The digital age has simplified many aspects of our lives, improved our ability to communicate with others all over the world, and provided us with a plethora of instantly accessible forms of entertainment and information. This, coupled with the incredibly fast-paced nature of modern life, has led to widespread concern over the impact of technology on people’s mental health. And with Stress Awareness Month looming, it makes sense to explore this in a little more detail.
Stress and anxiety come in many forms – the symptoms can present themselves easily for some people but for others, the signs may be much harder to spot. Long-term chronic stress can have a harmful impact on people’s physical and mental health, so it’s vital to recognise the crucial warning signs and find ways we can manage stress more effectively, especially in a time when technology is ever-present and intertwined with so many aspects of our personal and professional lives.
With technology being a particularly vehement stressor for many young people, it’s often hard to understand and recognise limits with the information consumed, the devices they use and the extent to which they utilise them. This article will break down some of the common warning signs and coping mechanisms you can take to avoid becoming too anxious or stressed as a result of the technology you use for work or personal enjoyment.
Could technology be stressing you out?
While we may marvel at the benefits of technology, it’s important to remember that this constant connection can come at the expense of many other perks of life, such as physical activities, face-to-face social interactions and, more specifically, our health and well-being.
Many studies have linked extended screen time to severe health problems such as depression, anxiety, obesity, isolation, and self-harm, among others. What’s more, the constant stimulation and distractions provided by technology can make it increasingly difficult for people to relax and unwind, which means that stress lingers for longer than people intended.
The younger generation are in the unique position of having access to social media and smartphones from increasingly earlier ages, not to mention the growing number of UK schools (64%) actively embracing technology in the classroom. Social media and, more broadly speaking, the concept of instant gratification, has been insinuated to cause higher levels of stress, with many young people displacing other activities that may benefit their mental health. There is also reason to believe that receiving overwhelming amounts of notifications, along with perceived pressure to respond and ‘fear-of-missing-out’ (FOMO), only serve to increase stress levels.
From a business perspective, many companies are embracing the accessibility and scalability of technology, with it helping so many facets of modern business operations. However, it’s important to recognise the risks of using technology so freely. While it may form a crucial part of someone’s job role, such as an IT support operative, web developer, or cyber security consultant, nobody is exempt from the health risks of using digital tools. Companies need to take their duty of care seriously as it relates to stress, as well as symptoms like desensitisation, burnout, or alert fatigue, even though it can bring tremendous business benefits.
Furthermore, excessive technology use has been linked to severe sleep deprivation and a lack of physical activity, which, in turn, only exacerbates the risks of stress, anxiety and depression.
So how can we ensure that we are using technology more wisely and effectively, so we are not constantly burdened or stressed by its presence? The below practical tips should be a good starting point for you.
How to prevent technology from causing you stress
Make sure you get enough sleep
Blue light emitted from electronic devices has been linked with disruptions to natural sleep patterns and circadian rhythms, which, as we know, are directly correlated with stress and fatigue. To avoid succumbing to this, it’s widely recommended to limit technology use in the evenings, particularly in the hour leading up to the time you go to bed.
Consider using a blue light filter on your phone or try other activities like reading a book, journaling in a diary, or listening to music or a podcast, which could be less stimulating on your brain and more beneficial for your mental health.
One of the most effective ways you can minimise the amount of stress you feel from technology use is to set appropriate boundaries. For instance, you can stipulate your own rules for avoiding using technology at certain times, such as during meals or directly before bed, as explored above.
You can limit the amount of time you use throughout the day, across your device or on specific apps. For instance, you can set alerts to trigger if you spend more than, say, 30 minutes on a particular social media app. If you stick to these, you may find yourself becoming more productive throughout the day and less distracted, ergo, not as stressed.
Control all that you possibly can
A valuable life lesson is remembering that you can only control certain things in your lives, be they physical or digital.
For example, if the servers at work go down, there’s nothing you can do until the development teams determine the cause of the issue and fix the problem. Or, on a more personal level, you may need to wait for a colleague or supplier to address and find a solution to a software bug. Even if you need to use it, you may be unable to for a certain period.
If something goes wrong with technology, remember that you can only control certain things like your emotions and reactions; most other aspects are out of your hands.
If you exhibit good emotional intelligence, you will inherently feel less stressed, particularly if you’ve done everything you possibly can up to that point. Don’t get yourself too worked up over a situation that you cannot fix yourself.
Dedicate time for exercise and other activities
It’s important to take care of your body and get it moving from time to time. Whether it’s taking your dog for a walk, doing yoga, going for a jog, lifting weights, stretching, or any other type of physical exercise, it’s important to make time for it.
Exercise and the release of endorphins have been linked to improved sleep, memory, problem-solving and concentration, indirectly and directly.
If you have a sedentary job, a proactive use of your lunch break is to take a short, brisk walk outside to get some fresh air. You’ll be surprised at how much taking some valuable time away from your screen can help you get through the day. Short-term breaks can also improve your posture and musculoskeletal strength.
Plan your days and weeks
There are many benefits of making a regular schedule and plan. Putting pen to paper and making plans for the days ahead can help you maintain a greater level of control and retain information.
If you can create a somewhat flexible timetable and schedule, you’ll be able to commit your full attention to specific tasks and be less distracted. If you are burdened by distractions aplenty, you may be subconsciously flicking from task to task, or not fully engaged with the project at a given time.
Of course, sometimes flexibility is needed, but you’ll feel calmer and more engaged if you’re prepared for the next item on your to-do list.
It’s clear that technology has many risks to our quality of life and mindset. When engrossed in the digital space, it can be hard to keep track of the time you spend and remember how you could be causing yourself undue stress. But by remembering the tips listed above, you may find yourself noticing the negative and stress-inducing effects more regularly.
Be mindful of how long you spend on your devices, take some valuable time for yourself away from the screen and remember the importance of face-to-face interactions. No life is completely without stress, but the key to a healthy life is to manage it well and know your limits.