Technology has a lot of perks, but it also brings with it a new kind of stress that's hard to switch off. Psychologist Thijs Launspach shares his advice for combatting technostress
Imagine a man being transported in a time machine from the 1950s to the present day and being dropped in the middle of New York City. Walking around goggle-eyed in his suit and hat, what would strike him most about his new surroundings? Perhaps the mass of advertisement hoardings and screens with their never-ending stream of information. Or maybe the sound made by the cars. More likely, however, is that our man from the Fifties would be most surprised by the mobile telephones that everyone spends their time staring at. I imagine he’d write something like this in his diary: "Modern day humans carry a square black device around in their pockets connected to a set of earphones. It is obviously their most valuable possession, given the amount of time they spend looking at it."
"We use that small, shiny supercomputer in our pocket for almost everything"
Imagine then proudly telling this curious time traveller about this wonder of technology we call a mobile phone. "It’s so handy. You can contact anyone you like anywhere in the world, and whenever you like, too, and you can immediately see if someone is calling you or has sent you a message!" you might explain excitedly. Our time traveller could be forgiven for taking a moment to think before replying: "But why would you want any of that?"
Why are we addicted to our phones?
We use that small, shiny supercomputer in our pocket for almost everything. It is our shopping list, our means of contacting the outside world, our step counter, our source of amusement, our route planner, our alarm clock, our news channel, our soundtrack and a whole lot more. However, this little device also has a darker side. It often behaves like a mini dictator. It demands our attention at the drop of a hat. Ping! An e-mail! Ping! A message from your friend, Rob! Ping! A new potential match! Please update your settings! Ping! Ping! Now, please!!
Studies have shown that our brain gives us a tiny shot of dopamine each time we receive a notification. This results in a little moment of happiness each time we reach for our phone, which explains why we are so attached to the thing. We pay more attention to our next fix of smartphone dopamine than we do to our next meal, our sleeping habits and our relationships with others. For the majority of people, the screen on their smartphone is often the first thing they see when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they see before they fall asleep at night.
Naturally, we have an excellent excuse for our mobile phone addiction: our modern way of living demands that we have one. Our phone has become an intrinsic part of the way in which we experience the world around us—a kind of extension of our physical selves. It keeps us up to date with the latest news, allows us to react quickly to situations and helps us to organise our lives. And as with all addictions, we tend to play down the negatives: it really isn’t such a bad thing, and anyway everyone is doing it! But this is far from the truth.
What is technostress, and what can you do about it?
Our mobile phone is probably the greatest single cause of stress in our lives, apart from our work. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Tinder have us all tightly in their grip with their push notifications and this is beginning to have dire consequences for our health. Our intense focus on our phones is seriously affecting our ability to concentrate.
Our mobile devices also have a negative impact on our social lives. In fact, research suggests that just having a phone in plain view on the table in front of you affects the quality of the conversation you are conducting with someone. The phone doesn’t even need to be "doing" anything. But when it becomes active with ringtones and pings our phone makes us even more restless and increases our stress levels.
"The spectre of technology is lurking around every corner"
The idea that we need to be online at all times means we can be interrupted by our phone at any moment. This may not happen all the time, of course, but the possibility is always there. The spectre of technology is lurking around every corner.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. It is relatively easy to protect yourself from the negative effects of your mobile phone addiction. It does require some willpower, however.
If you want to have less stress in your life, there is no need to trade your smartphone in for an old Nokia that only requires recharging once a week. What you do need to do, however, is change your idea of how available you are to others: it is you and not your mobile phone that should dictate how and when you may be contacted. You can turn off the push notifications in your settings, for example. You will still have access to all the information you need, but then at a time of your own choosing, not when someone decides to distract you. Tell your friends you consider the good old phone call your urgent medium and that answering any other kind of message may take a little more time. Leave those WhatsApp groups that take up too much of your time; don’t worry, you’re absolutely allowed to. Always remember, you are the one who decides how to live your life, not your phone.
Thijs Launspach is a psychologist, TEDX and keynote speaker and author of Crazy Busy: Keeping Sane in a Stressful World
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...