The Dark Side of Technology
Understanding and Combating Negative Side Effects of Technology
Research indicates that constant use of technology is associated with increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. There are several theories as to why this may be. Certainly one of the theories is that in a world regulated by constant information bombardment, we don't have the traditional work/life balance that has allowed us to keep our stress levels under control. Most people remember the days when they had a 40-hour work week and rarely received calls at home in the evenings and weekends. However, we now live in an era when you may well be working in one capacity and expected to handle incoming texts and calls at the same time. Gone are the days when you could leave your work at work. Now, employers voice distress if they do not receive a response to a text or are unable to reach an employee by phone right away.
I have worked with individuals in the middle of mental health crises and had to take the time out of dealing with a client who is in the emergency room at the hospital for an attempted suicide to deal with issues for my boss. Although, I have no belief that this is normal, it does go to show the extremes to which we as workers are now expected to go to satisfy our employers needs to get instant feedback.
I have no reason to believe that I could leave work at five any evening and not expect to receive an email, text, or cellphone call before nine the next morning. Something as simple as this constant re-connection to the work world increases ones inability to relax. And, of course, it is a short walk from being constantly drawn away from our personal lives into our work/performance lives, to heightened levels of stress. Once we accept that this increases our stress levels constantly, it is easy to understand how this increases our anxiety and depression levels.
Add to the interruptions work makes into our personal lives via means of technology the fact that increased use of technology has been correlated with a decreased quality of sleep. We all know that our bodies and minds need quality sleep to combat the ravages of stress. However, we are losing quality sleep due to the increased use of technology.
There are studies that suggest it is the increase in light that we have brought into our bedrooms and evening rituals that creates increased difficulty in sleep. The constant bombardment of light reduces our bodies ability to make melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep patterns. There are other studies that suggest that it is the fact that technology keeps our brains more active thereby making sleep more evasive. This increased level of excitation then reduces our quality of sleep when we use cell phones, tablets, and televisions with such regularity. Then there is the constant pinging of the alerts and lights associated with receiving texts and other information that wake us from our sleep.
So, regardless of the specific reason, it is clear that the constant use of technology is detrimental to our sleep patterns. A reduction in the quality of sleep is associated with increased levels of mental health and physical illnesses.
How to Combat Negative Aspects of Technology Use
Clearly, one way to combat the negative aspects of technology is to use technology in a mindful manner. Many doctors and therapist strongly advise against keeping a cell phone on your nightstand. Keeping your cell phone out of the bedroom can improve your quality of sleep. This is also true for removing a TV from the bedroom. Reducing technology in your bed room can be expected to improve your sleep simply by allowing you go sleep more soundly through the night.
Other advise is that one turn off all electronics for at least an hour prior to attempting to go to sleep. This improves the body's sleep rhythms and, depending upon what you do for the last hour of your evening, may allow the mind to relax and disengage. It is generally recommended that one read, or enjoy a hobby during this final hour of the day. If you really want to improve your relaxation and sleep, you may want to try doing some simple yoga stretches or meditation as you unwind for bed.
Find time throughout your day to disengage from media and engage your mind, body, and spirit in activities that are healthy and engaging. Simple activities like a nature walk improve overall well being by allowing the mind time to rest while engaging the body and spirit in easy activity. Spending time in nature is replenishing for many people. It allows them to get away from their worries and experience simple beauty.
Practices like walking meditation and mindfulness exercise are also in helping one to relax. These practices give us a break from worry and allows our minds to rest. Reading, writing, and any form of creativity also help us to relax and engage a different part of the mind. Exercising our creativity is a proven way of reducing anxiety levels. One doesn't have to be a great painter or profound poet to reap the benefits of taking up a pen or paint brush. Doing something as simple as doodling can improve your ability to reduce your stress levels and relax.
Establishing personal boundaries in how we use social media can also be helpful. If you let the people in your life know that you don't use twitter, email, facebook, etc between certain times, you will find that there is less pressure on you to be ever present on these forums. This is a simple way of carving out time for yourself without feeling the need to be ever present for others. It will also reduce the interruptions to time you have set aside to do other things.
Often, when I teach, there is an expectation established by students that I answer questions at all hours. I simply let my classes know that this isn't an option. I do not answer text, emails, or calls between certain hours. I have never had this create an issue. However, I had constant interruptions and unreasonable expectations when I didn't establish this boundary. Part of using technology wisely is knowing what we need as individuals and utilizing the resources technology provides in a healthy and mindful way.
If you take the time to become mindful of your technology use, you will find an increase in your overall well-being. So please, look at how you use the technology in your life, and establish some healthy practices. I promise you will see a decrease in levels of anxiety, stress, and depression as well as an improvement in sleep and interpersonal relationships if you learn to use technology more wisely.
About the author
Nalda has led a rich and varied life. She has worked as a college professor, a mental health counselor, a psychosocial rehabilitation therapist, a research assistant, a retail associate, and a starving artist.