Having our phones, laptops, and tablets constantly powered on and within reach takes a toll on our mental well-being, experts agree. "When people are so plugged into their devices around the clock, they often lose their ability to be fully present to themselves and to other people," says Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. "It negatively affects our peace of mind and relationships with others.” We know it’s not realistic for most people to go totally off the grid, so you don’t have to ditch your gadgets. This freeing advice lets you carve out no-tech time while still staying connected to friends, family, and—yes—those cute panda videos.
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Implement tech-free zones. "Technology creeps into our days more than we notice," says Rossman. It helps to consciously disconnect at key times.
Wake up better. Don’t touch your phone for the first 30 minutes of your day. "Having a morning routine that nourishes you without tech helps you start the day centered,” says Rossman.
Do digital-free dinners. Enjoy your evening meals (or all meals) sans devices so you can eat mindfully.
Give yourself a curfew. Set boundaries for your biggest tech trap. "If you find yourself in a social media black hole before you fall asleep, for instance, tell yourself you’re not allowed to check it after 9 p.m.," says Rossman.
Break the bond. "We often end up on our devices out of habit or boredom," points out Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. This week, take a hands-off approach, except when it comes to essential texts and emails.
Turn off push notifications. Adjusting your phone settings so that you get alerted only to calls and texts rather than every social media update will make you feel less overwhelmed.
Leave blank space. Do you scroll through Facebook when you’re standing in line? Refresh Twitter while waiting for the train? Let your mind be unoccupied during those times instead of defaulting to your phone, says Dr. Small.
Make over free time. Entertain yourself for an hour each day without a screen (TV included). Read (off the tablet), play a game with your kids, or take a bath.
Get rewired. "We’re not going to stop using devices," says Dr. Small. "We just need to pick what we use them for."
Set reminders to go offline. Program alerts to nudge you every 40 minutes to take a walk or grab a glass of water—“anything that lets your mind decompress before returning to a screen," says Dr. Small.
Block yourself with an app. Download a program that monitors your phone usage. For example, AppDetox (free; GooglePlay) lets you set the number of times an app can be opened during certain periods, like work hours.
Use your phone to get fit. "My wife and I use an app to do a guided meditation every morning," says Dr. Small. "It’s a technology-driven experience, but it’s doing something beneficial for our brains and bodies." Other smart uses? Checking your step count or following a bedtime yoga video.