Looking at this photo of a quiet lake scene, I imagine you can’t get cell coverage there. No bars, just you and nature! Does this thought lead to feelings of tranquility or anxiety for you? For some of us, the thought of not being able to check in and see what’s going on is troubling. This phenomenon is known as Fear of Missing Out (or FOMO for short), and strikes teenagers and working professionals alike. It leads to an addictive checking behavior where we are constantly monitoring our devices for email, text and social media updates.
Of course, this is a new problem. It wasn’t too long ago in the pre-Internet and pre-smartphone days that there wasn’t anything to check. This was also a time where one could take a vacation without the need to stay connected. For that matter, one could go home from the office each evening or weekend without a need to stay connected. Today, we are connected 24/7 in a fast-paced world dependent on various technologies such as computers, smartphones, email and social media. This leaves some of us to suffer from technostress, the feeling of being overwhelmed by technology and the constant deluge of information it pushes to us.
So is technology a good or bad thing? That depends on your relationship with technology. It becomes problematic when our life is completely centered around technology and we find ourselves plugged in all of the time – voluntarily or involuntarily. Many people struggle to establish and maintain healthy boundaries with technology and the information that it makes available to us around the clock.
If you’re struggling with technostress, here are some first steps for taming the technology beast:
Turn off email notifications. If you react to the alert on your smart phone like Pavlov’s dog, and immediately check your phone (or other device) as soon as a new notification hits, it’s time to turn off those notifications. This is the classic case of technology having power over you instead of technology serving you. Instead of getting an alert every time you get an email, establish a reasonable schedule for checking your email periodically.
Unsubscribe from unnecessary notifications. Over time, we find ourselves on a large number of mailing lists. If you are getting more notifications in your inbox than you can possibly read, or you’re deleting many of them as soon as they come in, it’s time to sit down and cull those pesky marketers. Keep the ones you really love and read faithfully, but cut the others loose by unsubscribing. Trust me, you won’t miss them.
Remove social media apps from your phone or turn off notifications. Consider which apps you really want on your phone and which ones are just creating a lot of unnecessary noise, and then start deleting. For those you choose to keep, turn off the notification alerts. Like email notifications, social media notifications can become addictive and distracting.
When possible, move conversations offline. Not only will this help reduce the number of inbound emails, it can make personal and professional relationships stronger.
Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. This is a matter of starting off your day on the right foot. This also gives you some space in the morning to prepare for your day, without the distractions of what’s been going on while you were asleep.
Don’t check your device mindlessly. We do this when we are bored. For example, when waiting in a long line at the grocery store or waiting to be called at the doctor’s office. This simply reinforces the “bond” you have with your device, and refraining from this activity will help you to become less attached. It’s also a powerful practice for mindfulness, and learning to be present in the moment (even if we find the moment boring).
Schedule time to go off the grid. The term off the grid typically means going to a remote location without easy access to the connected world – a place where you can’t get a signal on your phone. But it can also refer to simply disconnecting. You accomplish this by turning off your devices. If you go somewhere, try going without your phone, or with the phone turned off, only to be turned on in an emergency. By the way, an emergency is that you need medical attention, not that you want to check in at work or home. If this is difficult for you, try doing this in short time periods at first. A good goal may be to go off the grid every night after a certain time, allowing yourself space to unwind in the evening.
Use the do not disturb feature on your phone. If you want some quiet time, but you’re concerned about certain people who may need to reach you – let’s say one of your children is in college and you want to keep an open line with them – make it possible for them to reach you while ignoring other callers. Most smart phones offer a Do Not Disturb feature that silences your phone while still allowing certain callers that you specify to contact you. This way, you are aware of the high priority callers while the phone remains silent for all others. This is an example of technology serving you!
While there is certainly more you can do, these simple changes are a good start to establishing a healthy relationship with technology. After all, you should also be able to go to a place like the one pictured above and be fully present in the moment of a pristine lake, fresh air and the wonder of nature, instead of wondering what’s going on back at the office.
Photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo