Proportions for Unplugging

For better or for worse, vacations aren’t what they used to be. As hard as we try, it is almost impossible to disconnect fully from our day-to-day lives. And in all honesty, do we really want to?

Of course, there is great value in taking a break from the routine and stress of everyday life. Research consistently shows that those who take more time off are happier, healthier and more productive. Technological connectivity follows us to even the remotest vacation spots, giving us the option of staying connected, but also possibly creating anxiety if we elect to cut ourselves off completely from work, friends and family.

Deciding whether or not to disconnect completely comes down to a simple formula: does the cost of checking out outweigh the benefits of staying engaged? There is no one correct choice. In fact, the right choice can vary for the same individual at different times.

The value of pulling the plug entirely is that it provides a chance to renew physical, cognitive and emotional energy. There is enormous restorative value in taking a break from work, family and social responsibilities. People who take this approach generally return from vacation with increased energy and new approaches to complex problems. In addition, remaining fully focused on a travel companion offers a rare opportunity to enhance a relationship without distractions.

For some however it’s unwise to cut ties fully, even for a few days. Being unavailable could result in missing important work events, losing touch with an ailing friend or not receiving pictures of a new grandchild.

As Emily explained to me, “the thought of cutting myself off entirely makes me so anxious that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my vacation because I would be distracted, wondering what is going on at home. The problem is that not disconnecting often means not enjoying my vacation.”

Like Emily, most people find it difficult to know whether it is best to disconnect or not. Allow yourself to be guided by what feels most comfortable—not what others say you “should” do—and by recognizing that for almost everyone, a healthy balance is most conducive to enjoying your time away. A few simple tips can help:

1. Turn off cell phones and other devices for at least a few hours a day (not including sleep!).
2. Create a “short list” of those with whom you will stay connected while you’re away. For example, a counterpart at work, children and a best friend, but no one else.
3. Include a point person in outgoing voicemail and email responders to give yourself peace of mind that urgent matters are being addressed.
4. Pick a specific time during each day to respond to issues that can’t wait. (First thing in the morning is usually best.) Limit this time to about an hour and then shift into vacation mode.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.