by Alexandra Duron: Ever noticed how dinners with friends have turned into dinners with friends—and their phones?
Or how, more often than not, the last thing you do before bed and the first thing you do when you wake up is swipe open a device? Whether it’s to scroll through Insta, tweet, or answer work e-mails, we’re using technology more than ever, and it’s changing our behavior.
Consider this: A whopping 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone, and 64 percent have smartphones. People report using them for anything from reading the news to online banking to nixing boredom—and even avoid interacting with people around them. (Hashtag huh?)
And while we firmly believe that the stuff that keeps us connected is rad—after all, emoji-heavy texts from friends can be day-makers and it’s certainly convenient to fire off an email from anywhere—it also comes with some drawbacks. First off, research suggests that it’s addictive. One study even suggests that Internet addiction causes changes in the brain that are similar to those caused by alcohol and drug addiction. As for tapping on that iPhone that’s out while you’re with your friends? Its presence alone may keep you from feeling as much empathy, according to research. Plus, considering we’re always available, it’s harder than ever to give ourselves a break from all the gadgets.
Fortunately none of this means that we have to resign ourselves to being tech-obsessed 24/7. These resources will help you power off, boost productivity, and reconnect with what matters: the world and the people around us.
Events, Retreats, and Workshops
Camp’s not only for kids anymore. Camp Grounded is designed for grown-ups who are looking to disconnect, unwind, and have some good, old-fashioned summer fun. Here, official rules ban digital technology, any talk about work, and even watches, so it’s easy to connect with other campers over your interests—not over texts. Relive your childhood with the huge variety of classic activities offered, from archery to slack-lining to arts and crafts. (You’ll just have to wait until Monday to ‘gram your masterpiece.) Weekend sessions are currently offered in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and retreats in California’s Redwood forest start in 2016. (Starting at $495 for three-night retreats)
If you’re the type to pencil in your workouts, why not pencil in some time for meditation? Now you can do just that, thanks to Unplug Meditation in Los Angeles. Simply stop by the sleek, calming space during your most chaotic days to relax, reenergize, and find a new (and happier) kind of focus. The 30- to 45-minute drop-in classes, led by top meditation leaders, basically do the work for you—all you need to do is show up, sit back, and relax. ($22 per class)
A New York Times bestselling author and ultra laid-back spiritual guru, Gabby Bernstein makes teachings about positive thinking and meditation super accessible. Sign up for her (free!) guided meditations on her site, or experience it all IRL at her workshops, events, and retreats offered throughout the year. One date to jot down: July 11, when she joins Deepak Chopra for the second annualGlobal Meditation for Compassion. This event unites more than 500,000 people online with one common intention: to take a stand for empathy and love and to reconnect with what truly matters. (Retreats start at $350)
The team behind Digital Detox has one goal: Help participants rediscover what can happen when they disconnect from technology and reconnect with the world around them. This company plans customized corporate programs, from one-hour “playshops” to multi-day retreats, while their signature “Unplug” events take place annually in San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to the founders, taking a sabbatical from your smartphone can help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, fatigue, and improve your personal wellness, relationships, happiness, and even your career. With those odds in your favor, what do you have to lose? Besides another an hour spent on Facebook, that is. (Tickets start at $12)
Go big or go home. That’s the official motto of Screen-Free Week. Instead of biding adieu to digital technology for an hour or even a day, this annual event suggests going completely screen-free for a full six days. That means no watching TV, no scrolling through Instagram… basically avoiding any device you’d use for entertainment (any tech you need for work or school get the green light, though). While the official event occurs in May each year, you can organize a screen-free week in your own community or find an upcoming event near you. (Free)
Anyone who’s ever worked a day in their life knows that offices can be stressful environments (to say the least). This innovative program, sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, examines the challenges of finding a mindful, healthy culture at work and provides attendees with strategies and skills to better cope with—and even thrive—in today’s workplace. The two-day event, happening in November, is led by top researchers, HR leaders, and other mindfulness experts, so participants get a well-researched, in-depth look at what a mindful culture at work truly means. (Starting at $279)
Podcasts and Programs
In February 2015, a public radio station in New York City launched six day’s worth of challenges with the goal of bringing back the “lost art” of spacing out. Inspired by staggering stats about our dependence on technology (like the fact that 67 percent of cell phone owners check their phones without even hearing a sound!), the show’s producers wanted to help listeners detach from their phones and spend more time thinking creatively—and even being bored, which can lead to surprisingly positive results, they say. Each mini podcast contains one simple daily challenge (for example, one photo-free day) that helps get you away from your phone. Challenge accepted! (Free; wnyc.org)
If taking the time to meditate for 30 minutes—or even 30 seconds—seems impossible, simply tune in to this podcast, hosted by Tara Brach, a teacher at the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, D.C., and you’ll soon see that it’s a lot more doable than it sounds. Brach guides listeners through 30-minute mediations and talks about Buddhism, happiness, overcoming fears, and other topics. Plus, her sense of humor helps you lighten up and sail through the more challenging aspects of meditation. (Free; iTunes)
You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to tap into the power of health and wellness guru Deepak Chopra, M.D., one of the leading teachers of Eastern traditions. The Chopra Center offers plenty of meditation programs, CDs, and on-demand videos that are designed to inspire and improve your life. A good place to get started would be with the free upcoming 21-Day program,Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude, led by Chopra and Oprah herself. (Many programs are free; some CDs start at $49.99)
The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free drop-in classes every Thursday in an on-campus theater, where instructors teach participants how to live in the present through active observation. Not in Los Angeles? You can tune in to all past podcasts for free online.
