Hiking majestic landscapes with friends is one of my favorite pastimes. Up until recently, each summer I’d take a week to hike and camp with an alumni group at National Parks. Those trips were priceless. I was surrounded by natural beauty. I hiked epic trails. And I was accompanied by inspiring, vibrant people.
However, one of my favorite aspects of the trips was the remoteness. We rarely had cell phone coverage and eliminating that distraction made for an amazing, tight dynamic in the group.
Unfortunately, the moment we got back in range of those cell phone towers when driving out of the park, the energy shifted immediately. After people checked in with their loved ones, their smart phones would beckon them keep their eyes glued to the screen. Social media, email, and news sucked people in. The conversation, laughter, and the constant stream of jokes came to an abrupt stop.
We were back in the “real world”.
Hyper Connected yet Lonely
Social media and other technology that is used by individuals in an effort to feel connected often morphs into an isolating addiction.
Studies examining the link between mental health markers and recreational screen time show those on-line interactions aren’t cutting it. Increased screen time can exacerbate loneliness and mental health issues.
Today the average person in the Western world is more connected than ever thanks to modern technology. And yet we suffer from an epidemic of loneliness. Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, plague our society and these tech devices play a role in that downward spiral.
The strength of your face-to-face relationships is an amazing predictor of your overall, long-term health. As seen by this study, strong personal connections can have a powerful impact on mental health specifically.
So how do you enhance personal connections in a world where people’s eyes are glued to their screens?
Start out by walking away from your device. Literally.
Screen Free Movement
Movement is an amazing way to increase serotonin, your happy go lucky neurotransmitter (a brain chemical substance). Research shows us that increasing serotonin through exercise helps decrease depression and anxiety.
So put down your phone and take a walk.
Most people easily burn through several hours a day thanks to recreational screen time. What if you used even a fraction of that time to take a walk while simultaneously connecting with real people?
Invite your family for a stroll around the neighborhood. Put in a few miles while talking to a friend. Or head out to the trail or neighborhood sidewalks with a smile on your face, and enjoy meeting those in your community whose eyes are also not glued to a phone.
I’m always amazed at how many people I meet when strolling through the neighborhood or taking a hike. Daily walks have provided a great medium for my kids and I to meet and socialize with neighbors.
As humans we crave community and real connection. Listen to that primal need and fulfill it.
Get out of the house sans phone and start to walk away your anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Start with a small goal of a 10 minute walk each day, rain or shine. Then watch your desire for movement and real connection grow.