I promised myself—and more importantly, my family—that during a recent vacation to Hawaii I would completely disconnect in a "fast from all manner of media." It was on my flight home that I realized that I was more rested and relaxed than I'd been in years. Image courtesy of Doug Wyllie.

I promised myself—and more importantly, my family—that during a recent vacation to Hawaii I would completely disconnect in a "fast from all manner of media." It was on my flight home that I realized that I was more rested and relaxed than I'd been in years. Image courtesy of Doug Wyllie.

People who choose a career of any kind in public safety are necessarily deeply interested in knowing as much as possible about what threatens the health and welfare of American citizens, no matter where they are.

Too often, one of the first things those public safety professionals do in their time off is to put themselves in front of a screen of some kind, devouring information presented by television news readers and / or posts on social media.

There is certainly benefit to being current on events involving the people you consider family—your brothers and sisters across the country with whom you share a special bond—as well as the world at large.

However, it's also important—and extremely beneficial—to spend some time completely disconnected from the job.

This is a lesson I recently re-learned.

Working Vacation

Too many times in the past decade, I've been on a family vacation and made the mistake of opening up my laptop within the first hour of arrival at our destination. I'd check email, review my news feed, contemplate a column topic, or conduct some other work-related task.

I'd sometimes be online for hours at a time.

In essence, I was just doing what I always do every day on the job—only in a different time zone and in an unfamiliar location—while my family went off and enjoyed some sort of leisurely activity.

I promised myself—and more importantly, I promised my family—that our trip to Hawaii last weekend would be different.

I promised to completely disconnect.

I'd go "unplugged" in something of a Lenten fast from all manner of media.

I could not escape the news that during my "fast" 12 people—including Ventura County Sheriff's Sergeant Ron Helus—were murdered at a bar in Southern California, while the entire town of Paradise was destroyed by a rapidly moving wildfire that has claimed at least 56 lives in Northern California.

Short of hiding under a rock, there was no way to escape learning about those terrible tragedies—but apart from that, I spent six consecutive days in a total news vacuum.

It was on my flight home that I realized that I was more rested and relaxed than I'd been in years.

Scientific Evidence

In a lengthy article in Scientific American, Ferris Jabar wrote that there is an "overwhelming amount of empirical evidence" suggesting that the benefit of giving our brains an occasional break "has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies…"

Those studies examined "the benefits of vacation, meditation, and time spent in parks, gardens, and other peaceful outdoor spaces" as well as how "napping, unwinding while awake, and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind."

Jabar wrote: "Downtime replenishes the brain's stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one's moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self."

Meanwhile, researchers at Kansas State University said in a study that employees, "can have difficulty mentally distancing themselves from work during off-job time due to increasing use of communication technologies" such as email, mobile phones, and Internet devices.

Further, one study concluded that the use of devices emitting the "blue light" of a screen such as an electronic reader before bedtime "prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning."

The researchers stated, "Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety."

Manifold Benefits

Essayist—and author of the book We Learn Nothing—Tim Kreider wrote in a New York Times opinion piece, "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice—it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

One need not take a six-day trip to Hawaii to achieve the objective of unplugging—although it's something I strongly recommend.

The act of unplugging is to be present in the moment, allowing for daydreaming or simply meditating on nothing, and putting the myriad electronic distractions aside for a period of time.

One need only spend an hour of their day unwinding to reap the benefits of doing so—and the benefits are manifold.

As has been mentioned, unplugging can greatly improve the quality of a person's sleep. In addition to the scientific findings about how the "blue screen" affects sleep, consuming copious volumes of bad news—and let's face it, that's what we do most of the time—before bedtime only increases our stress and anxiety.

Another benefit is that we actually strengthen our relationships, especially with friends and family.

Indeed, when the screens are shut down and stowed, we actually talk with each other!

Imagine that.

Further, when someone shuns the screen, there's a strong possibility that they will fill that time with some sort of relaxing hobby or activity. If that activity is—for example—hiking, the individual might soon find that they're in better physical condition, with better cardiovascular capacity and perhaps an inch or two reduction in the waistline.

One totally unscientific benefit that I personally observed has been that I'm quicker to laughter today than I was a week ago.

Simply said, I returned home from my digital respite a happier person.

Final Thoughts

Working any first responder job can be stressful. On any given day, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, COs, dispatchers, and support staff are exposed to some of the worst things imaginable. The accumulated stress of any job in public safety can build up sometimes without an individual even recognizing it.

Then, when we get home, we turn on the television or open up the laptop, the tablet, or the smartphone, and voluntarily subject ourselves to being assaulted by millions and millions of relentless pixels, further exacerbating that stress.

Consequently, it's important to consciously completely unplug from "screen time" every so often and get back to our personal center.

I know.

I just did.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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