Sarah Michelle Gellar on the Power of Unplugging: “Everyone You’re Around Is Happier”

Updated: Feb. 23, 2024

Here's how this icon still slays as a mom, wife and friend, as she shares the little things that help reset her mental health.

In the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cell phones probably would have been a big help—after all, it’s much easier to fight demons when backup is just a quick call away. As we know in 2024, though, that convenience comes with a cost. Kicking vampire butt between Instagram selfies might have felt true to character, but her distracted attention span, infrequent eye contact, and constant social media scrolling would have taken some of the excitement out of the show. It seems like Gellar agrees. 

On March 1, Sarah Michelle Gellar is teaming up with USCellular to encourage Americans to step away from our devices for a Global Day of Unplugging “so they can connect with the people and moments that matter most,” according to a press release. For 46-year-old Gellar, that means her family, including her husband of almost 22 years, Freddie Prinze Jr., and their two children. 

Gellar’s name still elicits squeals among Buffy loyalists, but in the years since she starred on the show she’s also made some fierce choices as an actor and a woman, having said she selects projects based on whether they portray strong women and publicly vocalizing support for colleagues who spoke up during the #MeToo movement.

As Gellar told The Healthy by Reader’s Digest, taking intentional time away from technology is one choice that helps her manage mental health, a value she says she and Freddie Prinze are working to pass down to their children.

The Healthy by Reader’s Digest: First, can you talk to me about how being overly connected to your phone can affect you? For example, in my experience, on days when I feel like I’m excessively scrolling or checking social media, it can impact my mental well being, how my body feels, and even how I show up in my relationships. Can you speak to that? 

Sarah Michelle Gellar: I absolutely can, although you did say it very eloquently. You know, ultimately, as we’re becoming more and more digitally connected, we’re getting more and more emotionally disconnected, and we’re forgetting how to have these moments, these conversations. There are all these statistics that young kids growing up can’t communicate, they can’t have confrontations, they’re so afraid of it, because when you’re behind a keyboard, it’s very different.

Then you add in this level of loneliness, because relationships are about human connection, and human connection involves touch. It involves eye contact. You know that someone is really present when you’re there. And so we’re seeing these really high numbers of depression and loneliness. And, you know, I’m not saying that we should get rid of technology, but it’s about sort of looking at our relationship with it and how to make it healthier.

So when USCellular came to me about this idea, “I said this is great,” because this is that reset. You realize, Oh, I do this just out of boredom throughout the day and I don’t need to and there are better times in my day to do it.

That’s the idea behind it. We’re not saying no technology ever. That’s unrealistic in our world. It’s about addressing the relationship with it, you know? I see people watch TV and then scroll, so my rule at our family dinners is phones go away. And if we’re all watching something together, the devices go away because we’re watching one device. I think you see that, too. It’s like they have all of these going on at once and you lose that focus. 

Take This Attention Span Quiz To Measure How Well You Actually Stay Focused

The Healthy: That’s well said. What are some other techniques you implement to help set boundaries for yourself and your family?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: It’s hard, they change all the time. You know, with my kids, I have to be really hardcore about it, so I use a lot of the features that come with the phones. After a certain amount of time, it shuts off, because they’re not old enough to really self-regulate yet. The hope is that by doing that, then they will get into the habit, and then that self-regulation will happen.

And for me and my husband, it’s just about remembering sometimes to put the phone away, put the device away, let’s take the dogs and go on a walk, let’s do those things. You know, in LA we’ve been having this crazy weather and a lot of blackouts. I hate them at night because it’s cold, but there’s something in the daytime when everyone’s like, “OK, let’s get out a board game.” Or even just the sound: You notice how much technology is running in your house that you don’t usually realize because all of a sudden, your house is really quiet. 

The Healthy: Absolutely, we don’t even realize how present it is. When you’re away from that technology, what effects do you notice on your mental and physical wellbeing? 

Sarah Michelle Gellar: You know, I think everyone you’re around is happier because they feel like they have your attention. How often are you talking to someone and you’re doing this and they’re doing that, and you’re not listening or they can’t really hold eye contact? So when you have those moments, you enjoy that time and then you can go home and get on your phone. But you have to take those moments.

Hawaii is like, our place as a family. It’s where we have some of our best times and we realize that unless we’re taking a picture and we bring old school cameras, we don’t really touch our devices because there’s just so much beauty and nature and it really resets you.

Spending This Much Time Outside Each Day Could Make You Live Longer

The Healthy: That’s beautiful. We often cover how hobbies and exercise can benefit mental health. What are your favorites?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Well, I’m definitely one of those people that I always feel better on the days I exercise. I exercise more for my mental health, I think, even than my physical. And I work out with my friends, so it’s also a time for us to catch up, which makes that actual hard work go faster because you don’t realize it. So I get both. I get the exercise and the human connection, which I think is really special.

The Healthy: Also really healthy! Do you have a particular workout that’s a favorite? 

Sarah Michelle Gellar: My favorite is Pilates and modified Pilates. I have really bad scoliosis, I’ve had it since I was little. It’s one of the only things that really can control my back pain and do the mental and also just elongate and make your body feel better.

The Healthy: We love Pilates! Any other self-care ritual you’ll never skip?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Well, hugging my family. That’s one. I also try not to skip reading in the bath. Books are my escape. I love to read, it’s my passion and there’s nothing better to me than a warm bath at night and my book.