I could really do with some me-time.
I want to just chill out.
I don’t have time for myself.
I just need to…get away.
These are the words of people who are most likely spreading themselves too thin.
Because to every yin, there must be a yang.
And if you’re feeling this way, then you may need to take some time to fully unplug.
By unplugging, you’re reconnecting.
People say they’ll unplug on holidays.
But how many times a year do you go on a holiday?
We need this form of mental and physical escapism much more often than that.
In the bustling day to day where you’re bouncing around from errand to errand, meeting to meeting, you need to be able to switch off, to recharge, and centre yourself once again.
Go to your special place, if you have one. For me it’s a walk in a park or relaxing in a coffee shop I frequent.
Or even exercise. Exercise has always been a refuge where I do some of my best thinking.
Get in touch with yourself and your inner voice.
Relax. Think. Reflect. Meditate.
“Your soul needs to reset”
Filmmaker, artist, and founder of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain emphasises how important it is to unplug by drawing an analogy to the ritual of Shabbat:
“Shabbat is a very old idea. If you really look at what some of the scholars from a long time ago wrote about it, it’s as though they’re talking about today. The idea is that one day a week, you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week, your brain – and your soul – needs to be reset.
Your soul needs to be reset. That’s a great metaphor. It’s like hitting the reset button on my sense of balance (…) Some people say, ‘oh, on vacations, I unplug.‘ But when do vacations happen? Once or twice a year. There’s something about the weekly practice of getting a different mode of experiencing the world back that’s really important.”
The importance of renewal
If you’re working in a stressful job or find yourself spending a lot of time in a stressful environment, your body will mirror this stress by producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
These are the emergency hormones that keep you alert, get you going, and fuel you to get stuff done at work.
Sometimes though, I get back from a hectic day and I still feel activated, as if I haven’t “turned off” completely.
Scientists called this a state of prolonged activation.
I don’t know about you but other times, I’d come back from a busy day and I’d feel myself becoming deflated, as if these stress hormones were flushing themselves out of my system.
Deflated, I’d vegetate, operating at the lowest cycles, realising how low my baseline energy levels are without these stress hormones to carry me.
But this is where you realise how important it is to do something restorative, something that will reset and renew you.
This is crucial because our capacity is limited.
Tony Schwartz, author of the New York times bestseller Be Excellent at Anything and president and CEO of The Energy Project, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about this.
“Your capacity is limited. The challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity. Think of capacity as the fuel that makes it possible to bring your skill and talent fully to life (…).
Human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy.
Our brains wave between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand (…) Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day.
It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”
When you finally reset and unplug after a long time of not doing so
So you finally take a prolonged break from your usual hectic and stressful work environment.
During the first few days of your break from work will be you just realising how low your baseline energy is. You might realise that, in the productivity sense, these days are a complete write off.
You’ll realise you’re tired all the time and need some downtime where you can focus on nurturing your body through restorative exercise and nourishing yourself with clean healthy foods.
You’ll also be catching up on all that lost sleep. Throughout the weeks at work it’s normal to lose a lot of sleep. When you lose sleep, cortisol levels in your body increase because how else would you remain conscious.
People go back to work after a week off saying, semi-jokingly, “a week’s worth of holiday isn’t enough.”
Because it isn’t.
If you don’t unplug and recover frequently, you’ll accumulate too much stress and exhaustion and burnout will slowly creep up on you.
What you can do to unplug better
“Be mindful of who you let into your stream of consciousness”
Unplugging is as important as it is inevitable.
But it’s good advice to also just look out for the reasons that accelerate the need for unplugging.
Especially if it’s a toxic personality who drains you.
For this reason, Tiffany emphasises the importance of who you let into your mind.
“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”
Create windows of non-stimulation in your day
Scott Belsky, author of bestselling book Making Ideas Happen and co-founder and head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and creative work, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about the importance of being alone and creating windows of non-stimulation in your days
“Creates windows of non-stimulation in your day. Make this time sacred and use it to focus on a separate list of two or three things that are important to you over the long-term. Use this time to think, to digest what you’ve learned, and to plan.”