Why a burnout expert says you should have an ‘Untouchable Day’ every week


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Photo: Stocksy/ / Guille Faingold

Every minute I type this my fingers are sad that they can’t grab my cell phone, and can I just say, that is horrifying. Even having it in my eye line makes me stressed out, as if it was my child dangling from a broken bridge instead of an iPhone 8 placidly charging. Technology dependency bones us all, and this addiction feeds into our collection cultural burnout problem. There’s a reason for that. At our most recent Well+Good TALK, we learned that that chronic stress leaves us in a constant fight-or-flight mode, and those little technological pings feed into the stress cycle.

“Every single notification that comes in your brain treats exactly as though the phone rang or someone knocked on the doors,” says Celeste Headlee, journalist and author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving. “So the whole time that phone is present, or the computer is in your island, your brain is sitting there like a runner at the starting gate, waiting to respond to what it thinks is some kind of threat or alert. So that’s part of what is exhausting you because you never stop working.”

Wow, I absolutely hate that. As such, getting a handle on your tech means you physically and mindfully have to step away sometimes. That doesn’t mean throwing your cell into the nearest body of water, it just means ungluing your eyes from a screen once in a while. If you’re talking to your co-worker (not on Slack, kids), you want to turn away from the computer. Working at your computer? Shut off your computer for a while.

“Check in once an hour, you would be shocked,” says Headlee. “Most of the email you get is not urgent. I do an Untouchable Day once week when I don’t check email or social media. And I have a little thing on my email thing saying, ‘Hey, if it’s urgent just call me.’ In two years no one has called me.”

First of all, I get that, because all phone calls in 2020 scream “emergency” (or scream “I’m at work and my mother has boundary issues”). But this idea of an Untouchable Day feels like a manageable way to mitigate your technology use without something drastic. There’s no holier-than-though speeches about how you’re “Not on Facebook” and there’s no being infuriatingly unreachable like it’s 1993. It’s a very regulated break.

So for your own Untouchable Day, you want to set up the micro-boundaries that help you become clear-minded and absorb your surroundings. You can reserve Sunday or some non-essential day in your schedule to not check email, not check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… You can allow yourself to leave your phone at home if you go to the grocery store or cafe. You can set those out-of-office email messages off, even though it’s Sunday and you shouldn’t be online in the first place. And when you do have your tech close at hand, there’s something soothing you can do to keep your anxiety a little bit at bay: get rid of all those useless reminders.

“In terms of short term strategies, things that you can do, I don’t get any notifications anymore,” says Sarah Adler, PsyD, chief clinical director of Octave. “On my phone, I’ve just shut down all notifications for every single app. So there’s nothing that sort of triggering me and that dopaminergic reward system pathway.”

God, that brain. It really needs a lot of coddling, doesn’t it?

Plus, here’s the reason why your next party should be phone free. And hear the life-changing benefits of what happens when you take work email off your phone.

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