Digital Sabbatical + Your Hormones

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I just resurfaced after a digital “shabbat” — that is, no online love from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. No email, no tweets, no Facebook Big Ideas. Result? Better relatedness with my husband and daughters, oxytocin-raising dialogue with girlfriends, and more mindful eating.

But, wait, that’s not all! Cortisol comes as close as you can get to The Bad Hormone. When you’re overbusy, overwired, overconnected digitally – your cortisol is high. You gain weight at your mid-section. You age faster. Your blood sugar gets wiggy. Your adrenal glamps pump out cortisol overtime. Spend too much time in this state and you burn through those cute endocrine glands. Then you don’t make enough cortisol, which causes fatigue, despair and general burnout.

Even worse for women are new data showing that women make double the cortisol that men make when at work. Head home after work and men’s cortisol comes down to an appropriate place, and women’s cortisol climbs still higher. It’s not pretty.

How long was I unplugged? 25 hours. I channel Matisyahu: I don’t roll on Shabbat. Recently I’ve been trying to grow my platform, as anathema as that feels most of the time. I’ve been writing writing writing blogging tweeting facebooking like a manic person. Well, a hypomanic bipolar person, to be precise.

That would lead to adrenal burnout.

My husband and I realized we needed to recommit to a more observant Shabbat. A day of rest. A day off from the endless emails and thinking obsessively about Our Very Exciting Upcoming Projects. We’re both writing books – his third, my first. I’m shifting to more webinars and digital prescriptions as an organic gynecologist. We’re thrilled and passionate. But even the thrilled and passionate need to take a damn break.

What did I do with all my free time? I made beans. Beans feel too high maintenance most of the time. Washing, rinsing, picking over the bad bits, removing all the gas-making rinse water and discarding, slowly cooking for hours. Who has time? Well, I do. On Saturday morning. It’s a new form of meditation.

Did I want to cheat? Yes. Every bright idea I had, I wanted to share with the world. At least, my small digital universe. I’ve been conditioned to do that over the past 5 years. Every original idea, every new tweak on the conventional wisdom in hormones and yoga. Enough. Give it a breather. Right, I understand the need for breathers like the back of my hand – I eat, drink and sleep my counsel to others about how to manage stress, manage adrenal dysregulation, manage a yoga/meditation project in the midst of a full life, and when a little extra help is needed, to modulate cortisol with botanicals and nutrition.

Wanting to cheat felt like failure. It felt like I wasn’t live up to some new dressed-up version of perfectionism. I felt bad for wanting to cheat.

Did I cheat? Um, yes. I didn’t cheat Friday night. We had a sweet family dinner. But Saturday morning I realized I did some poor planning (again) and didn’t know where my daughter’s double-header softball game was. Had to look it up online. Went to the league website and got my info. Got back offline. I could rationalize that one.

What helped? Having an accountability partner. In this case, my beloved husband. When you’re tempted, it’s helpful to have a real person with whom to have the conversation about temptation, rather than the less reliable untrained mind or similar saboteur.

What do I wish I had done differently? Planned for the Saturday main event, which was my daughter’s softball game and (duh!) location. I also wish I had a stack of books to read. It doesn’t work for me to read a book on the iPad. Touching my email is just too great a temptation and I knew better than to try it. Yet, I hungered for the sensual pleasure of a nice hardback in my hands. So retro! So old school! Next Shabbat….

What surprised me about unplugging? Using the Sabbath to reconnect with my family sounds rather trite and generic. Yet it works. And relatedness works best in person. I may think I find relatedness on Facebook but it just ain’t the same as the real thing. Even more surprising: my husband read the New Yorker cover to cover. And loved it. He told me all about what he was reading, and what could better than having the partner you love tell you all about Malcomb Gladwell’s latest brilliant thoughts without having to read it yourself?

I love that unplugging digitally is linked to an ancient and sacred ritual – namely, Shabbat. You don’t have to be Jewish to rock your own digital shabbat. My favorite book on the good deeds and reasons for observing the Sabbath is by a therapist/minister named Wayne Muller. Check out his website for more cortisol-mediating ideas. And join me next Friday for a digital sabbatical!

With thanks to Gwen Bell for the idea to write about my experience! Click here to learn more about the revolution she is igniting.


  1. Karyn Wagner on August 18, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Dr G– I am doing a digital cleanse myself! While my partner is on a full blown spiritual retreat at Asilomar, I joined him but need to still work. BUT only 1/2 the day.
    Yoga, Meditation and Walking all morning, computer only on after lunch. The verdict: Total Success and much less Stress–a must do for more often! Bravo!

    • Sara Gottfried MD on August 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      Karyn, LOVE IT! However the digital sabbatical works for you is great – part-time, one day per week, whatever configuration gives your adrenals a break is awesometown! — xoSG

  2. Kala on September 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks so much for this, I had to rest this weekend, turns out my blood count was so low and I”m anemic. I do think the digital “revolution” is more taxing on women and throws off our hormones and rhythms more than males. someone should do a study specifically on computer usage.
    I think I need to do my own Zen of Crisis intervention and do the relaxation/mindfulness techniques that I teach others.

  3. Linda Van Tassel on January 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    My husband and I try to do this on Sunday (only day available) I too am realizing it would be more beneficial if it was better planned to get the full benefit. Thanks for your inspiration to better my life.