Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I remember my parents coming home from work, changing their clothes, grabbing a beverage and relaxing in the recliner to watch the news before dinner.
Their work day was done and they knew nothing was expected of them until the next day. They didn’t seem stressed, and they never complained that their boss wouldn’t leave them alone, since there really wasn’t an easy way for anyone to get a hold of them. So work stuff waited until the next day.
In today’s digital age, however, we’re always connected. It’s super easy to reach out to coworkers, and it feels like our work days don’t have a clear beginning or a clear end. We are glued to our phones for fear we might miss an important email. It doesn’t matter if said email comes during our workday or while we’re at our son’s soccer game or at 1:00 in the morning. If we see that notification, we can’t resist responding.
How many of us wake up and reach for our phones before saying good morning to our spouse or children? We feel the anxiety bubbling in our chest if there is an issue we need to take care of that day and we’ve been notified before we’ve had coffee or breakfast or taken a morning trip to the loo.
I am guilty of this myself. And when I reach for my phone first thing in the morning and see emails with tasks I need to complete for the day, I begin to feel anxious. And that isn’t a healthy start to my day. I need to lead by example for my kids and they have called me out on it many times — especially after I told them we’d be having “cellphone-free Sundays” and I wasn’t able to hold true to that.
Has it affected my relationship with them? Most definitely. I’ve tried justifying my behavior by telling them it is my livelihood, my job, and it puts food on the table — but they know better. These emails can wait, and their feelings around the topic are valid — much like my feelings were valid when I was married and my ex-husband would reach for his phone during dinner and on the weekend when we were supposed to be having family time. It made me feel disregarded and unimportant, and now I’m doing it to my kids.
It’s no surprise the need to keep checking our email folder for work issues is hurting our health and our relationships. The sense of urgency that comes with constantly being on call is one that is causing great anxiety and stress, according to an article published on Yahoo.
A Virginia Tech survey asked 108 people who work a minimum of 30 hours per week, 138 significant others, and 105 managers about the expectation to check work emails and found “the sheer expectation of monitoring work email, rather than the amount of time spent doing so, led to increased anxiety in both employees and their significant other,” according to the article.
Some employees say they feel the need to check in on work email anywhere from “every hour to every few minutes.”
Of course, being “on call” this much and never getting a break is going to affect our relationships and wellbeing. Who can decompress or fully enjoy their family when they are distracted by the need to check their phone or computer?
Not only did the study find constant emails affect employees’ health, it also affected their spouses’ health because the constant checking in with the office caused both partners to suffer from “negative health impacts from the increased anxiety.”
Dr. Lama Bazzi, a member of the American Psychiatric Association Board of Directors, says the anxiety from doing this can come out in many different ways such as “changes in appetite, concentration, focus and decreased quality of sleep.”
Rafael Espinal is a New York Councilman who introduced the “Right to Disconnect” Bill, which makes it “unlawful” for private companies with 10 or more employees to require employees to check (and respond) to emails they get after work hours.
As he points out, it is impossible to “un-blur the line between work and our personal lives” if we don’t take the pressure off ourselves and employers don’t take the pressure off their employees.
Scary Mommy spoke with Renee Sher-McMeans, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in working with couples. She told us “one of the main reasons relationships fall apart is lack of friendship and connection.” Over time, constantly checking in on other tasks can lead to feelings of “loneliness” and “dissatisfaction in a relationship.”
Sher-McMeans recommends having a block of time each day when your phones are off-limits, such as at the dinner table. It’s also important to ask open-ended questions, and make eye contact with your partner when you’re speaking to them instead of looking at your phone.
When our personal lives feel full and enriched without the stress of work always knocking, people will feel more clear-minded and be able to perform better at work without suffering from burnout — it’s a win-win.
So what can we do to unplug and start living a more present life?
Well, we can allow blocks of time when everyone can be on their phones to catch up on anything — and chunks of time when phones and computers are off limits. If an hour or two a day feels like too much, maybe just start with 30 minutes and build up.
We can also make certain areas of your home, such as the kitchen and dining room, a “no phone zone.” This will allow you time to laugh, talk, and play without the cellphone in your back pocket. Or maybe you want to make the bedroom a phone-free zone so you can use that space to decompress or connect with your partner.
If you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, you can dedicate a day of the week, when there is no cell phone time until after dinner.
Another option it to leave your phone behind when you go for a walk, out to eat, or attend a party. I’ve made my kids leave their phones in the car when we visit family because they were so disconnected when we were there. Sure, they complained a little, but it worked out well in the end.
Small changes can have big results and while it may be tough to break the habit of always being “on call,” with a little discipline, before you know it, you will feel more relaxed, present, and won’t even want to go back to your old ways.