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Shambhala Sun | September 2012

Stress Relief for the Constantly Connected

Life vs. screens: who’s really in control? LORI DESCHENE on how to make sure you’re the one in charge.
 
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in our internet-enabled, always-on world. From friends and family to colleagues and acquaintances, there’s always someone emailing, tweeting, or texting—and everything can seem so urgent. If you feel stressed by the pressure to keep up with the stream, you may find it helpful to set some communication boundaries, for yourself and others. These tips may help.


Set Boundaries

There was a time when we collectively understood that reaching an answering machine meant no one was home. We also accepted that we would receive a call back at some unknown time, when that person returned.

While most of us anticipate far speedier replies these days, it’s up to each of us to set expectations for when and how we’ll respond. That might mean setting up an email auto-responder explaining that you only check your account at specific times each week. Or it might entail writing in your social media profiles that you don’t check messages on those sites. You may also want to request that your friends and coworkers compile their requests to send all at once, instead of sending many short emails throughout the day.

If you set boundaries for how you receive communication— and expectations for when you’ll respond—it will be easier to relax when you disconnect.


Take Digital Breaks

This year on March 23, millions of people did a collective digital detox. It was the third annual National Day of Unplugging, created by an organization called the Sabbath Manifesto. A digital detox is just what it sounds like—a complete break from everything related to technology. Those who took part reported feeling more present and focused in their surroundings.

But you don’t need to wait for a scheduled day to unplug and recharge your mind; at any time you choose you can enjoy the benefits of powering down your gadgets. During those days when you must stay connected, prioritize maintaining a connection with yourself so that you stay in touch with your needs. You may require regular breaks to stretch your legs and ground yourself in the moment, or you may need to close everything down once in awhile and take a few slow, mindful breaths.

When you schedule and take regular digital breaks, it’s much easier to maintain a sense of balance, mentally and physically.


Harness the Power of Pausing

When we feel technology-related stress, it’s often because we’ve consciously chosen to distract and overwhelm ourselves. Sometimes we pull out our phones to avoid uncomfortable moments or sign on to social media sites to feel acknowledged, connected, or validated. When you feel compelled to check your email, post a status update, or otherwise engage online, take a moment and check in with your true intentions and needs.

This same concept also applies to work correspondence. You might be tempted to monitor your email remotely in order to stay ahead, but this puts you in a persistent state of high alert. In a recent study, British psychologist and researcher Richard Balding found that obsessively checking smartphones for email can lead to higher stress levels. The most stressed participants regularly checked their phones, anticipating new messages that weren’t actually there—what Balding termed “phantom alerts.”

You can dramatically increase your overall well-being by planning to stay disconnected when you’re able, and pausing to check in with your true intentions when you feel the need to go online.

If you take the time to set and honor healthy boundaries for technology, you’ll inevitably feel much more relaxed, focused, and balanced—and consequently, less stressed.


Lori Deschene is the author of Tiny Buddha and founder of the popular website tinybuddha.com.

From the September 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.



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