QUESTION: I am a social worker in the field of child advocacy, and I experience heart-wrenching situations daily. I fear I have become addicted to technology. My cell phone, pager, and laptop are always close by. At home, I find it impossible to “disconnect.” What if someone needs me and I’m not available? My head says I need to separate my home life from my work life, but my heart tells me the opposite. How do I deal with this dilemma? — Jill
DEAR JILL: Your head wins on this one. While technology has improved our lives by leaps and bounds, it also wreaks havoc on our boundaries. We are reachable 24/7, and as caregivers we thrive on making ourselves available to others. As a result, we aren’t available to ourselves, and in many cases, available to our partners and children. I see this challenge played out in all caregiving professions. As with any addiction— and making ourselves available via technology 24/7 can be a form of addiction—start by doing one thing to move yourself in the right direction. It will be impossible to disconnect completely, so try checking emails only three times a day – 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. After the last login, logout and turn your attention to your loved ones. Another way to unplug from technology is to partner with a colleague to cover each other’s calls. On the days and nights where you aren’t “on call,” turn off the pager and spend your time reading a good book or going to the gym. The idea is to take the addictive behavior that is not serving you well and replace it with a behavior that leads to authentic, sustainable self-care. You must find what works best for you. In time, you and technology will make peace, leading to a more balanced and sane life.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.