By: Carolina Sheinfeld
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde
In March 2020, COVID forced us to stay at home and change our daily routines. Since then, life, work and play got all mixed up. It has been an intense year for women and gender equality has become the center of many of our conversations. A lot has been written about it, so my hope is not to rediscover some of the key lessons, but to continue to add voices to this discussion while removing the stigma of burnout. We need to recognize that we do not give ourselves permission to rest and to disconnect, even when we desperately need to. Society has pushed us to wear busyness and burnout as a badge of honor, and that my friends, is not right.
This summer, my daughter and I traveled to Spain to be with my mother after almost two years apart. I made the decision to work remotely in a different time zone for a couple of weeks and gave myself the gift of taking the last two weeks of our trip offline.
Those first two weeks of work were way too hectic and I would not do that again. It meant sleeping an average of five hours a day, while working in two different time zones; caring for a young child and an adult parent; and all while trying to finish important work projects before my digital disconnect and while delivering presentations at conferences that had been planed in advance (unaware of how challenging it would be to do it all, I kept saying yes to everything).
While we have been able to take advantage of the convenience of online meetings, virtual engagements, grocery deliveries and more from home, it has also meant that our screen time has increased dramatically. And if you take into account that we have multiple devices in an effort to keep boundaries, the task to reduce screen time can be cumbersome. In my case, I averaged over four hours a day of screen time (on my personal phone only). So I wasn’t sure where to start and how to measure my strategy. Will my eyesight improve? Will I stop getting notification anxiety? Will I sleep more? Walk more?
I was finally able to unplug the computer on July 10 and only used my phone for basic communication needs (Pictures, WhatsApp, messages and Google Maps). My work email had an automated response stating that I would not be checking emails –and I am happy to say that I kept my word.
While I continued to use my mobile phone on a very limited basis, I had more time to in person activities with friends and family; went for daily runs or walks and increased my average step count; all thanks to substantially reducing my screen time (to a little over an hour on the first week!). If you’re considering some form of digital detox, as we enter the month of August, here’s what worked for me.
I only took my work computer with me, which made it easier to unplug on the chosen date. I deleted Facebook from my phone and iPad and logged off from the desktop version in the computer (in case I turned it on). I changed my phone settings and set specific offline time for the phone (go to Settings — Screen Time- Downtime) between 23:00 and 8:00, which makes my phone lock access to any app, unless I choose to bypass it. I got rid of notifications by going to Settings — Notifications — Show Previews — Never, and I set a Do Not Disturb also from 23:00 to 8:00. Last, check the Health settings for your average time in bed, daily steps and walking distances. I’m still struggling with time in bed (with an average of 6 hr. 18 minutes this past month) and while my average daily steps went up significantly to 7,500 it’s still nowhere near the recommended by the World Health Organization.
This week, I return to the office in person, for the first time in months. I am very anxious of what this will mean for my wellbeing, but hope to continue to incorporate hacks that can help me maintain my mental and physical health. I will be driving for an average of three hours a day, which will impact my ability to spend time with family, my physical activity and my rest. Today, I am more aware of what my body and my mind need to be well and will try to continue practicing mindful use of technology; I hope you join me too.
I look forward to hearing from you how you plan to protect your time away and what other joys and tricks you discovered while disconnecting.
Carolina is a founding member of the Gender Alliance. At work, she specializes in immigrant and refugee integration. As a social justice advocate, she is very interested in organizational wellbeing as a vehicle to ensure the sustainability of communities of care.