By Liz Reyer Star Tribune (Minneapolis).
Q: Lately I seem to be irritable at work all the time. The smallest things bug me, and I don't enjoy things or people I used to. It's somewhat the same at home. I have trouble focusing, too. What can I do?
A: Find ways to slow down so that you can savor each moment. Then the distractions will have less impact. One great way to slow down? Get offline! I know, it's a shot in the dark. You may not be one of the host of smartphone addicts out there, but your situation gives me a hunch that you may be. If you're always checking email, Snapchatting, IMing, on Twitter, doing whatever you do online, you're setting yourself up to be distracted. You may become less serene, or you may be procrastinating on things you need to do. Does this sound familiar?
It may be happening with your email, too. If you find that you start, say, writing a report and then see the email pop, run over and check it, maybe reply, then try to get your brain back into your analysis, you're setting yourself up to feel stressed.
Step one if this is your life is to make a resolution to change. And, as with any habit, it might be challenging. Here are some ways to make it work.
With your phone, start by letting people know that you're going on a connectivity diet. For example, I heard recently from someone that he was taking a month off Facebook; I've known others who resigned from games. These were concrete actions they've taken because they felt out of balance with their screen time.
Put your phone away sometimes. Locking it in your trunk is an excellent way to not text and drive! Or having it put away during certain evening hours could help you develop a habit of connecting with the rest of the world around you.
When it comes to email at work, it can be more challenging. Clients and co-workers may have immediate needs and you can't just shut them off. Even with that context, though, you can reduce your use of email as a distraction by choosing to look at non-urgent emails on a more limited schedule.
Taking your thought process up a step, consider what you're missing out on when you're online too much. If you've got your face to the screen for hours a day, what aren't you seeing? What aren't you doing? And use that sense of opportunity cost to help motivate you to change your habits. If life without that looks too empty, you may need to think about other activities you'd like to be doing to have a rich and interesting life.
Once you've tried this for a while, take stock. If you have not found that your irritability level has changed, look at other potential causes. If you aren't active, look at getting more exercise, even a regular walk, to help burn off stress. Depending on the circumstances, you may even want to talk to your doc about possible depression.
Treat irritation as an indicator that something is out of alignment in your life, and take action to finding fixes that move you forward.