In the past few weeks, there have been two notable reports in the news about companies encouraging, if not forcing, their employees to stop emailing after work hours.
A New York Times story, “A Time to Tune Out,” described Volkswagen’s new policy to turn off the email server to selected employees one half-hour after their shift ends, only to resume it 30 minutes before their next shift starts.
In another report on NBC Nightly News last week, a Boston-based company was profiled in which the CEO and some staff set an automated response in their email that is sent out in response to any email that they receive after 5:30 pm. While they still answer their phone calls, they refrain from responding to emails after work hours.
The growth of technology and the proliferation of smart phones now allow us to be connected to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s no longer a way to “leave work at the office” because the office is always just an arm’s reach away. While you might think this is a fabulous way to stay on top of things, here are some effects that this has on your body and mind:
- Constantly checking email and using the mind to think about work-related issues along with a constant sense of urgency to check email creates stress in the body.
- Erratic blood pressure, as the body reacts to message content (both favorable and not).
- Inability to relax as the mind is always thinking about work.
- Tight muscles in the neck and shoulders as the body is constantly curled over a computer or smart phone.
- Inability to focus and increased distractibility.
- Increased irritability.
- Strained eyes.
Over time, the body adapts to the constant strain and a new unhealthy baseline is established in both the body and mind. In my work with students in yoga classes and private sessions, I hear people speak of difficultly in relationships due to their dependence on technology, trouble sleeping, feeling anxious all the time and losing a sense of enjoyment for anything in their lives.
The new steps the companies noted above have instituted are great in helping their employees towards better health and wellness. But there’s a lot you can do yourself, with or without the support of your employer, to stop tuning out and start tuning in to your body and health:
- Set a time for yourself after which you won’t check your work email. Let your manager know if he or she needs you, to call you on the phone. If that doesn’t work, set established times when you’ll check after you leave the office. Maybe it’s once when you get home for any last “within work hours” emails but refrain from checking right before bedtime.
- Leave all computers and related devices out of your bedroom.
- When using your computer or phone, notice the position of your head and neck. If your chin is sticking out over your chest, roll your upper shoulders back and drop them down. Open your chest and take three deep breaths. This movement counteracts the slumped-forward position we’re all in when we are hunched over our phones or computers.
- Set aside 10 minutes before bedtime to lie flat on the floor and relax in total silence. Do not do this on your bed or you will fall asleep. The object here is to take several deep breaths and relax the body consciously rather than fall asleep. Turn off all devices in the house so you are in total silence. This is the only way to calm the mind. If this exercise would work better at a different time of day, do it then.
- If you have never tried yoga, it’s one of the best ways to stretch the entire body, especially the upper body, which is tight from both stress and the strain on it as we’re sitting in a seated position most of the day and the lower body (especially the hips) which are tight as well from sitting. Taking a yoga class will also force you to stay away from the computer for at least an hour, which is a great relief (please do not bring your phone into class).
- Find resources in your neighborhood that can fuel your wellness focus: a local yoga studio; a spa where you can get a massage, manicure or pedicure; a path where you can go for a long walk or run; a gym where you can fit in a work out; a healthy restaurant where you can get a delicious meal.
Despite how important things seem in the moment, the most important thing always is your health. You’ll outlive your current job but if it creates your own wellness breakdown, you have nothing to show for it except medical bills. It’s never to late to start making positive changes in your life. These changes are steps that will help you live longer, healthier and happier. The only one that can take the first step is you, so start doing it today!