Does technology reduce stress or cause it?

By: John McGarvey

Date: 17 December 2014

Are you getting stressed?{{}}You might not have heard the term 'technostress', but you might be familiar with its symptoms. People experience it when they struggle to adapt to new technologies in a healthy way.

You might experience technostress in any number of ways, from struggling to switch off when you get home, to compulsively checking Twitter and Facebook for updates every few minutes.

The downside of new technology

When you stop to consider how quickly we’ve made computers — and smart phones, in particular — a central part of our lives, it’s hardly a surprise that we sometimes struggle to use them appropriately.

20 years ago, people wouldn't have believed it would be normal to walk down the street while staring a small glowing rectangle. Yet here we are.

Technology has brought impressive benefits to both individuals and businesses. It’s created entire industries and enabled us to work in new ways. Yet it’s becoming harder to ignore the downsides.

According to some research, heavy use of computers and cell phones can be linked to increased stress, sleep disorders and even depressive symptoms in young adults.

Other scientists have warned that the light from mobile devices tends to be from the part of the spectrum that can disrupt our body clocks. And some pundits wonder if technology is leaving us with shorter attention spans.

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, giving up technology can be stressful, too. Blimey.

Fighting back (with technology, obviously)

If technology is part of the problem, can it be part of the solution, too? Well, perhaps, if a new wave of wearable gadgets and apps can do what they promise.

Leading the charge are gadgets like Pip, the ‘personal stress management device’ that uses sensors to measure physical changes that may indicate your stress level. As you hold Pip, it claims to capture ‘electrical changes at the surface of the skin caused by the release of sweat’.

It records this data using an accompanying smart phone app. When used regularly, the idea is you can build an accurate picture of your stress levels and start to understand what causes you to become more — or less — stressed.

Be more mindful

Another trend for busting stress and keeping focus is mindfulness, a meditation technique that focuses on the present moment.

There are lots of apps to help you practice mindfulness and meditation, like Headspace, Buddhify and Mental Workout.

And it you want to stay de-stressed by spending your working days on track and focused, there are a number of tools and apps that can provide assistance.

Do nothing for two minutes is a super-simple idea, but if your thoughts are running in six directions at once, it creates a few moments of calm to get yourself back on track.

More forceful intervention can come from SelfControl (Mac only) and Focus Me. These programs can stop you accessing particular websites or software on your computer. Combine them with RescueTime if you want to see exactly where your time goes.

Finally, if you hit a point where technology is really getting on top of you, get out of there. Leave your phone on the desk and get outside for a walk. It’s not long-term solution, but half an hour of fresh air helps you see things from a new perspective and makes you feel better.

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