Are you spending too much time online? How to unplug from being 'always on'

Photo by Christina on Unsplash
Photo by Christina on Unsplash

Reading emails at 5 am and doing a 9 pm check-in with your boss is starting to become standard - even expected. The pitfalls of living this 'always on' life are causing havoc for many people as they try to navigate their new reality of living (and working) under the various levels of lockdown.  

"We are living in a time of crisis and hardship, yet so many people are telling themselves that they have to thrive, or they should perform even better than they usually would," comments counseling psychologist Claire Moore. "This irrational perception is leading to stress and burn out and ultimately impeding our ability to get through this crisis."

READ MORE: OPINION: Women will bear the brunt of recklessness during lockdown as health, finances are compromised

Despite the South African Government introducing a phased approach for returning to normality, the varying levels of lockdown are unlikely to improve our ability to move freely dramatically. 

"All the working habits that have formed during this past couple of weeks are likely to continue for some time," points out businesswoman Charmagne Mavudzi, who is head of marketing and communications for Volvo Car South Africa. "We need to take the time to look back at what has and hasn't worked and adjusted accordingly. Our long term wellbeing now depends on it."

Claire encourages people to see the pandemic as a marathon, not a sprint, "We all need to adjust our thinking to the circumstances and slow down to a pace that we can maintain." 

But how do you achieve this when reports need to be written, bottoms wiped, and dishes cleaned - all seemingly at the same time?

READ MORE: It's okay to defer your 2020 goals to another year if they are interrupted by the pandemic

Boundaries empower everyone

"As with anything in life, you need to set boundaries," says Charmagne. "Just because you are awake at 9 pm doesn't mean that you are available or should be available, to work. There are times when answering a call at midnight is necessary, so I'm not suggesting you turn your phone off every day at 5 pm and be done with the world. Instead, it would help if you give your co-workers a framework within which they can work," she points out.

Get out of your head

We need to ask ourselves why working from home is any different from working at the office in terms of time boundaries and availability? If we would usually leave the office at 5 pm, then why is it so difficult to close the laptop at 5 pm? If our boss would not often contact us on the weekend, then why does that seem appropriate now? If we do not usually spend time with the kids in the afternoon, then why do we feel guilty to tell them they have to entertain themselves for a while? The answer lies in the way we think.

"We all have a perfectionist lurking somewhere in our minds that creates the 'must', 'should', 'have to' thinking that many of us struggle with. 'I should be showing my boss that I can be as productive at home.' 'I must finish this task before I close my laptop.' 'I have to entertain the kids 24/7'. Most of the time, we accept these thoughts as truth without question and attempt to act on all of them, such that we end up overwhelmed," says Claire. 

READ MORE: Setting excessively high standards, self-criticism and doubt – 8 ways to deal with perfectionism

Take a holiday from your phone

Electronic devices may appear to have miraculously multiplied, appearing on almost every surface around the house, standing as a constant reminder to do more. "I decided to take a holiday from my phone. I messaged my family and colleagues to tell them that they shouldn't expect to hear from me, that nothing was wrong, but that I needed a break for the weekend. And I saw it just like that, a holiday. It was empowering, and I walked to my desk on Monday, ready to tackle the new week," says Charmagne.

Park your perfectionism

The first step to combatting the 'always on' phenomenon is to challenge perfectionist thinking and decide which of the instructions that we give to ourselves are necessary, which are not required at all, and which can be toned down.

"If you are telling yourself that you must feed your kids, then that is a pretty realistic though - so go ahead and do that. If you are telling yourself that you have to achieve the same amount of work at home as you would at the office, then ask yourself if that is really what your boss is expecting under the circumstances? If you are telling yourself that you should be doing all the amazing mom activities that you see on Facebook or Pinterest, then please let go of that."

READ MORE: Woman offers to be a living emoticon for R1 500 per order – she'll deliver ‘emotions’ to your doorstep

Permission to switch off

One of our most problematic thoughts is that it's not ok for us to take time out or even to want or need it. "I have counselled families where two parents are both working from home and looking after the kids all the time, but both are feeling guilty to ask the other for some time off," says Claire. 

"If you have another adult with you, then create a schedule where one of you is looking after the kids, and the other is either working or resting and then allocate family time when you are all together. If you are a single parent, then, just for now, put your kids in front of a screen for a bit without feeling guilty. They will have a better parent after you have got something done or had some downtime."

Are you struggling to switch off? Have you found a balance? Tell us here.

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