out, but it was no longer working. I panicked a bit because not only was this going to be an expensive piece of technology to replace, but I also had no way to take pictures and document my trip.

Nowadays, did you really go on a trip if you didn’t post pictures and videos of it on social media?

With Americans spending an average of more than 1,300 hours on social media in 2020, the constant posting on apps like Instagram and Facebook almost seems necessary at this point. It’s the easiest way to keep most of my loved ones updated on what I’m doing.

Once I returned home, I knew I would not have a phone for a couple of months because I didn’t want to pay for a used one. For all I knew, this could be a blessing in disguise. In the past few years, I have struggled with stress and anxiety from constantly being on my phone.

A few days after the trip, I kept wondering if any of my family or friends would attempt to reach me to no avail. The first thing I did when I got back home was to check my messages on my iPad and see if I missed out on anything. On both occasions, I had zero notifications.

My short periods of detachment from the world went unnoticed by everyone but myself. As my fear of missing out became less severe, I would still come home and check my messages, just not right away. Sometimes I had missed texts and calls, but the guilt of missing them did not weigh down on me as much anymore. I had gotten my personal space back.

Having space from each other used to mean there is a distance between people. In this day and age, our phone has become like another limb, and the meaning of space has been blurred. Millennials spend an average of 48 minutes per day texting and 41 minutes making phone calls. This is an extra hour and a half out of the day that people devote to communicating with others on top of the face-to-face interactions they already deal with.

People can be miles away from someone, but they interact in a face-to-face conversation as soon as they answer the FaceTime call. This has happened more often over the past year and a half since the pandemic stopped family members from seeing one another.

I don’t know why I had never disconnected from the world, even if for short periods of time. It often feels like I have to text back or answer the phone as soon as the notifications pop up because I don’t want to keep anyone waiting.

I’ve been using the “do not disturb” feature for years, but I still allowed the notifications to appear. I would miss a call in the past, and although it didn’t go through, I still knew the missed call was there because of the notifications that appear on the phone app. Though I didn’t have to answer the phone at that moment, I still felt the urge to reach back to the caller at some point.

If I can understand someone not wanting to reach back to me right away, then I hope everyone else can have the same understanding for me. I’ve always felt the pressure to be available for my loved ones as much as they need me to be, but I’ve come to realize I can give myself some time each day to be unreachable.

Choosing when I see my messages and other notifications have been great, and everybody should be doing this, too. For those who aren’t comfortable disconnecting for longer periods of time, even half an hour of not checking their phone could lower their stress.

I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the new iPhone in the upcoming weeks. However, this experience has affirmed my sentiment of needing space and the peace of mind that I don’t have to let myself worry about what’s happening beyond my immediate surroundings.

@NeinRuben

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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