13 May 2018

No phone zone! Health and wellbeing at UKFast.

The UKFast leadership team on one of our Snowdon trips.

When was the last time you switched off and I mean really switch off? No phones, no screens, no distractions?

There are very few times these days that I feel completely disconnected. There’s always someone or something providing a distraction from the task in hand; usually phone notifications buzzing non-stop. It doesn’t help having around 15 businesses either as there are always leaders in each one needing help. The busier we get, the harder it is to step away and really switch off.

We’re so intrinsically linked to our smartphones now that it’s reported that nine out of 10 of us have ‘phantom vibration syndrome’ whereby we think our phones are buzzing in a pocket or beside us, when they’re not.

Our brains are like a physical container – they can only hold a finite amount of information. Whilst we’re able to stretch ourselves and absorb new information, if you continue to load too much information into it – the container starts to spill over. You’ll forget things and become overwhelmed, hence the term, “overloaded.”

We’re not designed to have a continuous influx of information, morning, noon and night. It’s not healthy. It’s physically and mentally impossible to continue at that pace for prolonged periods. So, whilst I am forever pushing myself harder and taking more on, there are times when I know my glass is getting a little on the full side and if I want to stop myself from getting overwhelmed, I have to take a step back.

There’s no better place for switching down a gear than the Welsh mountains. We are in the process of redeveloping the main house down there and we have finally installed a new custom-made lodge. When you need a warm dry place after walking in the hills, it is the perfect place to switch off with a beautiful view across our lake, Llyn Cwellyn. It helps that we can’t get mobile phone signals too, so you don’t have a choice!

Snowdon with the team

At the lake by Mount Snowdon with the team – halfway through our Cat and Mouse challenge.

A few days ago a few of the managers from UKFast ran a team building event and I tagged along. The team were all from different departments across the business. We learned many years ago that inviting new starters out to Snowdon is a fantastic way to get to the know them and for them to get to know their teammates too.

The Heads Down Generation

Not only do we climb the mountain, we build and race rafts on the lake and take on a Cat and Mouse race through Beddgelert Forest. Cat and Mouse is a 10km-or-so race through the forest and bog land surrounding it. One team starts at the base of the mountain, these are the cats. The other team known as the mice from a different starting point a few miles further up.

You split everyone in to two groups and put the faster ones in the cats. The idea of the game is for the cats to catch the mice before they get to the final destination. A picturesque lake in the middle of Beddgelert Forest.

It’s amazing how everyone lifts their energy the moment competition is created. It’s fast-paced but it’s also great fun, and you rarely, if ever, see a phone in anyone’s hand, unless to take a picture.

How rare is that nowadays? Being in a group of young people and not one of them staring down at a phone? But more importantly, not missing their phones either.

I recently watched a documentary produced by an intern at UKFast, Lewis, in which he describes the pressures and impact of our constant bombardment with social media notifications. He called young people today the ‘Heads Down’ generation. It’s the perfect description of what we’re seeing more and more. People are ruining their posture, putting strain on their necks and damaging their mental health by constantly staring at these screens, scrolling for hours every single day. The dopamine released with each notification or new piece of information has got us addicted; we keep going back for more.

Sacrificing our wellbeing for a phone?

Taking some time out in the Swiss mountains.

When the pressure mounts and we get busier, often the first things to drop off the schedule are those that impact our wellbeing the most – fitness, socialising, eating well. Instead, numerous research studies suggest we are absorbed further into our phones and screens. We move further away from the real world, spending hours scrolling.

Breaking your routine in this way is only going to contribute to the building feeling of stress. The dopamine released could never substitute for the benefits of real-world interactions with one another.

For this reason, no matter how busy my week, every Tuesday and Thursday you’ll find me playing squash. I’ll have two personal training sessions in the gym each week without fail. And early in the morning I’ll be having quiet time playing chess or hanging out writing music in the recording studio. Equally, Gail and I ensure we have our dinner out at least once a week too. I know that these are a key part of my wellbeing so they don’t change in my schedule.

Are you coping?

As we move into Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation is asking one question: are we coping with stress? We can only thrive when we look after every area of our wellbeing. It can be a hard balance to strike when you’re passionate about your work or business. Inevitably, you want to work every hour or the day. I felt exactly this way as a young man, it was only after a wake-up call that I realised the true value of taking time out. Not only do you feel better overall, you’re more creative and productive in the workplace too – it’s a win-win and makes perfect sense.

Sometimes you simply have to ask yourself: Your phone has an off switch, do you?

Watch more from Snowdon here:

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