Most people are familiar with the concept of personal space. It’s the theory that every person has a sphere of space around them they like to keep as a buffer between themselves and others. A breach in that buffer can cause people to feel a range of emotions, from mild discomfort to full-blown panic. You may have experienced this feeling firsthand when someone stood too close to you in line at the checkout counter or sat too close on the train. Fortunately, in the real world, regaining your personal space is often as easy as taking a step back. But, in an increasingly digital world, how do you keep others from standing too close?
Thanks to remote workspaces, easier access to work email accounts, the near-ubiquitous nature of social media and messenger apps, most people are never fully disconnected from the outside world. While these technologies certainly have their upsides, having a constant flow of contact can leave many feeling anxious, self-conscious and overwhelmed, just like when someone stands too close in the checkout line.
A New Problem
Barb Shepard, LMHC, and owner of a private therapy practice, explains to Parentology that establishing a healthy “digital personal space” is a fairly new problem teens and parents are facing today, thanks to being constantly connected.
“Teens feel pressure to participate in their physical world and the online world every day,” Shepard says. “When you pick up your phone, you’re bombarded with notifications of all kinds: friend requests, likes, comments, and fast-disappearing photos through various apps that all require an immediate response.”
Shepard says it’s not just teens dealing with the increased pressure to keep up with the digital world. Parents get caught up in the struggle to stay on top of the work that continues to pile up after they come home from the office each day.
Finding a Happy Medium
Both teens and adults often find themselves looking for a way to keep up with the digital world while maintaining a sense of personal space. It may seem impossible to juggle the two, but Shepard says there are a few things you can do to regain some digital personal space:
- Get curious. Keep a log of how you feel after you spend time in your digital world.
- Build in screen-free time each day. Whether it be the hour before bed, or during dinner with your family, keep your phone off and out of sight.
- Download an app to track phone usage. There are apps that can tell you everything about your phone usage, right down to the number of times you pick it up each day.
- Delete unnecessary apps. Don’t let digital clutter weigh you down.
- Delete your social media apps. Log-in to your social media accounts from your browser instead. While you’ll still be able to keep up with your messages, you’ll find yourself less likely to mindlessly scroll on the browser since the interface isn’t as user-friendly.
- Use “rules” in your inbox. With schools and youth associations sending out multiple messages regarding activities, assignments and events, your inbox can become quickly overloaded. Instead, create a rule in your email that will send messages from these groups to a specific folder that you can check twice a day (Shepard recommends once in the morning and once in the evening).
Technology Isn’t All Bad
While being connected all the time does have its downsides, it offers plenty of perks too. Dr. Leilani Carver, Assistant Professor in the Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership Online Program at Maryville University, explains to Parentology there are myriad ways to make your digital world work for you.
“Social media isn’t bad, it’s a set of tools and can be used to your benefit to help you get into your dream college and to excel in your career,” she says.
It’s all about understanding a balance that works for you and then sticking to it so that you don’t become overwhelmed.