As sunlight kissed my eyelids, my eyes sluggishly fluttered open, only for me to be jolted into a state of awareness. For the past three months I have awakened to a wall of rich green Adirondack pines and woods filled with crafty little creatures. This morning my pines have been replaced by sage-colored cedars, live oaks, and dry grass.
My red Adirondack rocker on the dock by the lake has been hijacked by my brown wicker couch on the long, covered back porch of our Austin home.
The cool mountain breezes have been substituted with heat so intense it blasts you in the face like opening the door of an oven.
Last week I was wrapped in a fuzzy old blanket, today an old T-shirt and shorts are too oppressive and my coffee is begging for ice.
My fellow weary travelers are sleeping in after last night’s long trip home. Monday, the “s-word” (“school”) is about to begin again. This is the final day awakening naturally can occur.
For now, the house is so quiet that the only sound is the flutter of cool air fluffing out of vents, overcoming the warmth.
Birds are chirping morning songs that beg for cooler weather, and the little long-tailed squirrel that lives under my studio deck keeps peeking his head out because no human has intruded on his space for most of the summer.
I’m reminded that the mountains were to get away from the summer heat, which we’ll be putting up with through October. Though our summer cabin time has ended, it’s always good to be home.
While most live their year from January to January, I look at my year as the start of the school year till its end.
For 15 cycles of the seasons, since the triplets were hatched into our care, this heavy traveler takes no trips in the summer months, which are sacred family times to reconnect with one another and family members we see too little of otherwise.
My Grand Experiment
Each summer, the last week at the lake is my vacation time, but this year the need to disconnect drove me to two full weeks off, with a different goal … to relax fully.
You see, vacations for everyone used to be a week or two away from work, until some sage and sadistic person invented e-mail and social media. Now, for most, vacations simply mean working from a different place in between moments of joy. I needed a vacation with no connectivity.
I went off the grid. No screen time whatsoever. No phone, no computer, no iPad, no television, not even a car radio because I wanted to avoid the news.
I disconnected completely: no e-mail, texts, Facebook, or Instagram. Not so much as a weather check on a screen.
The first few days I would reach for my smartphone about every two minutes for a fix, to find out who was e-mailing, texting, or messaging me. But then I’d catch myself and put it back in my pocket, where it stayed unless a Kodak moment arose and I had to take a picture.
Frustratingly, before the urge to look at screens began to go away, the little notifications that intrude on to the screen would pop up with a news story, an e-mail, or a Facebook post. I had to train myself not to even look at them because they instantly caused stress.
In fact, I finally locked my phone because it kept vibrating away while I tried to ignore it. My office knew not to phone me, but someone kept calling, again and again and again. Did someone die? Was it an emergency? I picked up my phone and glanced at it and found it was a very important person who was trying to reach me. Though I stressed about what they wanted for about three hours, I decided that the rule of “no screen time, no work, no texting” applied to everyone, no exceptions. So I never called that person back, never checked for a text or e-mail. It could wait.
It felt great.
But learning to live without screen time was almost impossible. Next time I’ll use a real camera and just lock my phone in a drawer.
In fact, one day I wanted to call to make an appointment at the local chiropractor, and my first impulse was to go find the smartphone, look up the number, and call for an appointment. Instead, I went to the phone book, looked him up, and called on the landline. It was very old school and something I had not done in many years.
A Serious Addiction
My realization was that I have a serious addiction, as do all of my family and probably most of the people reading this.
Though I was off my phone and forced to try to actually talk to people over dinner, I was pretty much ignored by everyone else, who were feeding their addictions on their smartphones. During dinner out, every table in every restaurant was the same. No more talking to one another.
I had never noticed before because every brief moment of boredom was met with an app to play with or an e-mail to check.
My addiction is the need for constant stimulation. No moment of boredom.
Did you know that every time you get a text or e-mail or Facebook message, some dopamine is released in your system?
Being disconnected was almost impossible. When I got bored, I took walks, I did some painting, I went out on my kayak, I spent time with the kids boating and waterskiing, and at night I avoided all screens. I actually found myself reading some antique books and reconnected with paper and ink, and my eyes were not burning from a bright screen in a dark room.
If you were at Disneyland and a character took off his or her mask (or head), the fantasy would be instantly blown. The same holds true for escape time. I found that, during the first couple of days, just about the time I would get relaxed, if I slipped and fed my addiction for even just a minute, my relaxation was over, my mind started racing, and my stress and anxiety levels went up.
Frankly, if you were to ask me a month ago if I had stress in my life, I’d have said no. Yet once I conducted this little experiment, I realized how much stress I carry and how much something as simple as a Facebook post can bring it all back.
My new rule? “Screenfast” whenever possible. I intend to screenfast on my upcoming fine art trip to Russia for two weeks, screenfast during my Fall Color Week painters’ retreat in Maine, and screenfast at every possible holiday and break. I have also decided to screenfast after dinner. No more screen time from dinner till morning.
The world is faster than ever and we can get more done in a day than we used to get done in a week, all because of screen time. But our brains need rest, and screen addiction feeds stress.
To every younger reader, I’m sure I sound like a neanderthal. But I can now appreciate that I have control; my screen does not control me. I think eight or 10 hours a day is enough. So, if you e-mail me at night, you’ll get a response the next day … unless, of course, I’m on screenfast.
I’ll be recommending screenfasting to my team members. Stay off screens at night, on weekends, and completely off 24 hours a day on vacations. Don’t even go to screens for personal use. Avoiding them completely will make your stress melt away and allow you to fully relax.
Avoiding screen time for two weeks resulted in better dreams, stress-free days, more creativity, and more pure relaxation. I’m enjoying reading actual books again and finding things to fill my moments of boredom.
Now, instead of being totally addicted to my screens, I’m addicted to screenfasting and I feel more refreshed than I’ve felt in years.
Will you do a screenfast?
Here’s to a great Sunday and a wonderful week. Thanks for reading this on your screen. Now shut it off and take a day of relaxation for yourself … and more if you can get it.