Q&A with Founder of #TechAHike: The Mental Health Importance of Unplugging


We recently got contacted by Colvin, the founder of a new social media movement called #TechAHike . She is an adventure-seeking, outdoor enthusiast who embarked on a transformational, soul-searching journey last year. She wanted to find her true self and gain clarity both personally and professionally. After working in sports communications and walking the line of burnout, she is now on a mission to connect people with nature to restore their natural wellbeing and mental health. Colvin currently lives in her hometown, Richmond, VA and works with a non-profit organization that connects inner-city youth with the outdoors.

We love the idea and mission of Colvin’s movement so we decided to ask her a few questions about #TechAHike, her own journey with technology and its impact on her life, and some tips on digital wellness. We pledged to participate and after you read this, you’ll probably want to pledge too!

Since #TechAHike is new, could you please tell us more about what it is and what you are trying to accomplish with this movement?

#TechAHike is a social media challenge to raise awareness of the mental health importance of both unplugging from devices and the recharging power of nature. We’re spending less than five percent of our time outside, but an average of ELEVEN hours looking at a screen these days. It’s no surprise that mental health issues are on the rise and we’re more stressed than ever.

With the initial launch, I’m challenging people to “tell technology to take a hike” by going offline and outside for just ONE hour for National Take a Hike Day on Saturday, November 17!

Here’s how to #TechAHike for #NationalTakeAHikeDay:

  1. Pledge: Commit to going offline + outside on Nov. 17, rally a group of friends, and find a trail near or far for your outdoor adventure.
  2. Post: Download the #TechAHike away message by visiting www.techahike.com , then post the away message to your preferred social media account. Make sure to tag @tech.a.hike , as well as tag two of your friends to challenge them to #TechAHike with you!
  3. Put On Your Boots! Ready – set – GO offline and outside for at least ONE hour on Nov. 17th! Enjoy at least 60 unplugged minutes to explore the Great Outdoors and celebrate the natural beauty of our world.

What’s the backstory on why you started #TechAHike?

The seeds of #TechAHike were planted back in 2016. I was working what I thought was my dream job, and instead of feeling happy, I found myself crumbling under stress that I’d put on myself and on the fast track to total burnout. I spent 8-10 hours a day at a desk or looking at a screen, and the perfectionist in me hid behind my highlight reel on social media, or compared myself constantly to how successful and happy other people were. I remember feeling like a shell of a person. On the outside maybe people couldn’t tell what I was dealing with, but inside was just empty, no fire left in me. I was miserable. I sought help from a therapist and found out that this stress I was experiencing had a name: anxiety. After much reflection, I discovered that my relationship with technology was fueling a large part of my stress.

Fast forward to Summer 2017, when I was fortunate enough to have the time and resources to travel across Europe. I’d dreamt of hiking the Tour Du Mont Blanc  – 100+ mile trek around the Alps – and decided this was my chance. As I trudged up a steep climb, a dose of clarity crept in: this was me at my best, out on my own, out of my comfort zone, without digital distractions, enjoying the elements despite the challenge. A feeling of comfort washed over me, and a knowing that I was home in myself wherever I went. I knew then that I wanted other people to experience the power of being outside without any distractions from yourself.

When I returned from traveling, I was accepted into University of Pennsylvania’s Executive Certificate program in Social Impact Strategy to bring my ideas on connecting people with nature to life. I explored the concept of #TechAHike throughout the course. I realized I had much to learn about the community I want to serve, and that I needed to meet them where they are: online. After completing the course in September, I decided that I needed to get over my fear of an idea failing and just dive in. So, here we are!

What do you hope people will take away by pledging and participating in #TechAHike this fall?

I have personally experienced the power of disconnecting from devices and getting outside – less mental clutter and noise, less stress about what I “should” be doing, and in general a stronger connection to myself – and that all started with baby steps of short periods offline.

Colvin hiking at Tour Du Mont Blanc

I want to wake other people up to the role that technology plays in their life, and I believe strongly that #TechAHike can help you start to reclaim your relationship with technology. Not only is it refreshing to cut back time on technology, but replacing that with time in nature offers many mental and physical health benefits.

Your current full-time role is with a non-profit that provides education and experiences to urban youth through outdoor education. Why is getting outside so important to you?

