So here I was again, crying on the floor of my tiny rented studio from an unbearable migraine and fatigue, weak and desperate after a day in the office. I seemed to have finally landed in a decent digital marketing role I’ve always wanted – a great brand, professional and ambitious colleagues, a decent salary – and yet I was at the edge of a severe depression. I was looking forward to getting to the office on Monday morning, but by the second half of Tuesday I was already feeling tired, and from Wednesday onwards would end up in tears every evening. I didn’t feel like talking to my colleagues, nor like going out anywhere. The weekend was just enough to recover. What’s wrong with me?
The Beginning Of My Digital Detox Journey
It wasn’t the first time this was happening. In my previous job, also in digital marketing, I resigned a couple of months after I started. I was feeling so unwell physically after an 8 hour daily in an open space office, where each person had at least two gigantic monitors that I could barely sleep. I could feel how my physical state was deteriorating because of the number of computers in the office. I left my job although I was risking losing my visa and being sent out of the country. A previous employer luckily allowed me to work part-time from home but the reduced salary did not pay enough. After a few months of recovery and occasional consulting work, I ended up in the job that I thought I’ve always wanted. I became a digital marketing manager of an exciting startup, launching the product in a new big market from the scratch.
However, the job turned out to be not exactly what I thought. I spent most of my days seated in front of the computer, manipulating spreadsheets, juggling journalist enquiries, doing cold sales calls, replying to customer support emails and apologizing for what I had no control over, chasing tech support so that they would finally fix bugs on the website, writing blogs and promoting the company on social media, sending email campaigns, managing external agencies and doing one hundred other things that the only person responsible for covering the whole market is expected to do. The job was far less creative than I thought and somewhat repetitive.
We all were sharing the same room, and everyone would always be on the phone making sales calls. Opening windows wasn’t encouraged as it was noisy outside, and the air conditioner made the room too cold, so the room felt stuffy most of the time. We were expected to work overtime, especially checking our emails over the weekend as a demonstration of our dedication to work. Working from home wasn’t seen as something healthy, as the company management was looking to build a “family-like” environment where everyone was learning from each other. Most colleagues had lunch at their desks in front of the laptop and preferred to talk to each other via messengers, albeit sitting within a hand distance from each other.
A Need For Digital Detox
It’s only now that I know that I’m an HSP I realize that basically everything that was happening in this company was a “red flag” for a highly sensitive person – information overload, being in a closed room with a lot of tech devices, the lack of boundaries between work and private life, a lack of natural light, air, movement and live human interaction. But at that time I wasn’t aware of my trait and couldn’t understand why I was the only who was so disturbed with all of the above, whereas everyone else was doing just fine. Leaving yet another company was not an option, so it was the time to think what I could do to support myself. Without reading anything about it, I intuitively set up a digital detox program for myself.
The first change was to stop switching on the computer from the moment I came into the office, as I knew there were hundreds of emails waiting for me. Instead, I would take 10-15 minutes every morning to prepare a tea and then sit down with a piece of paper and put together my thoughts of what I needed to do for the day. I tried not to stay in my seat all the time and spend as much time as I could in the meeting room, where I could be by myself, using sales calls as an excuse. In other times, I chose to sit on a couch in the corner, which was less exposed to radiation from the devices around. I signed up for the gym nearby, taking a lunch break to do some exercise and/or swim – I discovered that water had a tremendously regenerating effect on me after spending hours in front of the laptop, or would just go for a long walk no matter what the weather was like. I started wearing the glasses that absorb computer blinks and a protective apron to protect from too much radiation, to which I seemed to be so sensitive. When I finally negotiated one day in the middle of the week to work from home, it made a huge difference as it gave me some breathing space. Most importantly, I adjusted how I worked on my computer. I switched off all notifications and only occasionally opened my mailbox, as well as Skype, which we used for internal communications.
Now that I run a digital detox company, I know that after reading an incoming email it takes our brain 64 seconds to return to what we were doing, so keeping notifications enabled is a guaranteed way to make you unproductive. I stopped reading any comments about my articles and my company on social media because when they made me anxious and sometimes weren’t kind, it took me long to recover from them. Although I was still expected to read my emails over the weekend, instead of thinking about them all the time, I did them in the evening. I made an effort to stand up and stretch every hour.
Deepening My Digital Detox
It wasn’t perfect, but at least it became bearable. When the contract finished, and we mutually agreed not to extend, I didn’t need to recover as long as after the first job. When I was offered the next job, a very senior role with a top global internet company, I negotiated my terms straight away – flexible working hours, ability to work from home and a 4-day a week contract. In return, I knew I could provide a strong expertise and results – if I had the flexibility to manage my digital workload. Funny enough, I ended up working for them many more hours than in the previous job, but felt less tired and was more productive – because I was able to follow my own cycles.
Information overload was still a huge challenge for me because I receive 500 emails daily in addition to video conferences. So I decided to cut back on it at least in my private life. I gave up my smartphone and exchanged it to a very basic Nokia with no internet. Not having my phone constantly with me suddenly made me aware of how anxious I had been before, and how I was allowing many distractions to dominate my life. It felt as if I had been surrounded by 10 noisy needy kids, who were all pulling me in different directions and trying to grab my attention – and all of a sudden, they disappeared after I gave up the smartphone. I started sleeping better and having more interest in people around me, not to mention being more productive. This was when I seriously thought that I can help other people not to get into the same loop I’ve been it, and started looking into what neuroscience says about the impact of technology on our health and well-being. My research meant that I founded my digital detox business, a coaching and training company called Consciously Digital.
Top Digital Detox Lessons For HSPs
There are clearly some things that HSPs need to be aware of about using digital media more than other people:
- Sensitivity comes in many forms, and if you think you are sensitive to computer/TV radiation, you are not crazy – this is probably true, trust your body. If you can’t avoid it altogether, try looking for a place in your office where you have less exposure to the technology.
- As an HSP, you MUST unplug throughout the day. Your brain processes more information and gets overwhelmed faster than the brain of a non-sensitive person. One hour on social media for you is an equivalent of 5 hours on social media for a normal person. You need a digital diet.
- Don’t read your emails or news in the morning – as an HSP, you are so influenced by the moods or energies of others that you’ll get charged for the whole day. Instead, you can start with something inspirational, like watching a TED talk. Or just walk to work.
- Ban notifications – messengers, email alerts etc. They aren’t helping anyone, but for you, they are really much more harmful than for a regular person, because they interrupt your processing and add one more item on your agenda.
- Today’s connected world is always about the others, as you can be reached at any time. So you need to put artificial boundaries in place when you are and are not available – you can choose to use your devices at a specific time of the day, or in a specific place, and avoid using that on other occasions (for example, keep them shut and away from sight during dinner with friends or choosing not to use them in your bedroom).
You can be effective in our interconnected world and still respect your needs as a highly sensitive person, you can avoid the hazards that will require a digital detox.