This Tech-Free Checklist Will Nourish Your Soul (And Your Eyeballs)

Photo: Javier Díez

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Technology runs my life, and I mean that in the best way possible. I use it to keep my calendar, manage my finances, connect with co-workers around the globe, and send copious amounts of memes and GIFs to my kids (so they know I’m supercool). As a technology expert, I am constantly testing and writing about technology, and even my dog wears a fitness tracker.

Of course, too much tech is sometimes just too much, and I often feel the need to retreat from all that screen time. Eye strain can wreak havoc on my ability to focus, and Facebook depression is a real thing (I’m sorry, is everyone but me wearing a bikini in Ibiza right now?). I rarely play games on my phone (although according to this study, 63 percent of us did in 2016, and I’m sure that number is growing), but I do find myself endlessly scrolling the (terrible!) news…or Pinterest. Because cupcakes aren’t going to like themselves, people!

If you’re like me and being away from your computer for long periods of time isn’t really an option, you might want to plan more bite-size digital detoxes: an hour, an afternoon, a weekend day, when your mind, body, and spirit can focus on something other than inbox zero. It’s taken me a while to find the right path to balance in this area, but I have some go-to activities that keep me from succumbing to our culture’s latest and most legal addiction.

If you’re feeling a little out of whack, here are some tech-free activities that can help you rest, get well, recharge, and find your center:

1. Doodle!

I have always been a doodler and took a lot of heat for wasting both time and paper. I just didn’t realize how important it was to my focus, memory, and psyche until I began to read the research. Sunni Brown’s Ted Talk makes a case that doodling improves our comprehension and creative thinking, and the Wall Street Journal says it helps our brain process information, improving memory and focus. I use doodling as a way to get thoughts and ideas to come to the surface, to hash out ideas, to dream and plan…all without a Wi-Fi connection.

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2. Read a (paper) book.

Reading on paper versus plasma isn’t the same thing, according to neuroscience. Aside from the fact that reading a paper book will cause you less eye strain and won’t compel you to multitask (because DING! An Important Email just arrived!), recent studies shows that our brains are more likely to retain information and comprehend more clearly when we read on paper, which makes sense, since we’ve all become "skimmers" of online content (I was an English literature major, and now I skip over anything that looks like it’s more than a five-minute read).

3. Make lunch…and eat it slowly.

When it comes to breakfast and dinner, the bookend meals of the day, I usually take the time to eat something healthy and at home, with my family. The middle meal, however, is a hot mess: I am usually eating lunch in my lap, at my desk, while driving a vehicle, or in a restaurant that will feed me in 15 minutes or less (I believe they call that fast food, even if it’s organic and GMO-free). Taking the time to (a) prepare a meal at home, and (b) eat it slowly while sitting still, can do wonders for your mental and physical state. Being present with the food that you’re making and eating can help you calm your mind and be more mindful, which can help you recalibrate before your workday resumes, and the simple act of chewing your food (instead of wolfing it down) can help you digest your food better, absorb more nutrients, and even help you eat less. I’m sold.

4. Take a bath.

There are some days when it feels like work just to run the bath and wait for it to fill (my bed is calling). But I’ve made this part of my nonnegotiable bedtime routine for good reason: In addition to literally and symbolically "washing off the day," I can add a scoop or two of Epsom salts, along with some calming aromatherapy like lavender or bergamot, both of which can help me calm down, unwind, and improve my sleep. I usually use a bath as a line in the sand: After my toes hit the water, it’s no more tech for the rest of the night.

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5. Do a dry brush.

When my schedule is frantic, and my phone is a flurry of dings, rings, and buzzes, there’s nothing that seems more decadent than doing a full-body dry brush. But the truth is, it only takes a few minutes, and it’s a nice way to pamper yourself (even if it’s a bit scratchy). Dry brushing boosts circulation, stimulates your lymph nodes, and gets rid of all those dead skin cells that, quite frankly, you don’t need to be carrying around. Add some body oil afterward, and you can skip the spa, all in the time you’d otherwise spend checking your social feeds.

6. Get outside.

Exposure to natural light during the day affects your biological clock, so being outdoors will help you feel more alert (especially if it’s cold out!) and then help you go to bed more easily at the end of the day. That vitamin D is great for your immune system and your mood and stress levels too.

7. Connect with friends and pets.

Because looking in someone’s eyeballs, whether they be two- or four-legged, feeds our souls and brings us out of our virtual lives and into our real ones. And not just because it’s fun to discuss The Bachelor: According to one meta-study, the mortality risk of not having a strong social network was comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day (in other words, being a loner is the new smoking). Connecting with your pets is equally soothing to your soul—not to mention that they’re good at getting you outside, making you exercise, and reducing your stress levels.

Want more tech-free ideas? Here's your checklist for the ultimate mental health day, plus what happened when this Instagram influencer went on a social media hiatus.

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