It might sound backward to download yet another app to help you cut back on your tech time, but that’s exactly what Moment will do for you. The app puts some helpful data at your fingertips—it tracks your usage and lets you set daily limits on technology. The gist: When you hit your limit, you stop using your iPhone or iPad. Easy. And parents will love the family version of the app, which allows you to schedule time (say, dinner hour) for your entire family to be tech-free. (Free; iOS)
Spending more time scrolling through Facebook than working on that looming project? Designed for Mac users, SelfControl gives you a little boost in the productivity department. While you won’t be totally unplugging, this app does let you ditch unnecessary distractions. With a “blacklist” of prohibited sites and a timer (which doesn’t run out, even if you restart your computer), this program makes it easy to avoid clickbait (or your ex-boyfriend’s sister’s new Facebook album) when you’ve got more important things on your plate. (Free; Mac OS)
Sometimes being antisocial is a good thing. Compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, this app lets you add all disruptive social networking sites (it’s not personal, Pinterest!) to a block list and set up specific time blocks, from 15 minutes to eight hours, to help you power through crunch time. ($15; Windows and Mac OS)
Cluttered computer screens driving you crazy? This is the app for you. With a minimalistic, clean design, WriteRoom provides a full-screen writing experience that’s just what easily distracted writers are looking for. Download the Mac software and you won’t ever have to mess with Microsoft Word’s formatting palettes, page layouts, or margins again. It’s especially effective for when you’re trying to crush your final papers, create text-only reports for work, or pen your soon-to-be bestseller. ($9.99; Mac OS)
This blocking service claims to have saved users 3,907,970 minutes and counting—just imagine how much time it could save you. Work, study, or write distraction-free with this free app that works with any operating system to block sites that detract from your focus. Or splurge on the pro version, which offers extra attributes such as scheduled blocks and the ability to mark certain sites as an exception. It also allows breaks from your tunnel-vision focus throughout the day, which research shows actually help enhance productivity. (Free or $14.99 for pro version; Windows and Mac OS)
We’re all for two-in-ones, and this app doesn’t disappoint. Marrying to-do lists with Internet and app management, Concentrate makes it easy to focus on the task at hand, whether that’s reading, designing, or writing. In the app, you simply specify which sites and apps to block and which to allow, and set the timer. It also changes your chat statuses to away and gives you the option to set up spoken messages (or growling sounds!) meant to keep you focused. ($29;Mac OS)
Guilty of having 10, 15, even 20 tabs open at once? We’ve been there. We just really wanted to read that movie review, check out the news, watch that adorable puppy video, and… half the workday is gone. The good news? You can save all the stories you want to read and access them offline, without having to set aside time from your real work. Pocket’s a genius app that lets you cheat the digital detox system—without ever taking you online. You simply select what content you want to save for later (it works for articles, videos, and more), and save it to Pocket via your web browser, email, or more than 1,500 compatible mobile apps. Then, peruse at your leisure from your smartphone. (Free; iOS and Android)
Offtime allows users to take unplugging to the next level, thanks to app blocking, communications filters, and analytics that examine how often you’re really checking your phone. For a set amount of time, the app lets you block distractions like calls, texts, or app notifications (but pre-approved VIPs can still get through to you). You can create a list of customizable profiles, select a period of time to unplug, and Offtime takes care of the rest—including a comprehensive list of missed phone activity when you’re ready to reconnect. (Free; Android)
If you’ve ever been in a movie theater, you know how distracting a glaring, lit-up phone screen can be. Well, it’s equally as distracting if it keeps lighting up next to your computer! Thankfully smartphone users can give themselves a break from the incessant buzzing with one quick swipe. Switch on the Do Not Disturb setting on iPhones orPriority mode on Android devices to keep calls, notifications, and alerts under wraps. You’re also able to designate a recurring time for it to turn on, while still allowing calls from certain people. (Free)
Mindfulness Apps and Websites
