signal

The majority of us are reachable by more than a dozen ways all day and night. Take a moment to think about it.We have  at least one phone for calls and texting; maybe a messaging app or three like WhatsApp, SnapChat or iMessage; videoconferencing with Skype, Facetime, Zoom and/or WebEx; and social media accounts with messaging (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.). All day long while I work in my home office I receive messages from around the world, and this common for many people. Data Never Sleeps released a visual that summarizes every minute of the day in 2017, and the results include that Americans use 2.6 gigabytes of Internet data per minute, more than 15 million texts are sent, and close to half a million tweets were sent.

Many companies expect their employees to not only be available by company-issued cell phones but also by instant messaging any time employees are at their work computers. My husband works for big corporation that expects this, and I’ve listened to him in wonder when he says, “I sent him a message but he never responded. Why wasn’t he at his desk?” as if the culture is to be always present and to respond immediately or else your work ethic is suspect.  Sometimes the barrage of messaging (or even its potential) and the implication that we are always available (and thus could be working or forced to work at all hours) can be overwhelming and add to our levels of stress and anxiety. PsychCentral has written a wealth of articles on dealing with stress and with anxiety, but one article in particular, Strategies for the Chronically Overworked,  might be most relevant if the situation I described sounds like you.

In an Atlantic article this month, Mary H.K. Choi describes the setting and characters in her new young adult novel as, “there’s so much noise, and I wanted to focus on a story that was about being able to find your signal in all the noise.” Her story is about two teens who connect and then have a daily relationship via text messaging, but what struck me is how this comment resonates not just with texting teens but the adult workplace and in our professional lives. Even if we take the daily news feeds out of the equation, our lives are filled with so much noise. We are constantly connected but often feel little connection to other people (and may actually feel more connection to the devices that connect us than to the people with whom we’re communicating). For us, a signal could represent two different things: either a connection with another person or a better connection to ourselves and our sense of peace and of being grounded.

So how can we find a signal amidst all of the noise?

1) Take a break. Step away from the electronics. Step outside to get some fresh air. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could use the HALT system by checking in with yourself to see if it overwhelm is being caused for reasons like hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness. And then if the overwhelm is caused by any of those, take care of that need.

2) Set aside time each day for a meditation and relaxation routine. Even five minutes of sitting and focusing on your breath as it comes in and out of your body will help quiet your reeling mind and lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

3) Spend quality time with a loved one or a pet, and if you choose this, set an intention with your loved one that only loving messages will be communicated for the minutes, hours or day you spend detoxing together. This not the time to discuss bills or childcare or household chores.

4) Set up an electronic use structure. So often the boundaries we have in other parts of our lives don’t apply to our electronics so that we get texts and e-mail at all hours…and for some reason pressure ourselves to answer them when those messages come in. My husband, whose work expects him to be on call 24/7 in case of an emergency, has started leaving his phone at home for our evening dog walks. It’s the only 20-30 minutes per day he is not reachable, and I’ve seen him relax and enjoy the walks, the ocean, and the flowers along the sidewalks more. It’s made him mindful and present, and is having positive effects on his stress levels and health.

5) Disable alerts and notifications and the sounds associated with messages, incoming e-mail, and texts. If you get more than 67 texts a day (which is what Business Insider said the average was for people in 2013 and it has only gone up since then), that at least 67 times per day your phone might chime. That’s a lot of unnecessary noise. Turn off the constant alerts. Decide that you’ll check for messages every x number of minutes, if you miss your phone lighting up at the incoming message or e-mail. Sometimes being able to find the signal in the noise to cut down on the noise itself.