Get off your phone (after you read this): 11 ways to disconnect and relax

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Freedom Park
Photo by Jessica Swannie. Freedom Park

If you spend most of your day glued to a computer or cell phone screen, this one’s for you.

My dad is famous in our family for his “Lesson of the Day” — an inspirational tidbit he shares with my sister and me to help us make successful choices. Much like other dad advice, sometimes the Lesson of the Day may not be immediately welcomed. However, it always come full circle, complete with a big bowl of realization that yes, you are an adult, but your parents are usually right.

A recent phone conversation resulted in a Lesson of the Day that truly made me reflect on how I live my life — staring at a screen.

While recalling my week to my dad, he commented that my stress comes from the need for “constant connectivity,” a concept he mentioned during the holidays, where I (regretfully) spent my mornings on a cell phone or computer.

“Here’s the Lesson of the Day …” he started. “You need to step back and take a deep breath and just swim downstream. Don’t be the fish trying to swim upstream.” He advised that I didn’t need to check my email fourteen times or relay what so-and-so is posting about on Instagram.

His conclusion to the lesson: “Go with the flow.”

Photo by Jessica Swannie
Dad, the man behind the “Lesson of the Day”

Dad’s prescription for my stress started with taking a walk outside. The instructions were clear: Take a walk. Don’t try to pass anyone. Leave your phone at home. Listen to the sounds of nature and your breathing instead of putting in your headphones.

A man of simpler technology, my dad doesn’t appreciate the need for constant connectivity and a fast-paced lifestyle. Taking his advice, I was reminded of being a kid and walking around the neighborhood without any technology or worrying about which side hustles I could conjure to pay off student loans.

And as it turns out, dad’s advice is backed by science. Travel + Leisure recently shared that a 20-minute walk can reduce stress and hormone levels. The study T + L cited, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that after walking, cortisol was cut by 10 percent on average. The rules? Participants were not permitted to use social media or the internet.

What if we all took a moment to disconnect and relax? While Charlotte’s a bustling city, there’s plenty to do sans-phone/laptop. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

(1) Grab a coffee with a friend, not your laptop

Known for its charming nooks, Lincoln’s Haberdashery is the ideal spot to catch up with a friend over coffee prepared with locally-sourced ingredients. Or, pull up a seat in Not Just Coffee and order their mocha latte—you won’t be disappointed. Fun fact: The Dilworth location turns the WiFi off on the weekends and encourages no laptops or devices in the evenings to help guests relax and enjoy the menu.

[Related: 28 of the best local coffee spots, from cozy nooks to drive-thrus]

(2) Read an old-fashioned book from a bookstore

While I’m a big fan of my small, portable Kindle, there’s nothing quite as authentic as turning the pages of a real book. Park Road Books offers a wide selection in the cutest old-school bookstore, complete with a wagging tail to greet you upon entry. Looking for a bargain? The Book Rack offers used books at unbeatable prices, and book sales at Julia’s Café and Books benefit Habitat for Humanity.

[Related: Try these top summer reading picks from local booksellers]

(3) Take a walkand “don’t try to pass everyone”

Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Photo by Jessica Swannie
Little Sugar Creek Greenway

I love a good HIIT workout, but sometimes a walk is all it takes to clear my head. Charlotte’s extensive greenways offer miles of walkable, scenic trails. The Little Sugar Creek Greenway and the McAlpine Creek Greenway provide a haven for relaxation and wildlife sightings. There’s always the option for a low-key stroll in Freedom Park, along the Rail Trail or around the Lake Loop at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

[Related: The 10 best free outdoor activities for spring and summer]

(4) Attend a yoga class to clear your mind

As someone who formerly denounced yoga as a helpful stress management technique (I could not relax when being asked to “find my third eye”), I’ve since realized yoga is about dedicating an hour to inner peace and a clear mind. It’s less about stretching and more about taking the world’s troubles and setting them aside in favor of your mental and physical health. Not sure which practice is best for you? Try them all. Charlotte Family Yoga offers gentle, hot, power and slow flow in an environment dedicated to simplicity and acceptance of all skill levels.

