Finding the Balance: Technology & Mental Health

Technology has helped keep many friends, families, schools, organisations & even governments stay connected and be able to function during the COVID19 Pandemic at mostly near pre-pandemic levels & in some cases beyond pre-pandemic levels. However, it is safe to say that even leading up to the pandemic there had been lots to consider about “Finding the Balance” between what is a good amount of technology & what is likely to be a detrimental amount of technology. As tech becomes more & more ingrained and essential in our day to day lives, we must strive to not only find the balance of how we use technology, but also to maintain it as well. This is to protect both our wellbeing, from over straining our eyes with too much screen time, but also as an important but often overlooked area, our mental wellbeing too.

So, with that what does “Finding the Balance” mean? Read on to find out what I think is needed to help you in “finding the balance”.

Firstly, Finding The Balance

This in its most basic of forms means getting back some “you” time, and for those of us in tech this is meant to mean time you regain to spend on other as opposed to any form of continual busy time, which now seems to regularly mean lots of screen time, like doing something tedious like going through your emails/app notifications or for many, app notifications that you have also received as emails 😒 & limiting those incredibly noisy apps (Twitter/Facebook/GitHub/Teams etc) from dragging all of your work and personal time. I say this as “doomscrolling” is not only incredibly simple to do, it is something that your mind can and does just accept you doing and can easily eat hours of your time without you realising.

You may be thinking, how can we do this??

I’d highly recommend making a list of apps that you need notifications from, like calls, texts, WhatsApp/Signal/Telegram, ones where you want notifications from & which notifications from those apps you actually care about and turning off any that you don’t care about & then turning off notifications from all those apps you have, but barely use.

Why, because most of the time we interact with a number of services is when we get a ping that something “may be of interest” which news sites & social media are terrible for, and then get drawn in to the service instead of doing what we actually were meant to be doing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would 100% recommend that you go and watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix as this will open your eyes to the tactics used by some of the social networks to get you & keep you engaged, which by turning off your notifications you can balance your amount of interaction back in your favour.

Also be willing to sign out of apps like Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat/LinkedIn/Slack/Teams from your phone or even remove them to further help you find your right balance.

Most mobile operating systems have also in recent years gained the ability to track just how much time you have spent using individual apps & your smartphone in general. I am personally terrible for scrolling Twitter for hours, but that is because there is always something new there, that & I follow an interesting variety of people across many walks of life, but this is time that is quintessentially lost and could be better used.

For those of us with email and have it on our phones, laptops, desktops or tablets, make sure you set up Inbox Rules (Outlook) / Inbox Filters (Gmail) only allowing the most important to land directly into your Inbox & set up some folders for things - I personally make use of an Everything Else folder, with sub folders underneath for each important thing to me, which each have their own rule that rules the mail into a folder.

If you have followed the likes of Dona Sarka (if not I think you should – T | B) she posted this article recently How to make an extra 10-15 hours a week which is a great read & really helps to show what you could achieve if you were to rebalance the scales back into your productive side from time to time.

I would also recommend reading this article Attention Matters More than Time by Josh Duffney (T | B) as it’s an impactful piece as is this one The Digital Declutter which also mirrors some of the points I’ve made above.

Secondly, Life isn’t just about work, nor is it about tech

Whilst this section is could be seen to be focused towards those of us that we work in the tech sector & have a tendency to eat, drink, breath & sleep technology (I know I do) is becoming as, if not more, important for everyone else who perhaps hadn’t been as deeply ingrained into using tech as frequently as those of us that live, breath and sleep tech.

Find at least 1 good non-tech hobby, preferably 3 or more and spend plenty of time with them. For example, I am an avid Snooker player & have a 6’ x 3’ table of my own (not that I have the right sized place for it) and I spend at least 12 hours a week playing. For me, it is perfect as a wind down from a long meeting or during my lunch break or just for figuring out those really difficult technical / non-technical questions of life.

I’d also recommend buying some interesting sounding books (physical is better, but kindle/audible versions are perfectly suitable too) and commit to reading them. I say this as not only is reading good for expanding your knowledge & vocabulary, but it helps in reducing “screen strain” on your eyes & has also been shown in studies to improve your mental health.

Get active, which means getting out and about (when safe to do so) it does not need to be to the gym, or the swimming pool, or perhaps to go play tennis, but do go and get out the house/flat, out of the town/city you live in and spend some time in the countryside, you know where there is an abundance of real fresh air. There are so many amazingly beautiful places to see around the world, so start planning a list of places to go and visit, in your country as well as places in other countries too. A good travel plan, especially a multi-year one, will give you plenty to look forward to in the months and years ahead! I know my list is growing by the week, with a tour of Scotland & its islands being very high up on my list.

Make sure you Stop living at work !!

Lastly, Expand your horizon

By this I mean do not just sit in your comfort zones, whether that be from a technological perspective, or whether it is what you listen to whilst getting on with your day (music, podcasts, audiobooks) or what you read or watch or play to relax after your day as there is so much awesome content out there waiting to be consumed.

I recently rekindled my love not only for cooking for myself (after a long day in the office I used to get very lazy with food & cooking for myself) but also baking too which in part was helped by the last season of Great British Bake off & some much needed remote company during the series, especially as there really is nothing better than having a natter with friends whilst watching something you enjoy, and I have signed up to get the Bake off Box to get me baking more regularly again.

When it is safe to, make sure you go & visit somewhere new, whether that be 5 miles down the road in your local area or perhaps somewhere a little further afield like another county, or even country, whether in your nearest geographical region or perhaps even further afield still.

There is plenty out there to see and I’d recommend you check out some of the many Travel Blogs listed in this article Best Travel Blogs From Around The World To Inspire You by Matthew Karsten (T | B) and also check out one that an ex-colleague of mine has started up which is aptly called Get Lost and already shows some amazing parts of Yorkshire & I expect will have many many more in the future too.

2021, especially the first few months in the lead up to spring and also into summer will for many of us be incredibly challenging, but there is light at the end of that tunnel, please use this time to reflect on what you want from your life when the world goes back to a sense of normality post-vaccination and set some realistically achievable goals for what you want to achieve in 2021, like reading more, walking more, eating healthier, and most importantly giving yourself a much needed break from time to time by booking holiday from work & just having a bit of a disconnect even if you don’t end up going anywhere.

Humans are not one-dimensional beings so by ensuring you expand your horizons, you do what you can to make sure life isn’t just about work & tech, this should help you in Finding the Balance.

I’m Ryan ( twitter | blog ) a successful IT Consultant & the founder of mhasl and Mental Health Affects Someone Like Me