Stress is categorized in various forms, chemical, physical, emotional, neurological, and environmental. Technostress interacts with all other forms of stress to create a synergistic effect (1+1= 6); for example combining alcohol and painkillers. The two sided blade seems to indicate that technology lets us accomplish so much more and in today’s fast paced, complex, demanding, and sometimes turbulent world, people take on too much and end up feeling overwhelmed with no end to the work load. Disengaging from technology is nearly impossible. Connectivity is the tidal wave of the future and many times it feels like a tsunami.
One of the most pressing problems associated with technostress is that people don’t get to unwind or recover. There is a continual, unrelieved build up of stress on a chemical level, which in turn eventually contributes to a behavioral and/or physical problem. Technostress hits us on an emotional level and emotions control our hormones through biochemical changes in the brain. Whether techno-stressors are labeled good or bad, stress depletes the mind and body hindering its ability to perform efficiently. When technostress reaches extremely high levels, it becomes a concern because of the effect of the stress hormone cortisol. When you operate on full throttle your glands become exhausted, and you end up with low levels of cortisol and no back up to increase the hormone.
Symptoms of technological stressors are:
- Feelings of memory loss, forgetting what you started to do or why you walked into a particular room
- Impatient with self and others
- A lessened ability to relax or slow down
- Anxiety over having lost access to your cell phone, palm, TV or other types of techno equipment
- Headaches, stomach discomfort, back pain, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Continuously checking your e-mail, voicemail, surfing the web, and other types of techno equipment, and not turning it off for the night
Ethel Roskies, author of Stress Management: A New Approach to Treatment (1991) makes the point that stress has become the fashionable disease of today and the treatment for stress is a popular and profitable activity. The commodity called stress has created the need for stress management methods. To manage the high-tech addiction of overload, we must go to the place it originates, the brain. To help the brain retain cognitive fitness, we must look at factors that affect the brain:
Glucose (sugar) and H2O (water) – Low levels of glucose (hypoglycemia) and dehydration significantly affects the functioning of the brain. Eating complex carbohydrates, fresh fruit and vegetables is a great way to replenish glucose and not feel run-down. The slow release of glucose from complex carbs keeps the brains energy level consistent with less dramatic spikes representing a healthier choice then that of simple carbohydrates like fruit juice, candy or sweet treats which break down immediately causing the body to have dramatic spikes.
Hydration – Keep your brain hydrated, about 80% of your brain is actually water, and the rest of it is taken up by both physical and biochemical structures. Your brain uses about 25% of the oxygen and sugar that your body circulates for nutritional needs.
Rest – You need recovery, downtime and sleep. Studies show that optimal amounts of sleep range from 7 to 8 hours per night for men and 6 to 7 hours for women. Ignoring sleep is like neglecting to pay your credit card – it’s only going to get worse. Sleep and rest are a necessity not a luxury.
Time Management – Give yourself more time to do everything by building a margin for error. Schedule time to take care of specific daily tasks.
Time Out – Set regular “Time-Out” periods or simply go outside and take a break or meditate.
Self Care – Meditate, stretch, and exercise. Get out of the office or home and do some deep breathing.
Eye Strain – Take a short vision break every 30-minutes.
Focus on the Moment – Limit multitasking and practice being present.
Boundaries – Make clear distinctions between work times and free times. Limit the times of the day when you check emails, cell phone, play games, watch TV or access other technological devices. Use technology to create and publicize your boundaries. Educate and contract realistic timelines with others.
Prioritize – Ask yourself what is of primary importance in your life. Think about what refreshes you and deliberately plan to fit that activity into your schedule.
Bottom line, technostress manifests itself in each and every one of us to various degrees. It is not a matter of “if” but rather “when” a technological glitch nails you. Your ability to cope, and problem solve make the difference in the degree of perceived hassle.
I have one more question that has not been answered regarding whether technostress is a passing problem or continuous future concern for the future generations. Today’s children have grown up in the information age, so will there always be the problem of information overload with increasing availability of information sources and ways to access the sources, including upgrades, enhancements, and newer and better hardware and software? My belief is that technology is not the problem, but rather the issue of time management and unrealistic expectations when assessing the effectiveness of a particular hardware or software in a work related scenario. Technology should be viewed as a sport which requires conditioning, cross training, proper nutrition, and recovery time.