Suffering from blurred vision?  Tingling fingers?  Scattered thoughts?  Mental fatigue?

You may be feeling the effects of technostress.

From telecommuting and online shopping, to the explosive social media craze, so much of what we do has become dependent on technology.  As a society, we love our I-Pads, Blackberries and Wiis – they help us get work done, connect with others, and provide instant and endless entertainment.  But constant exposure to technology has a potential downside – namely, technostress.

This brief article explains what techostress is; what causes it; and what you can do to manage it more effectively.

Technostress:  What is it?

Wikipedia defines technostress as “the negative psychological link between people and the introduction of new technologies,” or “the resistance of change that accompanies newly introduced machines to work, home, and leisure situations.”  Simply put, it’s the type of stress you experience when you:

  • can’t properly configure a router to set-up Wi-Fi in your house;
  • are forced to quickly learn a new software program for your job;
  • spend ten minutes navigating endless menus in a voice message system, only to be disconnected before ever speaking with a live person.

Symptoms of technostress vary, but can include:

  • a panicky feeling (especially when technology fails you);
  • a state of near constant stimulation, in which you feel perpetually “plugged in”;
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure;
  • irritability;
  • memory disturbances;
  • headaches, stomach and digestive problems;
  • tingling or numbness in the fingers;

as well as a host of other problems.

Technostress:  What causes it?

Information overload. Think of all the e-mails, voice mails, RSS feed updates, text messages, cell phone calls, status updates and Friend requests you encounter in a typical week.  This represents just the tip of your technology iceberg.  Without a doubt, technology has made access to information easier than ever before.  Access to all this information is one thing; processing it is quite another.  Consider the following statistic from Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003, according to Schmidt.

Repeat:  we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003.

Increased rates of change. All change is stressful to some degree – even positive changes like getting married or starting a new job.  To cope, you have to learn new skills and update your mental map of the world.  When you consider that the rate at which technological change is happening has increased dramatically, and that much of this change is not necessarily welcome, (do you really want to constantly learn new operating systems, new software programs, new ways of processing data, new hardware?), it’s easy to see why rapid changes in technology can be stress-inducing.

Increased interruptions. While technology such as e-mail, cell phones, IMs, texts, tweets and status updates has made it easier to stay in touch, these communications are often invasive, intrusive and impinge on your ability to concentrate and work uninterrupted.  All the task-switching, additional pieces of information you’re forced to process, and extra decisions you have to make only add to stress you may already be experiencing.

Technostress:  What can you do to manage it?

If you’re feeling the effects of too much technology, here are a few practical tips to restore balance to your life:

Keep track of your technology time. So how much time do you spend using technology each day?  Have you ever kept track?  You may be surprised at your average total.  If it’s more than six hours per day (the average for an American), strive to reduce it by 10 percent or more – to free up additional time for no-tech activities.

Set limits. One good way to reduce your technology usage is by setting (and adhering to) strict limits.  For example, spend no more than 30 minutes per day answering e-mails.

Change your focus. Staring at a monitor for extended periods of time can cause excessive eye, neck and shoulder strain.  Look away from the screen and focus on something higher and farther away every 20 to 30 minutes.

Go outside. Get away from any form of technology by taking a quiet walk or run, preferably in a place that has few people and little noise.  Can’t get outdoors?  A quick trip around the house, office, dorm or library will do.

Alternate technology-oriented activities with no-tech tasks. Switching out of “tech mode” reduces the stress associated with a technology-centered lifestyle.  After you’ve answered a few e-mails, chat face-to-face with a co-worker or family member; likewise, if you need to put in several hours of computer time, be sure to schedule frequent breaks that involve walking away from your PC.

Resist the urge. Owning the newest and fastest technology is fun – but it may not be in your best interest.  In addition to causing financial stress, these purchases can cause unnecessary technostress with the typical glitches that occur when installing and adjusting to the new technology.

Back up your files frequently. If you’ve ever lost a single article, spreadsheet or image, you’ve definitely experienced technostress.  Guard against potential data loss by backing up materials at regular intervals.

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