How To Switch Off, Unwind And De-Stress After Work

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 13/01/2012 12:40 GMT Updated: 13/01/2012 14:02 GMT

Do you find yourself checking your work emails on the way home from the office or responding to messages as you're getting into bed?

The explosion of social media and the rise of smartphones has led to the invasion our private relaxation time and blurred the boundaries between work and home. Our bosses and colleagues can 'virtually' get into bed with us, so it's little wonder if we wake up dreaming about them.

In light of new evidence that constantly checking mobile devices such as smartphones and laptops is having an impact on the nation's stress levels, companies are now being urged to encourage their staff to 'switch off' when they leave work.

Psychologist Richard Balding, who led the research said: "Smartphone use is increasing at a rapid rate and we are likely to see an associated increase in stress from social networking.

"Organisations will not flourish if their employees are stressed, irrespective of the source of stress, so it is in their interest to encourage their employees to switch their phones off, cut the number of work emails sent out of hours and reduce people's temptation to check their devices."

So how do we take advantage of the professional and social benefits of being 'switched on' without allowing technology to impact on our health and emotional wellbeing?

"This is all about self-awareness and setting healthy boundaries," says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Sleep and Energy Coach at Capio Nightingale Hospital and author of Tired But Wired.

"Our brain, in particular the frontal lobe and those areas involved in information processing, is simply not designed to cope with the volume of incoming 'technology traffic' due to the limitations of the size of the working memory."

She adds: "Of greatest relevance is the 'ultradian cycle'. This is the 90-minute oscillating cycle that governs our patterns of rest and activity, our ability to concentrate, sleep well and so many other vital physiological processes. When we work against this cycle - for example, never taking breaks, constantly staring at a screen and trying to take in information - the memory process becomes disrupted. This disruption takes the form of stress, impaired concentration and even negative emotions such as anger as levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline kick in."

Here, Dr Ramlakhan offers her top tips on how to unplug and recharge:

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  • How To Switch Off After Work

  • Don't Take Your Phone To Bed

    At home, set some rules about when and where you use your smart phone and never take your phone to bed with you as one of my clients, a well-known barrister, would do.  He actually slept with the phone switched on and tucked into his pyjama pocket. He had chronic insomnia and problems with alcohol which stemmed from his use of alcohol to help him get to sleep

  • Switch Off An Hour Before Bedtime

    Allow yourself at least 60mins technology free time before you go to bed to 'unload' the working memory before your head hits the pillow. This means not checking email or social networking before bedtime.   Never fall asleep with your laptop, iPad or smart phone switched on beside you. These measures will dramatically improve the quality of your sleep - you will need less REM (dreaming and information processing) sleep and have access to more nourishing, deep sleep.

  • Take Regular Breaks

    Take regular breaks throughout the day and roughly on a 90-minute cycle. Get up stretch and go and talk to someone, eat something, focus your eyes on a different plane.  If you find this difficult to remember to do then set a timer or use a visual cue to remind you to take a break.

  • Don't Slouch

    When you are on your laptop or smart phone avoid slumping over your desk or into the sofa. Pay attention to your posture, put both feet on the ground, breathe from your belly.

  • Take A Lunch Break

    Research from chronobiology show that people who take lunch breaks - at least a 20min break away from technology - score higher on cognitive performance.

  • Meet Up Face-To-Face

    Take time to nurture real relationships that are free of technology - this means face to face contact or actually speaking over the phone. Human beings have evolved with a whole layer of the brain which differentiates us from other animals.  This layer is called the 'neocortex' and it is used for social engagement and forming relationships. It's where our 'emotional intelligence' comes from. Research is starting to show that people who merely interact by social networking are actually adversely changing the structure of these areas of the brain.

  • Take Time To Daydream

    With instant access to information we seem to have lost the art of daydreaming. The daydreaming process is vital to the creativity process as well as reordering the working memory and rebalancing our energy levels.

  • Take Holidays And Time Out

    Decide on the rules of how you are going to use the technology on holiday. Will you take your BlackBerry with you? Will your check your messages? If so, can you set a time to do this and stick to it so that it doesn't end up spilling over into your break.

  • Switch Off On Your Way Home

    Turn off your phone or laptop 15 to 20 minutes before you get home and use the time to daydream or think about what you are looking forward to when you get home.  Again this helps to empty the working memory and creates a vital transition between work and home so that you are able to really engage and be present to what is really important in your life.