Opinion | Being always ‘on’ may make you a stressed-out superhero, but not a happier professional
Something we all forget to do is to carve out a bit of ‘me time’ for ourselves each week
With all the technology that’s become an integral part of work and personal lives, it would seem like it is finally possible to be the employee of the year at work and mom/dad of the year at home. In recent times, we’ve all enthusiastically embraced the flexibility that technology gives us, living these seemingly hybrid lives—we can work from anywhere, get on con-calls, and stay in the loop with what’s going on at work, while being at home or at a function at our children’s school.
In theory, being “always on” should make us better parents, more productive professionals, and, generally, happier people. But, as we can increasingly see, that’s not really the case. Instead, we often find our stress levels soaring all the time. We find ourselves plugged in and stressed out, doing more work, having less fun, and not being anywhere close to achieving the work-life balance that technology promised us. What’s worse is that we feel pressured to keep trying to be the corporate or domestic superhero who can manage it all.
The problem with being “always on” is that your mind never rests—you’re constantly connected to information streams that require you to keep switching between roles and parts of your personality: This leads to a build-up of stress. This is because multi-tasking actually drains our energy, making us tired and less focused, thereby affecting productivity, which, in turn, adds to our stress levels.
The overlapping of work and home lives can also cause a lot of emotional stress because you’re not fully present while spending time with your children or family members. Over time, we find that we’re not actually doing justice to our work or our loved ones because we’re never fully present with either of them. Yet we carry on, trying harder and harder to integrate our work and family lives with the help of technology while the stress builds up, leading to burnout, parenting issues, and marital problems.
The first step to reducing this kind of stress is to come to terms with the fact that although we face immense pressure to succeed in today’s competitive workplace, trying to be a superhero mom, dad or employee is not a sustainable solution.
We also need to understand that there is no such thing as “equal work-life balance”. Trying to divide our life into equal parts for work and personal activities is unrealistic and frustrating. Instead, we could take the time to prioritize work and personal needs on a day-to-day, as well as a long-term, basis, so that we have enough stress-free time to devote to various aspects of our life in a fulfilling way. Planning and prioritizing each day or month’s major work and personal activities and events can give us a sense of control that will greatly reduce stress and help us find a balance that works for each of us.
Another crucial step is to set boundaries for the way we harness the power of the technology available to us. Instead of being at the beck and call of our digital devices, we can set certain times of the day and certain spaces in the house where we do not allow the intermingling of work and personal life. For example, always have a space in your house designated for work activities. Pick a low-productivity time slot, like the hour after lunch, for checking in on your personal life.
Something we all forget to do is to carve out a bit of “me time” for ourselves each week. This can be used to take a break from chores and responsibilities to rejuvenate ourselves. While doing this, it helps to reflect on the small accomplishments we make each week, as it helps us reinforce a sense of success which will contribute to our overall sense of fulfilment.
On a personal note, I too find myself trying to deal with these challenges every day. Though it’s easy to get swept away by this digital storm, I try to remind myself to be more mindful and to balance my priorities on a day-to-day basis. In today’s world, this blurring of lines is inevitable and unavoidable. So, it comes down to how each of us tries to deal with it in a way that empowers us and helps us be the best version of ourselves.
Mind Matters is a weekly column which looks to alleviate the stigma about mental health issues at work. Neerja Birla is the chairperson and co-founder of Mpower, a movement that aims to bring about a positive change in the attitude towards mental health.
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