Last night we had a power cut, not that unusual when you live in a small village in rural Northumberland. Occasional power losses are balanced against living in a genuine community, surrounded by countryside that inspires, calms, uplifts and reminds me daily of the power of nature to lift us out of ourselves.
The power cut was a different kind of reminder. We all live our lives surrounded by electronic devices. Many of these are meant to make our lives simpler, an app for everything so we can spend our time more productively. However there is a down side to this connectedness. Often we can be connected to people and events on the other side of the world but isolated from those within our own houses. Instant access also means being instantly accessible, work emails demanding our attention when we are trying to have a much-needed break from work.
I enjoy the modern world as much as anyone, check my twitter, smile at friends triumphs on Facebook, find interesting quotes on pinterest, or stunning vistas on Instagram. I am aware though of the need to turn off, to stop tapping and swiping and allow myself, and those around me to escape our electronic masters.
Stress and Anxiety.
Mobile devices were meant to reduce stress, we can call our children, or they can call us in an emergency. We can sleep knowing elderly parents can contact us if needed. However valuable as these things are for many people their phone can actually be a source of anxiety. Do you find yourself worrying if you cannot instantly put your hand on your phone? If an email, notification or like pings do you feel obliged to instantly respond? Many people do, and they move from a phone being a useful lifeline to becoming a millstone. If this sounds familiar to you breaking the habit is not going to happen instantly, but it can be done.
Small changes are more likely to work than deciding you won’t use your phone for an entire weekend. A good place to start is meal times. We have a house rule of no electronic devices during meals. Adults and children (rules are no good if you aren’t willing to follow them too.) It might sound like something out of the 1950s but if you sit around a table with people, its hard not to speak to each other. Especially if you aren’t all bent over your ipads and tablets.
It is of course easier if this rule is made before children get big enough to have their own phones. If they see you put aside your phone when you eat, then they will more readily copy you. Sometimes people will say to me that even though they question their kids about their day, they just get grunts or one word replies. Usually this is because they have confused questioning and conversation. If someone interrogates you about your day would you be eager to reply? A good alternative is for everyone to say one good thing that has happened that day, or even the best thing that happened that day. When you talk about your life, other people are more inclined to want to talk about theirs.
For those without children the meal time rule is still effective. Thirty minutes when you don’t check your work emails, don’t see how many retweets you have, it might not sound like much, but once you can do thirty minutes, you can do an hour.
To sleep perchance to dream
How many of us fall asleep after that last, I will just see what is happening check of our phones? Research has consistently shown that screen time before bed affects the brain, and our quality and amount of sleep. In turn lack of sleep itself can exacerbate depression and anxiety. This is if we are just checking out the latest cat videos, often we cannot curate what we see and may end up reading or watching triggering or emotionally charged content at a time when we need to be at our most relaxed.
Avoiding all screens for an hour before bed is seen as a sensible limit. That might sound like a huge step if your normal bedtime routine is to fall asleep while scrolling through twitter so build up to it. Make it a month of better sleep habits, starting with a 15 minute curfew for a week, then extending it to thirty minutes and so on. An incredible result of this is by the end of the month you will have given yourself an extra hour a day, an hour where you are free to do anything! (except of course play candy crush). I colour, using one of the many adult colouring magazines that have appeared on the market recently. Its relaxing, and allows me to unwind from the day, putting me in the ideal frame of mind to sleep.
Many of us do not have Monday to Friday 9-5 work schedules. Even so we want to have down time. The world however still divides the week into conventional workdays and weekends. Finding the right balance often means setting a schedule. Set aside time at weekends when you will respond to work emails, work projects, and be strict about adhering to that time. It can really help reduce stress, and prevent burn out if you know that you will give it your full attention, say between 2 and 4 pm. It’s also probably worth pointing out that the work you do at this time is likely to be far better quality than work you try to fit in whilst doing 5 other things, and getting stressed about all of them.
Make Technology work for you.
Investigate your devices block functions. Many of them are quite sophisticated. It may be possible to have family, and the boss, as allowed contacts, while blocking freecycle updates and the round robin about the school jumble sale arrangements. This is a useful half way house for those who need to be available but want to cut the electronic umbilical cord. Try spending a weekend where all but a few (and be ruthless about this) are blocked. You might be surprised by how little you miss.
These are all just suggestions. Perhaps the most important thing is to think are my electronic devices working for me, making my life simpler, or are they causing me stress, making my life more complicated? Once you know that, you may be able to decide what, if anything needs to be done. If anyone has their own ideas for turning off, I would love to hear them, please leave a comment.