The first Wednesday of every November is National Stress Awareness Day (7th of November for us in 2018) and it’s a perfect opportunity for us to be reminded to take a moment to really assess how you’re feeling as well as to hopefully encourage you to seek the advice and support you need on how to manage your stress.
Stress is a natural part of life but too much too often can be serious for your mental health and overall wellbeing. It's very important therefore, that we learn how to manage it. In today's blog I will explore this year’s theme ‘Does High-Tech cause High-Stress?’ and an important modern day trigger of stress - technology, whether that be your smart phone, social media, television, games or the internet.
Discover how technology is causing your stress – creating deficits of really important aspects of what it is to be human.
Read advice on how you can start taking a step back from the digital world and be more mindful when you’re online.
Learn to recognise behaviours and triggers in yourself, allowing you to be a more conscious and conscientious user of the cyber world.
Living in the digital age of 2018, technology has become essential in all of our lives but it clearly has come at a cost to our mental well-being with it being a perpetual distraction from ‘real life’, affecting our sleep, robbing us of a healthy work/life balance and the constant social comparing you do by being let into other people’s ‘lives’ online.
Anyone older than about 35, can remember a time which predates the high-tech revolution. A time when you went to the cinema, walked over to the fixed telephone to pick it up, met people at parties and went to the bookshop to find a book. It was before we all lived stooped over a small screen, isolated from those around us. Life then, was in fact very differently paced. Closing the office door, also meant closing the door on your job for the day. Elements of our lives were more clearly delineated.
How can we all best use the power of technology?
The hi-tech explosion has exponentially changed everything. Who would want to turn back the clock on it all? It has revolutionised the way we work and communicate; it has brought entertainment, education and consumerism into the privacy of our lives. We literally have the whole world at our fingertips, for 24 hours of every day.
As it turns out, we have created ourselves a double-edged sword; it has the power to make or break us.
Hi-tech is seductively addictive and most people now spend more time with the their smart phone than with their significant other. We are leaving the 3-D realm in droves to take up residence in the virtual world, and as we do so we pay a very high cost - to both our mental and physical health.
To turn the tide on this stress epidemic we must educate ourselves better about how the digital world alters our internal life. Crucial to our wellbeing, we are now discovering, is how much and in what way we use our devices.
Is the ‘internet’ hijacking your emotions?
Digital connectivity significantly raises the emotional temperature. Experts recognise anger as the most viral emotion online. Since we are more likely to share news that makes our blood boil, online platforms exploit this in their design, spreading more anger inducing material.
News messages are reported with a spin of indignation. A ‘win-win’ you might say for the platform who cashes in on the circulation of angry news, and the individual who will gain on what is called social capital: more shares means more ‘likes’ and a very temporary feeling of self-worth.
The anonymity and distance we experience online, also reduces the barriers to expressing our rants there. Normal social checks are no longer in place. We don’t feel the type of embarrassment online that we would if we were in a group of (real) people. For many, the online world is also experienced as an extension of their inner world or imagination, where anything goes.
So, as we increasingly express ourselves through the lens of heightened emotions, our thinking becomes more black-and white, which again feeds into stress. If things aren’t right, they are absolutely wrong.
Are you feeling more insecure the more time you spend online?
As the threat to our physical bodies has subsided over the course of the evolution, we now place a disproportionate amount of importance on our self-image. One off remark from someone, and we’re spiralling.
If we let ourselves mindlessly consume a daily diet of other people’s rosy-tinted, happy and successful lives, it is easy to become negatively affected. The amazing tales of other people’s perfect lives, feed directly into our ever-growing insecurities.
Are your emotional needs going unmet?
Just as we need a balanced diet to stay well, we need an array of interactions with the real world to stay mentally (and physically) healthy. Examples of this type of essential nutrition are: real life interactions with others, whole body learning or time spent in nature.
If we pursue one activity to the detriment of others it is inevitable that our unhinged life will cause us pain. And who can argue that we have collectively become addicted to the digital world?
Are you suffering an ‘empathy deficit’?
As mammals, physical touch and nourishment from being with each other is vital for our survival. Excessive digital consumption leads to desensitisation. We lose the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues and create what Dr Helen Riess of Harvard University calls an ‘empathy deficit’. We stop being able to feel each other’s suffering and chip away at our humanity.
Relationships are complicated and messy. Staying in a relationship is something we need to work at every day of our lives. Exchanging one-liners and disappearing off the scene if it is no longer convenient, undermines our tolerance of each other.
Are you losing touch with nature and the physical world around you?
We need to exercise our bodies for health, get outside - for wind in our faces, blue skies, green trees - and have alone time disconnected from external stimuli to create self-awareness and process our experiences.
If we skimp on these essentials we become emotionally undernourished which leads to stress, anxiety, depression and so on.
Are you suffering from an attention deficit?
The quality of our lives and our humanity itself is closely related to our ability to pay sustained attention to one thing at a time.
Digital technology enables us to consume so much information and at such speed, that without proper self-awareness it all just moves through us without ever fully being processed. It leaves us in a state of increased agitation and dissatisfaction. Compare it to mindlessly having eaten a very large bag of crisps.
Worse than that, the process of multitasking the way we do online, eventually fragments our ability to pay attention. Maintaining mental continuity becomes increasingly difficult. The energy needed to disconnect from one topic and start up for a new one, eventually wears out our ability to focus.
3 practical ways to take better ownership of your time spent using technology
How can we reduce the stress that comes from the unbridled use of our technology?
1 – Become more Self-Aware
Let’s start noticing how much time we spend on our devices, what exactly we do there and how we behave on social platforms - what we share and how we acknowledge each other’s humanity.
Have the courage to recognise how it might raise animosity in you, feed your insecurity, stop you getting on with other things, affect your relationships and fragment your ability to pay attention. (When for example were you last able to read a whole book?)
2 – Increase Important Connections
Populate your life with real people and spend face-to-face time with them. Human relations are complex, messy and rewarding, but they need a lot of practice and curiosity. They require of us to tolerate the pain of rejection or not knowing what’s going on and to remain curious. Making the journey through choppy waters together only serves to strengthen our bonds.
Get out into nature as often as you can. Expose yourself to the elements and leave your mobile device at home.
3 – Exercise restraint
It is worth a mention here that Silicon leaders of tech have admitted to deliberately designing platforms to be addictive, and are also on record as saying that they severely restrict their children’s use of the devices they helped create.
Cap your time, particularly on social media platforms and when there be AWARE: What are you doing? Are you mindlessly going with the flow, or is there a plan?
Who are you communicating with? Leave the room or reread a heartfelt post, before sending it off into cyber space. Think about how you might feel receiving it. Acknowledge the humanity of others.
Just as you wouldn’t eat between meals, avoid grazing on your smart phone all day. Have proper digital free periods daily.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Do you feel as though technology (your devices, the internet, social media, TV or games) are adding to your stress or anxiety? Which of these tips will you take forward with you to practice this week?
Let me know in the comments below, and please do check back in with me to let me know if smarter use of technology has had a positive effect on your emotional health!
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based in Woodchurch (near Ashford), Kent.
Renée works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.
Renée is a regular contributor to Breathe Magazine and the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind.