Smartphones and gadgets are supposed to make our lives easier – but are they actually making family relationships more difficult? Counsellor and psychotherapist Lynette Evans, known to clients as The Listening Helper, says it’s time to switch off in order to switch on to the ones you love.
How many times, when asked how you are, do you reply: ‘Busy’? More and more I hear this word, which has pushed aside ‘fine’ and turned into a currency to measure how successful we are. But what’s successful about being so exhausted you don’t have time for your partner and family, or to enjoy the moment you’re in?
The problem being is that being busy – and being unable to switch off from our busy-ness – doesn’t enhance our lives; it depletes our energy while we push ourselves to find more hours in the day. Due to the expectations put on us by society – and, let’s face it, ourselves – to never switch off, we’re hurtling towards emotional and physical burn out, which can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and physical illness including stroke, diabetes and heart attack.
When many parents come home at the end of the day, we find ourselves still working, thanks to ‘marvellous’ modern technology. We’re terrified of being unavailable and dispensable, so we spend our evenings on call, checking emails, engaging with colleagues and reading paperwork instead of switching off and recharging ahead of the next day. According to the Trades Union Congress, the UK tops the European long-hours league and is the only country to allow staff to opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week. Yet regularly working long hours is shown to be linked to increased stress, lower productivity and a greater risk of depression, whilst driving when tired can be as dangerous as driving whilst drunk.
In addition to those extra (often unpaid) hours, more often than not we start a whole other shift of evening clubs, homework and housework at the end of the working day. We’re met with demands to chauffeur our children to as many activities and playdates as possible and then have to post all about it on Facebook and Instagram to make sure we’re seen as a busy, happy and social family.
The weekend used to be a time of rest and relaxation, but it’s now a time for shopping and mainly repeating the weekday – at an even faster pace. We have to make sure that our family has the latest gear, gadgets and technology and use shopping as a form of relaxation (the oft-quoted retail therapy), yet the desire for more ‘stuff’ is just a part of the conveyor belt of stress. We no longer have a weekend to recharge and unplug, either as a family or together as parents – we’re simply too busy!
And as for bedtime… can you remember the last time you were intimate with your partner? We’re not just talking about sex (although, yes, we’re talking about that as well!), but those moments of simply lying down together, looking into each other’s eyes, laughing and forgetting the world outside the bedroom door. Sadly, scrolling through your news feed before you turn out the lights is one of the most detrimental things couples can do to their emotional and physical intimacy, and a huge contributor to relationship breakdown in parents who say they don’t have time for each other or time alone.
Did you know that the greater the stress in our lives, the stronger our reactions to the everyday ups and downs of our family relationships? Increased stress leads us to perceive criticism by our partner or children, or hear something more in the tone of their voice that causes a reaction in our behaviour. When we’re exposed to high levels of stress for long periods of time, our relationships are bound to suffer, no matter how strong they were to start with. Stress colours our perceptions and is likely to give us a negative view of relationships with our loved ones. Yet once we remove the stress, a positive view of our relationships usually reasserts itself.
The key lesson for parents is simple; the family needs to unplug, regularly and together. Have a think about the stressors to your family life and re-evaluate what they bring to your relationships. If it’s possible, remove them from your lives altogether. If not, identify the steps you can take as a family to minimise the build up of these stress in your lives. There are lots of stress relief activities that you can engage in and enjoy together, such as a digital detox. Just turn off all devices and gadgets and give your mental inbox a break from the constant stream of new information and expectations!
Lynette works with private clients and businesses in south Wales to tackle issues including stress, depression and anxiety. To find out more, visit www.thelisteninghelper.co.uk.
Article written exclusively by Lynette Evans in support of National Unplugging Day on June 25th 2017.