Digital boundaries, what are they? and why are they so important? Whether it is a work what’s app group, relationships, after-hours emails or the overwhelming feeling of being digitally accessible 24-7. There is no escaping the digital age, but you can create healthy digital boundaries to protect your mental health.
Now more than ever, it has become so important to set boundaries with our time. With many people working from home, the lines can become blurred between work and downtime.
Do you remember the days when you worked your shift, logged out and then returned the next day to check your inbox? Then along came the smartphone, and your emails snuck into your pocket after hours. Then Whats’app groups popped up sharing even more information, Dm’s, private messages, comments and facetime on your time crept in.
Whether you are a freelancer or you work within an organisation, there is no escaping these issues that we face today that we did not have over a decade ago.
It is unrealistic to respond, reply, and give your energy to every notification that pops onto your screen. You may feel that you “have to” respond but, I am giving you permission to say no and take back your power.
You do not have to give a reason. You can leave what’s app groups, decline to check emails after working hours or put an “out of the office” on your email, and you do not owe anyone a reason for this.
“Hey, did you get the email I sent last night?”
“Hey, I will check my email when I get into the office, I don’t respond to emails out of hours as I feel overwhelmed by it.”
“Hey, did you see what was in the What’s app group?”
“Hey, No, I don’t use my phone for work, could you send it to me on my email instead?”
“Hey, did you get my DM?”
“Nope, I don’t check Dms, could you send it to me by email? that way I can easily find your message.”
These are just some examples of setting digital boundaries in the professional space. When you set a boundary, you will get some people who will be pissed off about it. They will want to know why?
You do not have to respond or justify your reasons for setting a boundary. If your work requires you to be accessible around the clock then this should be reflected in your salary, if it’s not, then you have my permission to unplug and draw that boundary.
For me, I set boundaries online by switching off the private message feature. I manage my Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and my website. With over 100k subs on Youtube alone, I could not manage all of the private messages, so I choose to set a boundary and switch them off.
I set aside time to reply to all of the comments daily, but I draw the line at personal messages. As I have an email set up for my blog, I have this linked on all my platforms so people can send me an email. Unfortunately, I have had some people annoyed by my boundary.
“You didn’t have the decency to reply to my DM”, one woman wrote to me. “Why can I not reply to your stories?”, said another.
I will hold my hand up, Instagram negatively affects my mental health, which is why I have to set boundaries with it. There is an unrealistic expectation to be available, online and accessible 24/7.
When my DMs were open I could get over 200 private messages a day. These massages were 99% fun and positive but then there were the messages with unsolicited advice, intrusive questions, questions you wouldn’t ask a person if you met them on the street.
That is when I knew I had to set a boundary. I happily reply and engage with my community in my comments and I have my blog email on my page for people to reach out by email. If you struggle with online platforms just know that you can turn off the features, you do not have to use them all just because other people are.
“But you were online!”
Late last year, I had an incident that made me question this digital age.
I remember being on a late evening business zoom call and I got a whats app call. As I was working, I was unable to answer, so I let the call ring out. Shortly after I checked the notification, and this person saw I was “online”. Twenty minutes later I get the paragraph of doom accusing me of being rude for not responding.
Why do we expect people to be accessible all of the time? We have all done it, we send a message to our crush, see that they are online, but they don’t open our message. Cue all of the stories we make up in our heads as to why. When maybe, they were simply preoccupied with something else.
Technology can be used in intimate relationships as a means to monitor or manipulate. If something feels off, then it probably is and you do not have to entertain that energy.
I am a lover of face to face interactions. Yea, the daily giggles in the girls What’s app group are fun but nothing meets the in-person laughs.
The same goes for guys, when they turn into pen pals I can them, this might sound harsh, but digital romance is not for me, either take me out or get out of my What’s app lol.
Here are some quick tips to help you get started with setting your Digital boundaries
I have all notifications switched off except for my email. Downtime.
I have my phone screen set up to shut off from 8 pm until 7 am. So, all my apps shut off, and I get no notifications.
Don’t check your phone within the first hour of waking up
Don’t spend your day responding to others, get your work done first and then check your emails.
If you open someone’s message, maybe give them a quick “I have seen your message and will message you back after work etc”.
When I am in work, I delete the Instagram app off my phone. This has massively helped me be less distracted. I reinstall the app when I get home from work. I also do this when I am working from home, and it helps me get my work done. Apps are created to be addictive, so don’t worry if your 10 minute procrastinating scroll turns into half an hour.
Use the do not disturb feature on your phone, especially when you have a meeting, or struggling with procrastination.
“Catherine has left the group”, see how lighter you feel when you remove yourself from all the group chats, except the funny girl’s group chat, we all need that one.
You will find that the majority of people respect your digital boundaries. The ones who don’t, are usually people who have poor boundaries themselves. When you set a boundary, you feel empowered and more independent. Your digital boundaries can be flexible too, just go with what feels right for you and listen to your gut.
Remember, boundaries are not about building a wall around you, they are here to help us. I would love to know if you too struggle with the online world and if you have any tips for setting boundaries in the digital world. Please comment below with your tips for others to see.
If you enjoyed this post then you might enjoy this post I wrote last year where I talk about social media and how too much can negatively affect your health. Click here to read it.
Thanks for reading, Chat soon, Catherine.
You are so right Catherine… we have become a slave to our devices. I do my best to not interact with customers after a certain time at night and I can understand why you do too! I sometimes reply to your stories and others, but dont expect a reply… it’s just my interaction to the story but some people expect you to like double tap and reply back. Great blog post… great advice as always.
