Is technology making you more stressed?

Apr 3, 2019 | Blog

“I sometimes feel like my head is a computer with too many windows open. Too much clutter on the desktop. There is a metaphorical spinning rainbow wheel inside me. Disabling me.” ~ Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

This Stress Awareness Month, we are thinking about how technology impacts our mental wellbeing. This was sparked by reading Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous planet – a real-life tale about his own journey of self-discovery and how he could cope with the stress and anxiety of the modern age.

We admit it. We are switched on pretty much 24/7. Smartphones, smart TVs, constant notifications, emails, pop-ups, whats’apps at all hours – mainly the wee hours. Our bodies twitch when we hear a ping – or a small vibration, only to realise it was nothing. We are attuned, plugged in and hardwired into our technology.

We can’t switch off.

Even our mindfulness app reminders are stressing us out.

We know it’s not good for us. Even the big corporate companies have realised this and typically come up with some more stuff for us to buy online for our smart tech – to ironically remind us to put down the very tech they sold to us. Tech solutions for tech-induced problems. Interesting and flawed – perhaps.

Is it really possible to stop all the phones, computers, laptops, tablets, fitness trackers, smart appliances and voice-activated tech? They want us to be always on.  They want us to be addicted, and we have willingly downloaded.

So what would make you switch off, for an hour, or even a whole day?

Perhaps a list of frightening health stats?

Ok. How about this:

  • Changing brain functions: “Some research has even shown that high levels of engagement with smartphones and multimedia technology may be physically changing our brain structure and function.” Research has found “correlations between high smartphone and internet use, and poor cognitive skills such as attention, memory and learning.
  • Sleep interruption: blue screens reducing our melatonin production which makes it harder for us to sleep and stay asleep.
  • Depression: Stress through FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and social comparison has been proved in another study claiming that Facebook and other social networking platforms are making people depressed. However, the lack of connection leads to FOLO (Fear of Living Offline).
  • Memory loss: constantly taking photos as opposed to being in the moment and taking mental pictures are literally making us forget. “Using media may prevent people from remembering the very events they are attempting to preserve.

While we are not proposing a full-on Luddite revolution to destroy all tech. Wow. Absolutely not. We love tech. Mainly refurbished tech, but tech on the whole. However, we do believe a little separation can only be a good thing.

It is easy for us to write about this (on our laptops) and give you a list of good ideas and tips, but it’s another thing to actually do it. We are terrible at it.

The World Economic Forum put it best when they said “the only thing as ubiquitous as electronic media, is commentary about the ubiquity of electronic media,” and tips on how to control it.

The deluge of information about the dark side of technology and patronising advice on how to manage it is exhausting. Easy to read. Harder to implement. If you don’t think you have a problem – have a look at your phone’s usage stats and see if you need to cut down on some insta-scrolling.

What has worked for me, however, is reading. A proper reading of a book that creates an immersive experience and deep thought – not scanning social media posts. Suddenly, amongst all that reading will be a sentence or a phrase that will resonate. Something that will strike a chord and will motivate you more than any scary looking list or scientific study.

“When it comes to our minds, awareness is very often the solution itself.” 

― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

For me, the powerful life-altering bit of text was from Fahrenheit 451 by Raymond Bradbury. The book is about a world where books are banned and people watch TV that covers their ‘parlour’ walls, blaring out entertainment 24/7. The job of a fireman in this world is not to protect, but to burn any books they find.

It’s a book I quote every time my husband upgrades our tech. First with the Kindle, then wearable tech, then VR consoles. Each well-meaning gift, however, hits a nerve and unfortunately serves as a reminder of how close we are to Bradbury’s dystopian future.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

For Bradbury, TV rooms enslaved the world. Addicted and isolated, viewers had no social connection with each other.  Written as a Dystopian nightmare, the reality is frighteningly close to our own reality. Bradbury was writing in the 1950s when similar concerns about mass consumerism, mass persuasion and degradation of ideas and words; misinformation and censorship were a global worry. Yet, chillingly, it’s the same fear we have today.

Whereas Bradbury worried about TV and Reader’s Digest rotting everyone’s brains and us succumbing to entertainment over real life, today we worry about how emojis, text speak and social media are changing our perception and real-life interactions. He was simultaneously reflecting his era and predicting ours.

So yes, you could try unsubscribing from a few emails, turning your phone and laptop off on a Sunday, turning off some notifications or calling someone up instead of checking Facebook. But will that stick?

Our suggestion is to try reading something instead.

Perhaps you may find your own personalised bit of self-help that enables you to switch off. Even for a second. It’s worth a try because I for one am about to uninstall the “turn off your phone” reminder app.

“We might have to, sometimes, be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to reconnect.” Matt Haig.

― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

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