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Unplugging from the Outside World

Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013

Guest post written by: Lisa Franseen, AGC Guide

Packing up to leave for a recent trip on the Colorado River, I felt a twinge of angst as I threw my cell phone in the suitcase to leave behind. “When was the last time I was without this constant companion?”  I might pride myself in “unplugging” regularly, but certainly not for fifteen days!

The average person spends about eight hours every day engaged with digital technology – cells phones, texts and emails, Facebook, blogs, twitters, googling, and gaming.  And yet, a trip floating through the Grand Canyon means, literally, unplugging from this electronic “noise” and leaving our lives behind.  Are there mental and psychological benefits from doing so? Or negative impacts if we don’t?

Only a half hour a day outdoors in nature has been shown to increase our ability to focus, concentrate, make better decisions, and to feel less stressed out.   Research journals are now filled with studies that show the beneficial effects of being in nature.  Those of us who already play regularly outdoors don’t need research to tell us this but, unfortunately, in our “civilized” lives the average amount of time spent outdoors is only four minutes a day.  That’s about the time it takes to get back and forth to our cars!

Add to that dismal statistic the negative impact of never unplugging. Using canyon language, perhaps it’s now the norm to be drowning in a digital flash flood. Twenty years of studies on children have found that too much “screen time” (more than one to two hours per day) leads to obesity and poor nutrition, learning and focusing difficulties, poor social skills, and higher rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, irritability, and behavioral problems.  I have a client in my counseling practice who is trying to break his 6000-text-messages-per-month habit.  

Given the realities of our daily lives, it seems all the more important to build in time to unplug; to replace the virtual with what is real.  Paddling through the Roaring 20’s, I’d long forgotten about my cell phone!  The banter of our river tribe on a backdrop of silence bouncing off canyon walls quickly replaced that old urgency to communicate virtually. And, after two weeks of gazing uninterrupted at layers of sandstone and limestone, or the passing of stars across the slit in the canyon walls, I knew the canyon had truly awoken me.

Lisa Franseen, PhD, is an ecopsychologist and was in private practice in Traverse City, Michigan until October 2011. Burned out on insurance companies and bureaucracy, she is now skiing somewhere in the Rockies, and a guide for Adventures in Good Company.

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