Thanks for reading Tara, glad you enjoyed the post. Yea, I think setting some rules helps, whether it is no emails/dms after a certain hour or simply taking some time in the real world to take back the feeling of being a slave to the handset. Sometimes I go for lunch without my phone to feel a bit normal lol.
Great article Catherine and perfect timing as I was feeling like I had to respond straight away to a message that had just come in looking for info someone already has and actually has nothing to do with me. X
Thanks for reading Marion. I used to feel like I always “had to” respond immediately to people. But iv realised that it’s unhealthy and unrealistic to respond to everyone all of the time. It’s all about finding that balance.
Really good post Catherine, I think we’re expected to be more available than ever and work expectations are too high. In my previous role I was told to work on the train to make up my hours (which just isn’t always possible) and have my work emails on my personal phone. For me the digital world is a double-edged sword, great for interacting with accounts and blogs like yours which are inspirational (and very genuine) but too much and you fall down a rabbit hole of comparison and wasting time. I set boundaries now so when I’m home with my daughter-I’m 100% focussed on her. Once she’s asleep, I then spend a little bit of time reading or catching up on YouTube. It’s about prioritising the things that are actually important and knowing your time is limited so spend it wisely xx
Thank you so much for reading! I often see people on the morning commute stressed and trying to go through their inbox. I too am guilty of this, now I try and listen to a podcast instead. I find the digital community to be inspiring but as you said, too much can send you down the rabbit hole. Especially if you are feeling vulnerable, which I have been lately and I don’t have the same enjoyment when scrolling, so I take some time away to reset. That’s amazing you prioritise your time and set boundaries with your phone, a great example to set for your daughter.
Absolutely 100% agree! Although technology has been wonderful on so many levels, it has also dragged us down in so many other. I run a dance school and am constantly getting messages and phone calls at ridiculous hours. It’s not uncommon for a 10pm call or message. About 7 months ago I took my notifications off my email, Facebook, Instagram, whatsapp and business Facebook. And I have a ‘sleep’ setting on my phone. And it has been the best thing ever. My work phone hours are 9am-8.30pm (when the studio closes). Do I go outside these sometimes, sure, but at least it’s on my terms.
Aw I’m so sorry to hear you were getting all those messages. Sometimes people think business should be accessible around the clock, especially small business. YouR 9-8 phone hours are more than enough to reply and you are so right for setting the sleep mode, sometimes I pop the vacation responder on when I’m trying to get stuff done.
Thanks for reading!
Great piece really makes you think about how much of a priority we give digital instead of being in the moment. Some great tips too
Ah, it’s so hard just taking a break from my phone because I do everything on it. But yeah, have to lessen my screen time especially at night.
I really enjoyed this post! I have in the past deleted myself out of work whatsapp groups and it’s ridiculous but I did feel guilty about it.. But I did it for my own mental health, there’s no harm in putting your health first. I know my boss takes work emails etc at home but I personally couldn’t do it, I know they get paid more but my time is more important to me than a bit more money. I don’t envy managers!
Needed to read this article! I’ve been trying to incorporate similar boundaries as most of my social media apps are at this stage linked to my business. My phone was starting to feel more and more like a 24hr assignment. It’s given my free time a whole new quality as I can now really enjoy going for lunch with friends or enjoy a late movie without the guilt that I should be checking every platform for queries and questions. I was worried that I was being selfish or taking my eye off the ball by trying to step back from it a bit. So glad to hear I’m not alone in feeling this pressure! X
Great article Catherine! I struggle with Boundaries so this definitely is a challenge!!. Something however I am trying is any time I feel to overwhelmed with Social Media, I unplug for a few days/ weeks. I know that is not an option for everyone, but it does help me to reset my mind and energy.
Catherine. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this wonderful and practical post. I have been struggling mentally and have been struggling with severe anxiety due to my job. After reading this I realized I need to set some boundaries with work. Thank you for this information. It quite possibly be the key to saving my sanity.
I am so so happy you got value from this post Sandra xxx
Yes! We are often expected to be available 24/7/365. Several years ago I set my privacy functions on my phone to turn off notifications at 9pm and back on at 8am. It really helped with setting work boundaries & reminding me to put down my phone for the day. Great post.
Thank you, I find it hard to say no or set boundaries, I don’t even own a phone, am not a great tech person, but have a sm. business with a website online/just on facebook though, and find it OVERWHELMING at times and that people can be very demanding, which makes me sad, they don’t say please for example to know how much an item may cost for example, I get this alot in a comment
and they also expect immediate answers….as if I have the computer strapped to my hip…lol….which is also not in my store when we are up and running/we have a Christmas Tree Farm…..( the computer is in my house/not my store).
that’s it. lol…
I’m too sensitive,
I love watching you, love the girly side and your tastes!
Wish I could send you a set of dishes! LOL
Victoriana Rose by paragon. pink flowers….so feminine ….maybe my little grandchildren will like them one day <3
All the Best! Thanks for the inspiring and encouraging message.
p.s. YOU DON"T HAVE TO REPLY! 🙂 <3
p.s. I hope you’re doing well ! Plus all the best to you in this crazy time of the world! ( stay safe )
p.s.s. I love watching your diy’s ! sewing !!! all of them! You’re so creative and inspiring. THANK YOU. I follow you on instagram <3
Yes, I do that now, I have the sleep function on my phone, I have also started to not check my phone/emails until 10am and get an hour or two work done before I check in with others. Thanks for reading.
Aw, thank you Joan, I am glad you found the post helpful. Thank you for reading x
Thanks for writing this post. I have already put in place some of the strategies you have outlined. But I want to add new ones, and this has given me new ideas. Pandemic or not, we all need to do what’s best for our wellbeing.