I feel happiest when I’m outside, and I believe that everyone should be able to experience the outdoors. Our childhood shapes our life in more ways than we can imagine. I feel extremely fortunate thinking back to my days as a kid, spending hours outside at the barn, getting dirty, and honestly running a bit wild. I crave that freedom – now more than ever – to explore and discover like I did as a girl.

Studies show that children are spending half as much time outside as they did twenty years ago, on average spending less than 10 minutes playing freely outside. Urban youth living in low-income areas do not experience the same ease in access to nature that many of us do. This isn’t just a personal problem – it affects us ALL. If children do not develop an emotional connection to nature during their youth, they are less likely to do so as an adult, meaning they are even  less likely to take care of the environment  during their life. We depend on nature, and it depends on us to care for it.

Do you think “digital addiction” is a real problem facing our society today? Is it only among the younger generations or far more widespread? What do you think are some causes of this? Who is ultimately responsible?

I absolutely believe that digital addiction is a serious problem facing society today, and I’d argue that it’s just as – if not more – pervasive among adults than children. Mental health issues are considered an epidemic, and we’re more stressed out and lonelier than ever .

Advancements in technology such as mobility, smartphones, and social media have made us extremely dependent on devices for work, entertainment, and many other facets of our life. Think about it: as adults, more often than not, we’re looking at screens for 8 hours a day for work, and then our mobile devices have made us more accessible outside of office hours. We also use television or social media to entertain us and our kids.

I’d say that ultimately technology companies are to blame, for creating devices and applications that are potentially harmful. But we as consumers also have a responsibility to monitor our digital usage. Setting healthy boundaries and limitations are necessary to change our dependence on devices. Swapping time on technology with healthy activities or behaviors, such as going outside, can help ease the transition away from technology.

What does digital wellness mean to you?

Creating a healthy relationship and dependence on technology. Being aware of how much time you are spending on technology, and the impact that it can have on your mental and physical health. Learning to make technology work for you, and not the other way around, by limiting time on digital devices.

What do you do to “go offline?” Do you have any sort of routine?

Yes! During my year of recovering from burnout, I found a few easy practices that make a HUGE difference in my daily life:

  • I don’t check my phone for the first hour of the day. No texts, emails or social media. Instead, I meditate, do yoga, and take my dog for a walk. After giving myself an hour of “me-time” to welcome a new day, I welcome the world in.
  • Once I log off work around 5pm, I do my best to not look at emails the rest of the night, and limit my time on the phone in general. After work, I usually plan an outdoor activity and either leave my phone behind or put it on airplane mode.
  • I limit my time on social media. I try not to spend more than 15 minutes on social media during the day, and spend large chunks of time off of social media on the weekend. In general, I try to be more mindful when I’m on social media. Is what I’m seeing making me feel good or bad, and if it’s bad, I disconnect.
  • Sleep is really important to me, and my anxiety can often keep my mind going when I hit the pillow. I started limiting technology in the bedroom in general. I try not to be on my phone or computer in bed, ever. To prepare for sleep, I log off devices about an hour before bedtime and instead read or do a meditation.

What suggestions do you have for people who are constantly online and plugged in but are looking for ways to find tech/life balance?

What are the easiest ways that YOU can reduce your tech time, and actually stick to it? It won’t look the same for anybody, so ultimately you need to consider how you can trim your tech time as easily as possible, and then stick to it. I would suggest starting small and building from there, and know that you can experiment to see which ways work best for you. A few ideas to try:

  • No technology in the bedroom – get an old-school clock!
  • No technology during meals – better yet, eat your meals outside!
  • Take a 5-minute walk away from your computer every hour during the workday
  • Set an email rule that you’ll only be available between certain hours (e.g. 8am – 6pm) and communicate that with your coworkers
  • Find a hobby or activity to replace time on technology – read instead of watch TV, go for a walk instead of scrolling through social media, etc.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

#TechAHike will soon be offered as an ongoing challenge that you can join in at any point, and commit to going offline + outside just ONE hour a week for a month to reap the benefits of telling technology to take a hike. Sign up for updates on the challenge at www.techahike.com .

You can reach out to Colvin via Instagram or email at gotechahike@gmail.com .

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