3 Ways To Cope With The 24/7 World
How to cope with the altered communications environment.
Stress 14th Apr, 2021
It is often said in the media that we are now more connected than ever, due to the increasing affordability of smartphones and explosion of social media platforms over the last 10-15 years. This is gradually changing our work and social lives, as we check emails at home, or accept video-chat calls later and later in the evening. While it can be wonderful to have such convenient ways to be in contact, it can also feel overwhelming. There are ways to cope with this 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week world and find a balance between convenience and privacy.
The first step is to set boundaries. Turn off notifications for work emails so you are not tempted to read and respond to them at home. If you are asked to have a video meeting outside working hours and are willing to do so, give 2 or 3 times that are convenient for you. Make it clear this is not a problem as a one off, however, it is not something you can do on a regular basis. Particularly if you do not get overtime pay, or flexitime for it.
In your personal life you need to balance time spent on social media (most smartphones give you a weekly summary), with what else you want and need to be doing. If you are eager to start a project, or just clean the house and keep procrastinating on FaceBook/Twitter/TikTok etc, then think about setting boundaries on your social media time. This does not have to last forever, although it can take 2-8 months to change a habit, so bear that in mind. If you are happy with your posting habits, but are going to bed later due to FaceTime/Zoom etc video calls, then this is where you need to set your boundaries.
Turn Off Devices:
This is particularly relevant if you struggle to sleep. Various scientific research programs have demonstrated turning off your mobile an hour before going to bed can help people go to sleep. It is also good for your mental health, as when you turn off your phone you can relax and know that you are not responding to anything, or anyone, until the morning. When work colleagues realise you don’t answer messages after hours, they may put less pressure on for an instant response (something which is rarely needed). The same is true of communications with friends and family. You may find yourself making excuses not to do this as we are more attached to picking up our mobile and browsing social media than we realise. One excuse can be emergencies, however, almost all of us have a landline for broadband connection. Make sure everyone knows that number is your emergency contact after 9pm. Perhaps you play games on your phone, or check SnapChat just before bedtime, this is far more likely to wake you up than allow you to sleep. Try turning your phone off for a minimum of 3 weeks and see how it goes. It might just give you the professional and personal space you needed.
Resist Peer Pressure:
Just because some people, possibly including yourself, have fallen into the habit of being available 24/7 does not mean you can’t make a change. Take a step back from your email, social media and video chat activity. Evaluate if the amount of time you spend on it is healthy. Do you enjoy reading and responding to emails after working hours and has it occurred to you that this is unpaid overtime? Does a certain friend or family member expect you to answer a routine message, or call, no matter the time of day? You may already have a balance you are happy with. If not, start to make a few changes. Add a notification to your email signature that states you are unable to respond after 5pm (or whatever your finish time is), let your manager know what you are doing. Explain gently that you have realised it is not possible to answer email around your home schedule, or that it is unhealthy to do so, whatever will appeal to your boss.
You also need to stop answering every late night, or just inconveniently timed, call, video call or message. Send a quick message saying you are unavailable right now and suggest a few times you could talk. That way it is clear you want to chat, just can’t do so right now.
Overall, the best way to cope with a 24/7 world is to know your limits. The increase in people with mental health issues due to online bullying, exhaustion due to overexposure, or fatigue, points to a need to regulate our habits. Making yourself aware of how much time you spend online and then limiting it as a test can be very useful. You may find yourself going for a walk, reading that book, going to that new class, or simply having that moment alone you’d forgotten you needed.