In this day and age, it is almost required to be available and connected at all times. At any given moment, someone can receive a message that they are expected to respond to. These messages are not just texts but also emails, DMs, and even — on occasion — the dreaded voicemail. Everyone is always scrolling, Googling, posting, and as a result liking, comparing, and engaging. Frankly, it is exhausting to just think about all of it — and the constant connection can lead to increased stress, feelings of isolation, and overall emotional burnout. Healthy practices for more mindful and present ways of living include taking breaks from constant connectivity. Establishing online boundaries is essential to positive mental health. Here are some tips and advice for taking technological breaks in order to create mental and emotional boundaries for yourself, brought to you by local therapist Heather Rafanello.
Battling the Tech Fatigue
Just like a smartphone, people are always ‘on.’ At any given moment, it is possible to be tagged, messaged, and contacted. When ‘Caller ID’ was invented, it was a thrilling time – the ability to screen incoming calls had been unheard of prior to this. It provided people and families with the ability to choose when they wanted to connect and when they needed some space. This begs the question: why does no one consider screening their screen time?
Recently, a friend said that she did “not have the bandwidth to answer someone’s phone call,” and that really hit home. Too often are these unprompted messages, DMs, and @’s being catapulted into people’s lives. Instagram: 3 people added to their stories. Snapchat: 2 unopened messages. 187 new emails. 43 unread text messages in a group chat. It’s endless — all during a few hours of work.
There are three main challenges with this constant contact: first, as previously mentioned, it is exhausting. Second, it’s mindless – especially social media. It’s way too easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of endless scrolling, and it’s even worse if this distracts you from meaningfully connecting with the people around you. Third, it’s a constant burden that is literally carried around all day – buzzing during a meeting, a ping while in the bathroom — it’s a constant reminder at your fingertips.
Learning to Set Virtual Boundaries
If this sounds relatable, there is good news. A saving grace, a better solution, and something more sustainable is recognizing, setting, and maintaining online boundaries. Boundaries are not a new concept. In real life, a boundary might look like: saying no, knowing when something is too much, or communicating one’s needs, just to name a few. These boundaries are important in our real lives — and they should absolutely also translate over to the virtual world that consumes so much of everyone’s time.
Boundaries are a necessary form of self-preservation in both the real world and the online world. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part, and if this is the case, start by recognizing what feels draining. Perhaps it’s too much screen time or certain conversations that are too much to handle. Maybe it’s as simple as checking in with one’s own emotional battery to ensure there’s enough energy to answer this incoming call.
Online boundaries can look like:
- Unfollowing or muting an account that is emotionally activating
- Setting time limits for certain apps
- Leaving your phone in another room during time needed to rest or focus
- Leaving messages unread for the time being
- Using “Do Not Disturb” to silence the endless chimes
Start small and be patient, because it is inevitable that there will be some struggle. This chaos did not come about overnight and it will not dissipate immediately either. Remember: one step at a time. This therapist says: not only is it okay to disconnect; it is essential in order to actually live.