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Holiday Stress & Anxiety: Benefits of Unplugging for the Season

The holiday season is here, and for many people it is the most wonderful time of the year, well minus the cries of stressed out shoppers, overwhelmed parents, sales reps and children (who are overdosing on sweets and other holiday goodies).

Or maybe it’s the voice in your own head nagging you to take advantage of the latest online shopping deal that ends at midnight, fretting about forgetting a gift for someone or thinking about the logistics of shopping, baking, cooking, traveling, etc.

For many people, everything about the holidays feels like a chore or an unwanted obligation. The season is something that fills them with anxiety instead of happiness. One way many studies show to help with this holiday stress is unplugging!

Unplugging for the holidays is more than just sticking your smartphone or other tech devices into another room for a few hours. Instead, it’s about making a concerted effort to give your brain a break and allow yourself to enjoy life’s smaller pleasures: the company of loved ones, truly enjoying a meal without first snapping photos of it or even just having some mental downtime.

There are actually scientific benefits to disconnecting and plugging back into “IRL,” or in real life:

1. Say goodbye to nomophobia

Does putting down your phone give you FOMO? If so, you’re not alone. About half of North American adults check their phones numerous times an hour. Reducing your screen time means you’ll have less time to waste on things like cat videos and more to spend on things you’ve been putting up because you “have no free time,” like trying out a new hobby or just unwinding with a good book.

2. Reduce anxiety

If you’re already stressed, too much tech time can make you feel more anxious and increase levels of depression. The pressure of waiting for a new like, the seemingly endless social media scrolling — it can all eventually take a toll on our mental health. Luckily, unplugging can reverse those effects.

Because anxiety can lead to a host of side effects, from headaches and trouble sleeping to an elevated heart rate, which can lead to heart disease, seize any opportunity (or these handy natural stress relievers) to decrease it! You’ll feel better and your body will thank you, too — as will your family members, who will appreciate the more cheerful you!

3. Your brain will focus better

Do you find yourself switching between apps, talking on the phone while playing computer games or simply trying to listen to that story your partner is telling you while checking tomorrow’s weather? All that multitasking is doing things to your brain, and they aren’t good.

Shutting off your technological tempters will allow you to practice mindfulness and give all your attention to what’s happening in front of you, whether it’s playing with your nieces and nephews or enjoying that delicious bite of apple pie. You might notice that you remember small details a bit better, as your brain is able to focus on the task at hand and process info more quickly.

4. Get more sleep

Watching Netflix in bed or checking your email one last time is ruining your shut-eye. The screens on your favorite gadgets emit a blue light. To your brain, blue light is the same as daylight and acts to stifle the production of melatonin. That’s a big deal, because melatonin is the hormone that’s responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. This makes it harder not only to fall asleep, but fall into the deep sleep that our bodies need to properly refresh.

The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. In fact, missing sleep can take years off your life. It can also lead to increased weight gain, up your chances of getting sick and affect your mood negatively.

Luckily, unplugging can help improve your sleep. You might find your memory improving, as sleeping seems to help new concepts “set” in the brain. Getting enough zzz’s also reduces inflammation in the body, reducing your risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes.

5. Feel happier and healthier with loved ones

While too much together time might be what’s driving you to seek the comforts of technology, it might be time to get cozy. Spending time with your friends and family actually improves your health.

It turns out the more shy and lonely you feel, the likelier you are to be addicted to your smartphone. And people without strong relationships increase their risk of dying prematurely by 50 percent, which is greater than the effect of obesity or physical inactivity.

Don’t let this holiday season be a time of stress and unhappiness for you. You should embrace the many positive aspects of the season and remember that the simple act of making someone else happy with a gift, card or other expressions of love is just about the best way I know of to make yourself feel better, too!