It’s 2020. Everywhere we turn, there is something to grab our attention. Work, emails, phones, laptops, i-Pads. The list goes on. We are in dire need of taking a step back and spending some time on ourselves.
For most of us, our nights after work follow a quite familiar pattern.
We get home. We prepare for dinner with the family. We share our experiences of the day with one another. We clean up. Watch TV. Go on our phones. Set an alarm. Fall asleep. Very little of this time is spent alone or cut off from the rest of the world.
That’s hardly a bad thing. Human beings are social creatures. Even introverts require the presence of others in their lives to remain happy and healthy. More so, spending as much time as you can relaxing with your loved ones is something we all want to do.
There is one particular element of this nightly schedule that I do believe is a cause for concern. It’s worrying but unsurprising that the first and last thing we do each day is interact with a mobile device. We lie in bed on our phones, set our alarms, fall asleep, then wake up in the morning only to check our phones again.
It really is a sign of the times. We feel pressured to remain plugged into the world beyond our house even after business hours have long expired. Whether we are checking the news, emails or our schedule for the next day, it all affects us the same; we lack a moment of clarity in our day where we shut off from the white noise in our lives.
And that can be seriously detrimental for our mental health.
“By not giving ourselves the minutes – or hours – free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us.”
This quote from Alan Lightman – a physicist and writer – goes to the crux of the issue we are grappling with.
Mobile phones are a key to the wider world. When we log into our social media apps and scroll down our newsfeeds, we may as well be walking back into the world in which we spend the vast majority of our day.
The reason why the law prescribes 38 hour working weeks is to give you a chance to spend time on the things that are important to you. If you spend all your down time on your phone, you undermine your capacity to achieve balance in your life.
In those moments after work, where we once used to exercise, read and lie quietly in bed, we leap back into the world of others. We lose the chance to reflect on how things are going in our lives and evaluate the need for change. As Lightman argues, it is in these moments of slowness that we grow as individuals.
Through reflection, we work out whether we are happy, sad, burning out or fulfilled. It’s how we can measure progress in our lives. It’s vital for our development as employees, parents, friends and colleagues.
Constant mobile phone usage deprives us of that chance.
Lightman argues that “we need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honours the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.”
This quote may sound rather preachy, but at its core is good sentiment. We must acknowledge and accept that it is healthy to fall out of sync with the outside world for periods of our day. It isn’t good for you to be on top of everything all the time because it prevents you from spending time maintaining yourself.
There is a time and place for emails, work and the wider world. That place isn’t your bed.
One way to start giving yourself this time is to have an ‘unplugged hour’ before bed. Buy yourself an alarm clock for your bedside table and leave your phone on charge in another room. Not only will cutting out phone use before bed help you sleep better, it will give you a chance to think. And that’s something you don’t have a lot of time for during the day.
Advocates for balance don’t spread their message just so you spend time with family and care about your physical health. Their ultimate aim is to make sure you are in tune with your own needs and feelings. Unless you carve out a portion of your day to consider this, you risk running blindly into a life you are unhappy with.
Ask yourself everyday: How am I?