A recent study in Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics reflects a unique stress put upon the modern parent: The implied belief that we all must be on call and in touch every minute of our waking day. That kind of pressure exhausts. While there’s upside to knowing where your children are and your availability to them for safety reasons, the idea that you must be in constant access for everything else is not sustainable. The same applies across society, whether it be a boss or colleague or patient or student who might feel the need to get in touch with you instantly at any given time.
The brain is an organ and needs care to function well. It needs a break to recover from activity just like our bodies do. Sleep is as important as food and water. Downtime is healing. Time for ourselves, for the activities that sustain us, is vital. For the sake of our collective mental health, we can push back against the unrealistic expectation of 24/7 remaining open to the world.
Research suggests that even ignoring sitting phone takes active energy. We’re having a conversation, while in our mind we’re spinning our wheels, wondering what we’re missing in that text or media posting that we’re not immediately checking. Devices and screens have been shown to distract and shorten routine face-to-face conversation and social engagement, even when with our children.
Without self-care, phones and computers continue to drain our attention when we’re not using them. That’s another phenomenon increasingly discussed – the stress and anxiety of fearing that we’re missing out. Five minutes off our media feed and we start to believe we may become a pariah. But of course, that’s irrational and leads to its own burn out. In reality, if we disconnect and reconnect, we find that nothing much will have changed.
Many companies guide employees to shut down email and social media and anything that distracts during productive times, especially some in the technology sector that created the situation. However, far more employers, and families, do not. At the slightest whim, anyone pings anyone else in the world for the slightest reason. And yet, parents, employees, teachers, physicians, and anyone else available all the time increasingly become burnt out.
Living with Technology Healthfully
There is another option. Technology has mindlessly become a constant part of our lives through its own momentum. As individuals and on a larger scale, we can pause and more actively make technology a useful but far healthier companion.
Changing the role of technology means compassionately seeing our own experience and that of others. Everyone needs a rest. Employees do, and so do their bosses. Doctors do, and so do their patients. Teachers do, and so do their students. Parents do, and so do their children.
So what can you do to manage technology time more healthily? Drop the expectation of constant availability except when it’s vital and useful. Allow your children, employees, and anyone else you know the space to live a healthy life.
- Shut off all notifications and push emails whenever appropriate. For businesses, consider having email addresses that are available only during work hours.
- Give permission, actively, for everyone to take breaks throughout the day. Except for urgent situations, do not expect an instant response.
- Give devices a bedtime, except for emergencies.
- Pause before sending. Consider, from the other person’s point of view, if it’s an appropriate time and a needed message.
- Discuss with teens the need for mental breaks and the unsustainable pressure to be constantly in touch.
- Prioritize and dedicate time to whatever keeps you healthy and happy, such as family time, sleep, exercise, and hobbies.