Summer Digital Detox – Mental Health

Going on a digital detox from your smartphone, email and social media can be a smart move if you want to get properly away, relax and switch off properly this summer. But even just a partial one, where you set strict boundaries on your contactability, can still be beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Employee health and wellbeing – make this the summer you take a digital holiday

The school summer holiday season is nearly upon us and with it comes that perennial dilemma in our modern connected, working world – how to properly switch off from the daily deluge of work emails, social media and other digital communications for your mental health and wellbeing?

One radical solution, of course, is simply not to take your phone or laptop with you on holiday. But, given the fact you may not feel able to be completely out of touch (plus of course the attraction of Google maps and high spec in-phone cameras), this may not be a realistic option.

The difficulty then is how to ignore your work-synced devices, how to make sure you don’t inadvertently find yourself checking in and slipping back into work mode?

After all, if latest research is anything to go by, we are all finding it increasingly difficult to tear ourselves away from our phones and from being “always on”, whether for work or just social media.

A recent poll of 2,000 adults by Mental Health UK and beds’ firm eve Sleep found one in three of us admit to checking our emails in the middle of the night, with 79% confessing to struggling to switch off at bedtime.

Smartphone ‘fatigue’

A survey of 1,000 people by telecoms company Thumbtel has also found more than half (53%) of full-time workers aged 25-34 feel they cannot completely disconnect from their job outside of work hours because of work-related calls, emails and messages pinging into their smartphones.

Six out of 10 felt they were experiencing “smartphone fatigue” because of not being able to separate personal communications from work-related messages. More than half 56% admitted they regularly received work-related calls during holidays, weekends or at evenings, affecting their mental health.

There is growing understanding how digital technology, while at one level all being about connection and communication, can at another foster isolation and loneliness.

The charity Childline, for example, in July said it had seen a 14% rise in the number of children contacting it about loneliness, with social media often contributing to this sense of isolation.

Social media can have an equally isolating effect on adults. In fact, whatever the reason, one in 20 adults in England felt lonely “often or always” in 2016 and 2017, with younger people at the greatest risk of loneliness, official government data has suggested.

Social and family isolation

It stands to reason that if you’re unable to disconnect both physically and mentally from your device, even on holiday, that is unlikely to be healthy in terms of relaxing and recharging your batteries, or even in terms of engaging properly with your family or friends.

How then, in practice, is the best way to go about it? Ultimately, it’s going to come to setting yourself – and your employer and colleagues – some ground-rules and being disciplined.

First, make it a priority to set up your “out of office” on your email, so ensuring key clients and colleagues know you’re genuinely away (and, crucially, out of touch).

Second, ensure there are proper employee support systems in place to cover (or even temporarily park) anything that’s happening while you’re away.

Third, set parameters. You may want to give some key people a contact for you while away (such as your line manager).

But, assuming it is appropriate to do so, emphasise that you will only be checking or answering messages for a certain period of time each day and otherwise will be out of reach. That way your manager or team can be reassured you will still be available regularly, just not “always on”.

Fourth, switch off push notifications on your phone and tablet and set your email apps to refresh manually in settings so they aren’t pinging every 15 minutes. Better still, simply mute email notifications.

Go ‘cold turkey’

Finally, make sure you discipline yourself to stick to your own rules. It can be a good idea to practise short periods of “cold turkey” away from your phone. So, leave your phone behind when you go to the supermarket or switch it off on Sunday afternoons, or when you go out for a meal, or whatever it might be.

Get used to not having your phone with you and it will suddenly be much easier to be disconnected – and relaxed – while on holiday.

As Optima Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Lucy Wright emphasises, it is important for our mental health and wellbeing properly to switch off while on holiday.

“Whether it’s about spending time with your kids or partner or seeing or doing something completely new, good employers should recognise that even the most dedicated employees needs to get completely away from work to recharge and return refreshed.

“To that end, it is important that protocols are put in place to ensure, where possible, that employees who are on holiday are left in peace. But, at the same time, it is important that employees themselves recognise it is vital to switch off – and that includes their devices.”