TechnoStress and your Health

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Computer error
22 Nov 2017

When it comes to stress, we all understand the dangers involved to our health. Sometimes, there isn’t much to do about a situation that is causing stress. But what of behaviors or habits that I can change?  Those can be dealt with.  The technology we have today is wonderful in many respects but it can also cause undue stress and ultimately be harmful to your health.   This article is not about filtering your smart phone or internet.  For that, we have Rabbonim and community leaders. It is about how these technologies can harm your health.   Readers remember a time when the whole idea that everyone could be available to anyone’s beckoned call anytime, anywhere was unheard of.  Now, we are available all the time unless we have put limits on ourselves and that can create stresses previously unknown.  And not only that.  People without cellular devices and phones can be affected in a negative way.

We’ve all been there.  You are at a Chassidic concert, the singer and orchestra are singing a beautiful song lifting your Neshoma to new heights, and then all of a sudden, the guy sitting three rows in front of you down to the left has a loud, disruptive ring coming out of his pocket.  Your moment is ruined!  Perhaps you are in the middle of davening in the morning.  It is difficult enough to keep your Kavona in a good place, but there you are, in the middle of Shmona Esrei, and the guy at the end of the row, for some reason hasn’t turned off his phone and some musical theme begins blaring out of his jacket.  Your moment and his are now gone.  And then there is that conversation you are having with a friend that gets interrupted when her pocket book starts ringing.  We live in a very different world, and it is a world that has change much because of the advancement of technology, but not all of that change is positive.

We have been made aware of the dangers of being online and Baruch Hashem, we can put filters on our devices if we must use them for work. With the help of our Rabbonim, over the last few years, people have changed from smartphones to kosher phones, limited their computers to email only, and when possible, have left any online activity to the work place when necessary.  But aside from the known dangers of internet, even our simple, kosher devices cause problems. 

Mobile technology has brought unprecedented advantages, but excessive electronic stimulation produces negative consequences. Digital distraction can harm mental health and cause physical injury from accidents. Some scientists think that our constant engagement in media and telephones is one of the most serious threats to humanity.  On the other hand, some experts think that multitasking with electronic devices may increase the brain’s processing speed. 

Distraction from electronic devices is not only real, it is increasing weekly. Although we generally refer to use of multiple devices, or using one device for multiple tasks as multitasking, there really is no such thing.  “Nobody truly multitasks except in rare situations.  What we are doing is “task switching” according to Larry D Rosen PhD. at California State University.  “We tell our brains to focus on something different for a moment or longer, then we try to go back to our original task.  The problem is that digital technology is highly engaging and lures our attention away easily-and when we return, we need to reconstruct what we were doing and hopefully have enough time to complete the task.”  But what is the real impact of digital distraction?

There is more stress. Forty-nine percent of employees who use the Internet or email at work say that technologies such as the Internet, email, cell phones and instant messaging have increased job stress (Madden & Jones 2008). Early research on “technostress” showed that frequent introduction of new software, rapid changes in workplace technology and more time pressures from technology increased workplace stress (Arnetz 1997).

There is more anxiety. More individuals are suffering from “phantom vibration syndrome”—the perception that a cell phone is vibrating when it isn’t. This has been suggested as evidence of anxiety among those obsessed with mobile phones (Rosen et al. 2013). Some individuals suffer anxiety when they can’t check devices and/or social media frequently, but researchers have yet to determine whether this anxiety harms health (Durocher et al. 2011).

It’s difficult to disconnect from work. Among professionals and managers, increased technological connectivity leads to longer work hours and more challenges disconnecting during nonworking hours (Madden & Jones 2008). Those aged 30–49 have the most difficulty disconnecting fully from work, and this is impacting their life balance.

People find it hard to concentrate. Only 38% of employed adults who go online, use email or own a cell phone say technologies have made it harder for them to focus at work, while 50% of those who own a PDA or Blackberry note problems concentrating at work (Madden & Jones 2008). These statistics, however, predate the proliferation of iPhones and other smartphones. The typical U.S. worker is interrupted every 3 minutes (Silverman 2012).

Sleep is disrupted, and depression sets in. In a study of 4,100 young adults aged 20–24, conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, heavy mobile-phone use was linked to an increase in sleeping difficulties among men and an increase in depression in both men and women. Heavy computer use was related to increased stress, sleeping problems and depression in women and to sleeping problems in men (Thomee 2012).

There’s an increase in distracted-driving and distracted-pedestrian accidents. Nearly 400,000 people are killed or injured each year in distracted-driving accidents in the United States. Distractions include anything that diverts manual, visual or cognitive attention from driving. Since texting includes all three, it is of particular concern (NHTSA 2013). Pedestrians who use mobile phones while walking also cross unsafely into oncoming traffic significantly more often than other pedestrians (Weksler & Weksler 2012).

The ability to learn is being undermined. Theories of how humans learn emphasize the importance of downtime, which allows the brain to process new information. Some experts are concerned that constant stimulation interferes with this learning process (Richtel 2010b). Students who accessed Facebook more frequently when studying had lower grade-point averages than those who avoided it (Rosen et al. 2013a).

Spending unnecessary time in front of computers slows your metabolism and leads to weight gain. Spending unnecessary time on ANY electronic device can harm your most valuable relationships.

As someone who has done much of his exercising outdoors, I can’t emphasize the great benefits of leaving that cell phone behind and enjoying the fresh air, the green trees and letting your mind relax and not having to worry about that phone ringing.  It is very rare that any of us deal with true emergencies.  It is understandable that a doctor may have to be connected most of the time and possible security personnel.  But for you and I, disconnecting for certain times daily is vital. People can leave a message and you can call back later. It was a mere 25 years ago that the idea of having to be available all the time was practically non-existent.  You don’t have to be!  Give yourself a break.  So be careful and be aware.  Disconnecting is the best Chesed you can do for yourself, your family and your friends. 

Digital technologies has advanced many areas of life and can even save lives, but don’t be enslaved by it.  Keeping your digital distractions to a minimum will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.” 

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.