We live in a world where many people are attached to their electronic devices. Like a fetus attached to their mother via an umbilical cord, these individuals believe they can’t survive without this connection. It’s a constant fight to “cut the cord” of the need for constant electronic interaction. This fight has changed from an occasional conflict to a full-blown war since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if a person manages to dodge contracting COVID-19, will they survive the change in brain chemistry that can be caused by this huge increase in electronic screen time in this now heavily virtual world?
As a mother, wife, and nurse practitioner, I spend endless hours talking with my children, my partner, and my patients about the need to disconnect. Admittedly, as an advocate for real connection, the amount of time spent convincing those around me of its necessity is a challenge. Just like a pregnant mother needs a nurse to cut the cord at birth, children and adults need parents, friends, and healthcare providers to be vigilant in monitoring the time spent connected via the virtual umbilical cord. At times they may need to forcefully encourage people to disconnect.
In my case, I feel as if I have been run over by a dump truck since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit. I’m in a constant tug-of-war at home, at work, and at school. How can I tell patients to decrease screen time when the world has gone virtual and I struggle to get myself and my own family to disconnect? I spend my days teaching online or seeing patients via video, then go home to help my children do their homework online and listen to their needs: “Mom, I need a computer to do a video call with my teacher.” “Dad, the wi-fi isn’t working.” “Mom, grandma is on the phone. She is lonely and wants us to visit.” “Dad, I need more Snapchat time.” Phones, computers, video chats, conference calls, social media platforms, and video games—the demands on our time to be virtually connected seem endless. How do we reconcile the importance of logging off for a bit with the human need to stay connected with others?
It seems like I need an emergency ejection system, a button to push to make the virtual world around me stop or at least pause for a few hours every day. I want to smell, touch, taste, see, and feel the four seasons. How can I keep electronics from controlling my life?
I ask my partner, children, and patients: Do you remember how to enjoy winter, spring, summer, and fall? Can you peel your eyes away from your cell phone or computer screen long enough to experience the world around you?
I hope when you’re reading this article you’re able to imagine what it felt like to read an article or story not on a screen. Do you remember the weight of a book in your hand, how it felt to turn each page, and the smell of a book or newspaper? How does the experience differ from scrolling the mouse? Can you smell the ink on the paper and feel the weight of the journal in your hand? Does the turning of the page feel different than scrolling the mouse down the page online?
I hope the things your senses enjoy most about each season are easy to remember and that you will crave true connection. Have you contemplated the joys of the four seasons lately?
As we move from fall to winter, ask yourself if you can feel the crisp, cool air on your cheeks and see the snowflakes falling. How long has it been since you made a snow angel or built a snowman? Can you imagine returning to your home to the warmth and smell of the fire burning, the taste of hot cocoa and the feeling of your soft fuzzy blanket? COVID-19 may have invaded our world, but don’t let it take these simple, healthy life experiences away. COVID-19 can’t have our comforts and joys.
COVID-19 may not go away as quick as one of the four seasons does, but I can guarantee after winter, spring will come. I hope that as spring rolls around you will spend some time outside, splash in a few puddles, take a long hike through the park, or take your dog for a walk around the block or to a local dog park. If all you can think of is that COVID-19 is still here, and you’ll be locked up inside attached to your screen, don’t let those thoughts win. Get outside and enjoy the springtime, as summer is right around the corner.
Summer is the time of year for long walks on the beach, boat rides, skipping rocks, listening to the sounds of nature, and feeling the heat of the sun on your shoulders. A bike ride to the park, the laughter of children, neighbors and friends enjoying each other’s company, a late-night stroll to watch the stars, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, and the sounds of the crack of a baseball being hit into the outfield are all part of summer. We can look forward to these things if COVID-19 is here or gone, and we can do these things safely if COVID-19 continues.
As summer moves to fall it’s time to feel the gentle, crisp breeze on your cheeks, rake leaves and jump in leaf piles, and hear the crunch of the leaves under your feet. The joys of fall include making homemade chili, hot apple cider, pumpkin pie, and sourdough bread.
Remember, COVID-19 is here; we have no choice.
It’s likely you need to use electronics to complete your job, stay in touch with your family and friends, or research new locations, but I encourage you to set aside time for yourself, take breaks throughout your work/school day, and disconnect and recharge at night so that you are your best self the next morning.
As spring comes around soon, I hope that you’ll consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and focus on taking care of yourself and listening to your body’s need to experience life from a different lens. The devastation of the COVID-19 will remain for a little while longer. Stay strong, control what you can (your mind, your reaction to this pandemic). Focus on the smell of the air outside and feel the breeze across your face surrounding that annoying mask. Hear the birds chirp and watch the chipmunks scurry across your yard.
As we move from winter to spring, summer, and fall, my wish for everyone no matter if COVID-19 persists or not, is that our minds and bodies will be refreshed and focused on living our best lives and making lifelong memories in this new normal. I challenge each of you to disconnect from the virtual world to truly connect with your senses and those around you. Those real connections will do wonders.
Bonnie Nickasch is associate professor, director of post-licensure programs, and assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Nursing.