[Related: 14 yoga classes for $5 or less]

(5) Create something with your actual hands, not a keyboard

Instead of creating another executive summary or corporate deck on the computer, prepare something using your good, old-fashioned hands. Pour your own candle in South End at The Candle Bar, then relax with a good book and enjoy your personalized scent.

Sip wine and paint at Painting with a Twist or Wine & Design, then hang your masterpiece for all to see. Pro tip: if you and a roommate are going together, plan on using different colors so you don’t decorate with two of the same paintings.

If you’re feeling fancy, check out Hot Glass Alley, where you can create glass-blown ornamentation in their new Charlotte studio.

[Related: Charlotte’s first hot-glass-blowing studio is offering lessons, date nights, demonstrations and more]

(6) Eat a dessert, but don’t post about it on Instagram

Photo by Jessica Swannie
Ninety’s Ice Cream milkshakes

I’ll admit, sometimes I feel the compulsion to take a photo of my dessert and immediately upload it to Instagram. While I capture social-media-worthy moments for my job, I sometimes forget to leave my phone in my bag during leisure outings. Treat yourself to a dessert, and share it with a real-live friend instead of your Instagram followers. Charlotte offers a myriad of sweet selections—try the skillet cookie from Urban Cookhouse, a milkshake at Ninety’s Ice Cream, or a scoop of homemade ice cream from Two Scoops Creamery or Elizabeth Creamery.

(7) Play with all the exhibits at Science on the Rocks

Discovery Place Science
Photo by Jessica Swannie
Discovery Place Science

Adulting is hard, and sometimes we may wish to revisit the simpler days of our childhood. Discovery Place Science offers the best of both worlds at their monthly Science on the Rocks adults-only events, complete with interactive exhibits, themed nights, and alcoholic beverages.

Kick off summer during their June event: Summer of ’69, where you can try your hand at Tongue Twister, learn what your Love Language is and dress up in your grooviest throwback costume. While you’re there, enjoy a special Age of Aquarius cocktail, along with a few Hippie Wings or Tie Dye Fries, snack off a Moon Landing Hummus Plate or grab The Beatles Chicken Salad Sandwich. And there’s Woodstock Cupcakes and Boeing 747 Margarita Cupcakes for dessert.

(8) Volunteer with local organizations

Use the time you would’ve spent on your computer giving back to a local cause. Sort donations and engage in crafts at Bright Blessings, assist with administrative tasks, training and animal interaction at the Humane Society of Charlotte or help sort books at Promising Pages.
[Related: 8 unsung nonprofit heroes in Charlotte — and what drives them]

(9) Explore the city like a tourist

You don’t have to be an out-of-towner to enjoy Charlotte’s tourist activities. One of the best ways to de-stress and laugh is via the Funny Bus, a BYOB mobile history tour with all the raunchy jokes your heart desires. After learning the city’s history, explore its arts and culture through the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture. In the evening, take a spooky stroll on the Carolina History and Haunts Tour.

[Related: Try these activity-based tours to get to know Charlotte better — even if you’re a native]

(10) Take a road trip

Photo by Jessica Swannie
Greenville, SC

Now that you’ve decided to enjoy a laptop-free weekend, you have time for a quick two-day getaway. Grab a cup of coffee and stroll by the river in Greenville, dig your toes into the sand and eat all the shrimp and grits in Charleston, or venture to Asheville for a weekend of art and culture.

[Related: 30 of the best things to eat, drink and do on a weekend trip to Greenville]

Don’t want to stay overnight? Try a day trip to Davidson, complete with a charming Main Street and dinner at the award-winning Kindred restaurant.

[Related: Day trip to Davidson: Explore a bookshop, eat Bolognese, visit a dog park]

(11) Prepare a locally-sourced meal using items from the farmers market

Charlotte Regional Farmers Market
Photo by Jessica Swannie
Charlotte Regional Farmers Market

Instead of judging everyone’s creations on Chopped while sitting in a pile of snack crumbs on your couch, collect fresh food from the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market to prepare your own brightly-colored plate. Local vendors sell fruits, vegetables, herbs, jams and meat to make your dinner worthy of a “Chopped champion” title.

[Related: 28 Charlotte-area farmers markets to shop, from Mooresville to Waxhaw]

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