The new age addict
Corporate health and office workers' welfare in the modern age has become a focal point in the public debate on workplaces. In the 80s and 90s, career ambitions trumped all else, and a hard-fought rise to the top was considered desirable. Movies and pop culture promoted sacrificing in other areas of life your such as time with friends and families, or simply just relaxing, to get that promotion or top job. Being a go-getter was sexy.
But that has been changing, especially with the rise of social media and the digital revolution. Not long after the craze of literally having your entire life's interests at your fingers tips on your mobile phone, terms such as digital or technology addiction started popping in the public sphere as a thing. People could not stop being on the internet and one of the downsides of that was we're constantly available to our workplaces.
Before smart phones, when you finished work, you finished work. Now, you never really switch off, with emails and countless new work related and social communications platforms launched every day, there are literally thousands of ways to be contacted, work over time, and stay constantly online.
This has created a major obstacle to achieving a healthy work-life balance and more health practitioners, social commentators and experts are warning of the detriments being 'constantly on'. Researchers report arising physical, emotional and psychological symptoms which include experiencing anxiety when you're out of wifi zones or your phone battery is too low and strongly discourage the notion of always being accessible to your employers.
Jess Blair, founder of Wellness by Blair, is a nutritionist and naturopath that consults on health, wellness and lifestyle. Married to Warriors player Adam Blair with two young children, the couple lead a busy life which involves the pressures of high performance sports.
"There is more pressure now more than ever to either be the best at what you do, or strive for the top constantly. In itself that isn't bad," says Jess. "But it's the habits people accumulate along the way that create serious detriments to your health." Jess, who speaks at corporate events and conducts workshops on employee health, says both employees and employers need educating on what is too much digital consumption and how to avoid it.
"Life is getting faster and busier for people which means the time they spend on their phones to get things done is also increasing. I have many clients who are successful corporate operators at the top level, but suffer from increased anxiety, depression and other general unhealthy lifestyle habits because of the convenience smartphones provide to get things done," she points out.
"For instance, instead of going home to enjoy family time after work, most of them are still checking and responding to emails and getting things done on their smartphones or tablets. They are still working between cooking dinner, children's home work, feeding the dog and lying in bed. My clients are still sending emails between 10 and 11 at night, which means, since they've been at work, they've never really stopped working, they've just squeezed in more tasks intermittently in-between," says Jess.
A study by Pew Research Centre, a nonpartisan research centre in the US, recently found that phone and internet addiction in young people caused a chemical imbalance in their brains. Professor of neurology at Korea University in South Korea, Hyung Suk Seo, found that teenagers with a higher score of internet addiction also scored significantly higher in depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsivity.
"We should not underestimate the dangers of smartphone addictions. My clients feel stressed if they cannot check their emails straight away when they get a notification. Texts, Facebook and Whatsapp messages are always popping through. Workplace apps are always running in the background, and social media newsfeeds are constantly being scrolled," she says.
"But this has taken away from our ability to both enjoy the conveniences associated with smartphones and our lives. Social media was initially a place to bring people together to share experiences, now it has created FOMO (Fear of Missing Out phenomenon) and produces anxiety in people who either cannot take part or keep up," Jess points out.
Now, the concept of being legally freed from staying 'on' all the time is gaining momentum. Last year, France passed a law which banned employers from contacting staff after-hours. Some companies are taking a far more hard-line approach, such as German automotive corporation Daimler, who deleted all emails to employees while they were on holiday.
The benefits of adequate rest and relaxation with time off from work-related communication have long been proven. In one research project, Desktime, an app that tracks and monitors productivity has found that the most productive people it tracked worked for about 52 minutes straight, followed by a 17-minute break.
Jess' tips on disconnecting to reboot and revitalise
- Time limits and discipline
Give yourself a time frame in which you use your device. For example, make sure that you are not checking your emails or social media as the first thing in the morning. Part of my consultation involves examining my clients' behaviours and it concerns me how many of them check their work emails or social media from their bed, the last thing they do before going to sleep and before getting up in the morning. It stimulates your brain and raises cortisol levels before you've even had a chance to wake up, or worse, wind down. There should be a clearly defined point from when you are awake and when you are 'online'.
- Turn off all notifications
Turn off all your notifications between set times. We are bombarded with all sorts of notifications on our phones, and it creates unnecessary clutter in our lives, which contaminate our personal time, private space and increase anxiety and cortisol levels. The immediacy of the internet and smartphones means we feel compelled to check out every notification, message and update that comes through our phones. Notifications are an invasive and deliberate marketing ploy that pollute your private space, demanding mental and emotional attention, making them increasingly draining. Simply kill them off.
- Download smartphone monitoring apps
There are apps that help you stay off your phone, by holding you to account. Apps like Moment tracks your usage and enforces a daily limit. It floods your screen with alerts when you exceed your daily limit or try to increase it. AppDetox can help you manage your usage by being applied to individual apps and allowing you to set your own limits on each. This is especially useful if you're struggling with one particular app, such as Facebook or Instagram. Flipd is useful for a harder approach to unplugging by locking your phone for a set period and simply not being able to unlock.
Both employees and employers need educating on what is too much digital consumption and how to avoid it