A self-described “gym membership for the mind,“ this site and app duo aims to keep your mind healthy and happy through 10-minute mindfulness exercises. When we tried it, we found it actually helped us focus better and even fall asleep faster. Start with their free intro program called Take 10, then make your way through multiple levels, selecting from meditations that focus specifically on health, relationships, sleep, and more. Plus, the app lets you connect with friends to help keep you motivated. (Monthly subscriptions start at $6.24; iOS and Android)
This app is going to give Pharrell a run for his money. It’ll turn your frown upside down on the daily, letting you notice (and share!) the stuff that makes you smile. Plus, it comes equipped with courses designed to improve all aspects of life. You’ll have on-the-go yoga, self-confidence meditations, writing exercises, and more at your fingertips. (Free; iOS and Android)
With this app, you have the flexibility to meditate anytime, anywhere. We’re not kidding—it chooses the meditation for you based on what you’re doing, whether you’re taking a break from your 9-to-5, feeling stressed, or just strolling around. You’ll also receive tips that’ll help deepen your understanding, and can even see stats to see how your practice is stacking up. ($4.99; iOS and $2.99; Android)
Whether you’re a nervous flyer, your boss is stressing you out, or you’re going through a tough breakup, this free app may be a lifesaver. Meditation coach Lynne Goldberg gently talks you through 10-minute sessions that will help you de-stress, relax, and calm down—no matter what situation you’re in. Even if you’ve never meditated before, the easy instructions and short time limit are appealing and approachable for any level. (Free; iOS)
This website and app is proof that technology can actually help you tune out. By helping you tap into your breath and inner thoughts, Stop, Breathe & Think makes it easy to slow down when things are getting crazy. Bonus: It’s smart. Answer a few quick questions and it will suggest meditations based on your current state of mind and mood. Both platforms also let you track your progress and record the time you’ve spent meditating. (Free; iOS and Android)
If only there was some sort of formula to achieve a happier, calmer, more mindful life… Well, this website offers pretty much just that! You’ll find a collection of “practices“ designed to help you live a more meaningful life. Whether you’re trying to build compassion, reconnect, or cultivate mindfulness, their easy-to-use tools (ranging from “casual” to “intensive” walking meditations, writing exercises, and more) can help you get there. (Free)
Think of this as the “Dear Diary” approach to the digital detox. Perfect for writers and non-writers alike, the book contains a suggestion for an offline action every day of the year. It also gives you space to jot down your thoughts once you completed the daily task. One more reason to put down your tablet? Reviewers warn that the format of this book is much better in the paper version. ($12;amazon.com)
This “zen coloring book” serves as proof that art is an ideal way to reconnect with yourself and tune out digital distractions. Written by an art therapist and illustrated by an artist, it’s designed to help keep you away from your devices, slash stress, and boost creativity. With up to 100 coloring templates, organized into seven themes, put your pencil (or crayon!) to paper to color away any stressful day. Keep calm and color on. ($11; amazon.com)
There’s a reason everyone always talks about writer’s block: Would-be Hemingways (especially ones with 9-to-5s) tend to have a tough time carving out enough free time to make a dent in their upcoming novel. This book provides motivation to actually take time out of your busy schedule and simply write, with advice from authors and ways to work past your excuses, plus a week-by-week guide that’ll help you stick to your goal. Next stop: the bestseller list! ($12; amazon.com)
Journaling can help slash stress and dial down depression, science suggests. So why not do it every day? It doesn’t have to be a time-suck. This journal, from the bestselling author of The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin, is proof. Use the quotes that appear on every page as a prompt or simply jot down anything you’d like—just one sentence does the trick. The coolest part? You can do this over five years and then revisit each quote—and your reflection upon it—annually. ($17; barnesandnoble.com)
If writing just one sentence a day isn’t your jam, this journal may be your new BFF. It’s the pen-and-paper equivalent of a “mountain retreat—without electricity,” the authors say. With creative prompts, inspiring quotes, and plenty of space, this handy book allows you to release as much, or as little, onto the page as you’d like. ($15.95;barnesandnoble.com)