#UNPLUGGED 2020: Disconnecting To Connect Again

“Real change will come when you focus on yourself.” – Ritu Ghatourey

This year marks my 7th summer finding time to go fully #unplugged…or it would have if things hadn’t gone…the way that it has.

It’s safe to say that nobody saw 2020 coming.

Between never-ending elections, the stock market crash, raging wildfires from Australia to California, and a devastating global pandemic… no one really escaped this year truly unscathed.

And that’s without even mentioning our industry!

Veterinary practices have made major shifts to accommodate COVID-19 social distancing practices, having to pivot away from the norm of offering care inside their offices to creating curbside service. Veterinarians and their teams have all had to adjust their way of doing things, as they’ve had to learn how to keep the vital relationships they’ve built with clients by handling treatment and triage over the phone instead of in-person — having to add telemedicine services and online pharmacies to their practices virtually overnight. Creating protocols out of thin air (and doing so flawlessly might I add).

Instead of visits slowing, veterinary practices have been busier than they have ever been, thanks in no small part to the 11.38 million households who have welcomed in a new pet during the pandemic. We know according to research, emotional support animals have been on the rise. Veterinary practices already operating under less-than-ideal conditions, have been short-staffed thanks to necessary protocols to minimize exposure…or have team members out of work due to COVID, which has caused further disruption to the practice and staffing as well.

Everyone is doing the absolute best that they can to make their practice safe, even though it comes at the expense of shrinking teams and hours in order to make things work. And they’ve done it all, under the stress of working during a global pandemic, and all of the fear and mental distress that comes with it: the anxiety of getting sick or worse, making the ones you lovesick, too.

But at the heart of it all, the veterinary profession has remained resilient in the face of so much uncertainty in order to do what we do best: providing exceptional care to our client’s precious pets.

It’s been a challenging but rewarding time for me personally, this year as I have kept myself busy supporting veterinary professionals in their shift. From speaking to veterinary professionals in-person to virtually, creating lectures about how practices are using technology during COVID to encourage and inspire other clinics and hospitals on how they can implement those tools as well.

I’ve been fortunate to work with several key industry companies across the world on projects aimed at helping practices this year, which felt like valuable, important work.

In fact, it seemed like every day there was another big, important opportunity presented to us at Simply Done Tech Solutions in order to help make a difference this year, and everything was urgent and required my immediate attention and was always due the next day — or, so it seemed.

In less than one month, I co-founded a new virtual conference for the veterinary community looking for CE this year, and then went on to put on several more events just months later.

In the meantime, my business partners and I worked on changing how we communicate with veterinary practices at Fidu, and how best to connect them with boarded veterinary specialists.

And to top it all off, this year was the much-anticipated launch of our new social media management subscription service for busy veterinary professionals.

Needless to say, I was always working. Constantly. And working 300 days from home gets old fast.

For someone who is used to traveling for their work, and handling business in person and on the go, my new business days involved traveling from my bedroom to my office, upstairs and downstairs, 7 am-8 pm, day in, day out.

Wake up, eat breakfast, work, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again.

And again.

And again.

If variety is the spice of life, then I have struggled with losing it this past year.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. In fact, it’s far from it: I’m thankful I’m healthy and that I have thriving businesses. Not everyone has been so fortunate.

But the cost has been my mental health.

Disconnecting hasn’t really felt like an option this year — I’ve been on my phone nonstop, thumbing through direct messages on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, iMessage, Slack…and the list goes on.

I hardly know who I’m messaging where anymore.

As someone who doesn’t generally suffer from anxiety, 2020 has been the most anxious year of my life. And I know I’m not the only one. Even for those of us lucky enough not to be suffering the worst effects of this year have found the constant barrage of bad news whilst living in isolation, frankly exhausting.

As I’ve reflected and looked back on it, trying to figure out what I could be doing better I realized that I’d forgotten the practice of unplugging. For most of 2020, it was something I could only dream of doing.

How does one unplug from the rest of the world, when that’s the only way we’re supposed to be connected this year?

According to the Pew Research Center, only 1-in-10 Americans feel that Social Media has had mostly positive effects on the way things are going in their lives, in no small part thanks to the ways in which it has helped form a stronger divide between people of different beliefs and political parties. Studies have shown that in spite of our human desire to stay connected, social media has often made us feel worse about ourselves and even about each other, creating addictive personalities, echo chambers, and jealous mindsets.

Thankfully, I forced myself to prioritize my sense of well-being this past Thanksgiving and #unplugged for just over a week. And ultimately, I was right: it was just what I needed.

It was a lesson I’ve had to teach myself, again and again, every year, but this year especially.

Unplugging from the nonstop stream of work and messages allowed my creative energy to reset and come back, giving it the reset it desperately needed after the past year of constant connectivity.

Giving yourself the time you need to explore other hobbies and rest, without agenda, can allow you to appreciate the work that you do have when you go back to it.

While in the past I’ve used this #unplugged time to fly far away, this year I’ve found new ways to appreciate what I have at home. That week I carved out time to just read, and do yard work, and ultimately, focus on me.

When I plugged back in I was ready to tackle the world again… but since I had not prioritized #unplugging when I usually do I didn’t write about it this year…

At least, I hadn’t, until now.

I use these #unplugged stories to encourage others and remind myself of why unplugging is so valuable for our mental health as a constantly connected culture.

As I reflect back on 2020, I can see all of its unique challenges and struggles, but I can also see as we reach the end of this year the perfect opportunity for us all to take some time to unplug during the holiday season, so we can enter this new year feeling refreshed and ready for what 2021 has for us.

That’s why I’ve chosen to end my year #unplugged. I’ve learned again the importance of taking a step back from technology and work and social media, and all of the other constant distractions and notifications in order to remind ourselves of what’s really important and live a more meaningful life.

This is where I normally share some tips or advice, but this year I think the only piece of advice I have to offer is to set aside some time for yourself.

Go outside and get some fresh air, take a walk in your neighborhood or go find some nature to explore. Get cozy if it’s cold out, cuddle up on your couch in your pjs with a cup of coffee 0r tea and a good book, challenge yourself with something fun like a puzzle or an article or some household projects you’ve been meaning to get to.

You can wash your car, or re-decorate your house, catch up on your favorite show, take a nap, spend time with your pets, or do really anything but go on your phone, or touch social media. Delete the apps if you have to: they’ll always be there for you to download again.

When you’ve given yourself this chance to reset, you can trust that when you look back on 2020 in the rearview mirror on December 31st, you’ll be able to say in spite of all the challenges you’ve faced this year, you’ve made it through and won.