In our always switched-on world, we are reachable 24/7, 365 days a year. While this can foster frequent communication and a sense of intimacy with family and friends anywhere in the world, regular messaging via platforms like WhatsApp, i-Message, and Instagram also has its downsides.
It can be time-consuming, energy-draining, and overwhelming. Naturally, this isn’t great for our mental wellbeing. It can also mean we never fully switch off and we can struggle to really enjoy the present moment as we’re constantly being interrupted by these so-called micro distractions.
Wondering if you don’t have enough digital boundaries in place? There are some tell-tale signs. A need to reply instantly to a message for instance, or maybe a nervousness about being away from your phone. Perhaps you’re noticing your mind is elsewhere when you’re having dinner with friends or playing with your kids. Of course, stress and anxiety about getting back to people is a big one.
Luckily, by setting better boundaries you can take back control with your digital devices and communication. Here we spoke with two experts about how to create healthy boundaries in this area.
Meet the Experts
Clare Flaxen is a cognitive behavioral therapist.
Lara Cullen is the coach and author of How To Be A People Person.
Diagnose the problem
To work out what to change, you need to identify what isn’t working right now. “What is this lack of boundaries costing you in your life? Stress, pressure, lack of time, feeling like there’s no space in your life, too much mental noise or overwhelm? Write it all down to get a picture,” cognitive behavioral therapist Clare Flaxen explains. “Then ask yourself how you’d like things to be? What would life look and feel like with better boundaries in place? What would you gain?” she adds. Once you are clear on what’s driving your current behaviors and habits, you can more clearly make a choice on what you want to keep and what needs to go.
Remember boundaries look different to everyone
We all have different tolerance levels and triggers which means boundaries can look very different from person to person. “Boundaries are incredibly personal. What’s right for one person will be completely different for someone else,” Lara Cullen, coach and author of How To Be A People Person, confirms. “You need to think consciously about what kind of relationship you want to have with your phone or device, how available you want to be to people, what kind of communication you want to receive, and how and when you want to receive it,” she adds.
Once you have established your new boundaries, it’s important to talk to the people in your life who will be affected. “Most of us have been conditioned to people-please, be liked, and to avoid conflict or rejection,” Cullen notes. The idea that someone may get upset with you, or that you may lose business or professional standing as a result of setting boundaries frequently stops us from setting them. “Have a conversation with them and understand the impact of you setting the boundary on them and their life or work. People who care about you personally and respect you professionally will want and understand your need to have limits and standards in place,” she adds.
Utilize your phone’s features
Use tech to your advantage and use your phone’s inbuilt tools to limit the amount of time you can spend on your phone overall or on certain apps, and to block out times of day when you aren’t available. “Switch off all notifications so that you’re not being constantly interrupted by your phone and mute group chats or conversations that are busy and deal with them when you’re ready,” Cullen says. You can also maximize the use of the status feature on WhatsApp by informing people whether you are reachable or not.
Take physical time away from your phone
Where possible, spend time away from your phone completely. Maybe that means a small change like turning your phone off when you work or leaving it in a different room when you’re watching TV. Or, you can also experiment with longer time away, like going out for a walk or even trying to spend a whole day without your phone when possible.
Consistency is key
The more you implement boundaries, the more people will come to understand that this is the new norm.“Be consistent. If you’re not available for work messages outside of set hours, don’t be available. If you’re not consistent with your boundaries, other people won’t respect them,” Flaxen points out. It’s also important to remember it’s a two way street. If other people have boundaries they want you to respect, make sure to respect them. You can’t expect other people not to message you late at night if you’re sending a WhatsApp super early in the morning.
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