In today’s fast-paced modern world, we are incessantly bombarded by information, images, and noise. We live in a state of constant sensory overload and interact with our environment and each other more often through our smartphones than in-person.
Since the industrial revolution, new technology has been invented at a dizzying pace, always with the intent to make our lives easier, and therefore, better. But we’re now beginning to see the downside to that technology. In a world where we are perpetually connected, more and more people are feeling disconnected from those around them.
Research has shown that there is an undeniable link between this hyper-connectivity and mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and the numbers back it up. Today, approximately forty million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety disorders [1,2].
At one point or another, it is likely that each and every one of us has thought about turning off our phones, closing up our laptops, and leaving it all behind for the great outdoors, but very few of us have actually done it. One woman, however, has done precisely that and has been living off the grid for several decades.
The 54-year-old British ex-pat changed her name to Lynx Vilden after traveling to Wenatchee, Washington, when she was twenty-one. Lynx, of course, after the animal, and Vilden, meaning “savage” or “wild” in Swedish.
The young woman, who grew up in metropolitan London, had never experienced such a wilderness before, but knew it was where she belonged. Gradually, she learned to identify plants so that she could graze while hiking, and eventually enrolled in a week-long class at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracking, Nature, and Wilderness Survival School.
She then learned herbalism and wild medicine at the Reevis Mountain School in Arizona, where she met her would-be husband. The pair married and had a daughter together. Sadly, their marriage deteriorated, but Lynx continued to raise and homeschool her daughter in a yurt in Montanna, where she taught at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in the summers.
After her daughter made the decision to live with her father in Washington, Lynx made the decision to move somewhere closer to her family, which is how she ended up near a small town called Twisp.
Up until the last decade, Lynx did not own a credit card, had no fixed address, no electricity, and no running water. A small inheritance allowed her to purchase a 900-square-foot log cabin on five acres of land twelve miles outside the town. This accommodation does have a tap with water, electricity, and a wood-burning stove, but she prefers light from a tallow lamp, water from the river, and sleeping on the ground in a shelter she’s built deeper in the woods .
Teaching the Art of Self-Sufficiency
For the last twenty years, Lynx has been running programs called “Stone Age Projects”, in which she teaches skills like fire starting, shelter construction, bow making, and footwear fabrications. Courses range from one week up to thirty days or more of unbroken wilderness living and are priced to encourage inclusivity. The weeklong introductory course costs $600, and the three-month course is $2500, a far cry from the thousands that other wilderness schools charge.
She offers her students a tool-kit for complete self-sufficiency, and explains that all the materials you need are available to you in your immediate environment.
“It liberates something in the mind when you realize you’re not constrained by having to go buy some kind of tool that’s going to make your life easier,” she says .
Of course, it is impossible to know exactly how primitive, stone-age people lived, and as one of Lynx’s friends and former students explains, emulating their existence is largely speculative.
“We’re trying to emulate this culture, but we have no idea how it works,” said Alexander Heathen. “We don’t have elders telling us how to do it.” 
Others have suggested that the primitive skills community runs the risk of appropriating indigenous culture since the majority of practitioners are white people, who often come from a place of privilege.
Kiliii Yüyan, a photographer, survival expert, and one of Lynx’s occasional collaborators, is a descendant of the Nanai people of Siberia and is Chinese-American. She explains that even in the primitive-skills community, there is a certain amount of built-in colonialism, and it differs from the way indigenous communities live.
“Part of the idea is that you can be air-dropped into anywhere and survive off the land. Indigenous literally means ‘of a place’—survival is almost the exact opposite of that,” she said .
While her courses can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, many of her students have continued to come back for more of her projects, and have become wilderness experts themselves.
The Laws of Man Versus the Laws of Nature
Lynx admits that it can be difficult to be a hunter-gatherer in today’s day and age because often, being “wild” can be considered illegal. Depending on the state you are in, there are laws restricting how long you can stay on public land, fires are often prohibited, and hunting is highly regulated.
In 2008, Lynx ran into trouble with the law when an undercover government officer attended one of her classes. Two years later, she was charged with running a course on public land without a permit and cutting down a freestanding dead tree. As a result, she was banned from entering any national forest in eastern Washington for an entire year .
Learning From Lynx
While you may not be ready to abandon modern living altogether to live in a hut in the woods, there are many lessons you can learn from Lynx, most notably, the benefit of nature and “disconnection”.
2019 research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology discovered that spending even just twenty minutes every day in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormones .
Another study published in the journal Mind found that 95 percent of participants said that after spending time outside, their mood changed from being depressed, stressed, and anxious, to more calm and balanced .
In her book, Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson encourages readers to spend time in nature, citing that those who do this regularly report having better moods, more expansive thinking, and find more meaning in life .
These studies, among hundreds of others, clearly show that overuse of technology can dampen our mood, while unplugging and getting outdoors can center us, calm us, and generally make us happier.
How to Unplug
You may not be ready to go completely off-the-grid, but perhaps a digital detox could do you some good. Here are a few ways strategies you can use to help you set your phone down:
Choose a healthier way to start your day. For many of us, our first instinct when we wake up in the morning is to check our phone for any missed messages from the night before or to simply scroll through Instagram to see what the world was up to while we were asleep.
Instead, try meditating when you first wake up, If that’s not your thing, try a quick stretch, maybe jotting some thoughts down in a journal, or even do a little dance- anything that doesn’t involve staring at your phone. Starting your day off in this way will set a calmer tone for your day.
Fill your day with other activities. If you find you spend a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, try scheduling a few more activities into your day. Of course, you don’t want to overload yourself, but if you can find activities and hobbies that fulfill you and that take you away from your phone, it can distract you from needing to be on your phone constantly.
Bring a book. While there are many great blogs and articles to be read on the internet, sometimes there is nothing better than an old-fashioned book. Put your phone on silent- or better yet- in a different room, and get lost in another world for a while.
Download an app. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are many apps now that you can use to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone. There are apps that lock you out of other apps, like Facebook, for a set amount of time, and others that send you warnings when you’re approaching your maximum daily limit of screen time.
Set a technology “bedtime”. Just as you should avoid starting your day with technology, you should avoid ending your day with it, too. The light from your phone or your laptop screen can disrupt your sleeping patterns, so you should aim to switch off long before you go to sleep. Many experts recommend doing this two hours before your own bedtime, but if that is too much for you, start small by making it thirty minutes, then work from there .
The Need For Connection
Despite her incredible self-sufficiency, Lynx admits that living the way she does can be lonely, and she does look for connection with others. She has considered going even further out of society, but she is adamant that she will not do that without a clan.
Her dream is to create a preserve where willing humans can re-wild themselves, similar to an area that is protected for the benefit of its natural habitat.
“We probably can’t become wild, but our children and our grandchildren could become wild if we had a place,” she says .
While her lifestyle may seem extreme to many, Lynx exemplifies what it means to be human, and demonstrates the excesses of modern society through the juxtaposition of her primitive ways.
“Re-wilding” may not be feasible for the majority of the population, but we can all attempt to reconnect with nature in some way, for the betterment of our health.
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