Technology is around us all the time. From our computers at work to our phones never more than a few feet from us, we’re always switched on. What’s more, our stress levels are on the up.
More than a third of people in the UK report feeling stressed one day a week, and 85% of people say they feel stressed or worried on a regular basis. There’s growing research to link our stress levels and mental health problems with our increased use of technology. So if you find you’re worrying constantly, sleeping badly, or just not finding time to do the things you love, then switching off might be the way forward.
Here’s why you need to take a digital detox this weekend, and how to do it.
Being overstimulated can cause stress. The internet, with its infinite supply of information, is sitting right there in your pocket. And while that can be a blessing in many ways, it’s also a curse. The speed of technology means we’re processing information all the time, which requires energy to make our brains function and can engage our stress responses.
If the constant stream of information you’re exposed to is starting to take its toll, making some time to clear your mind and just be present can have a tangible impact on your mood, your productivity, and other stress-related symptoms. A study from back in 2000 that measured the effect of meditation-based stress therapy on the stress levels of cancer patients found that after seven weeks of group therapy and at-home meditations, their levels of depression, anxiety and other stress related symptoms had reduced.
To get into the habit of meditating regularly, try signing up to a meditation class (check out the schedules at your nearest wellness spa, health club or yoga studio). Or practice on your own at home with the help of a meditation app: try Headspace or The Mindfulness App.
A good night’s sleep shouldn’t be underestimated. Studies have shown that sleep – or lack of – can affect everything from our mood, energy and hormones to weight, mental health and immune system.
A study found that people using devices for 90 minutes or more in the evenings reported feeling less sleepy, whereas using tech devices for less than that had little effect of people’s sleep patterns. A combination of the blue light and the interactive nature of our mobile tech (think scrolling through our social media before bed) stimulate our brains just as we’re supposed to be shutting them down for the night to recharge themselves.
To get the best night’s sleep possible, get in the habit of putting your phone away two hours before bed. Try to get an alarm that isn’t your phone, so you can leave your phone in a completely different room. Using devices that you interact with passively and that have no light – for example, reading a book on a standard e-reader – before bed shouldn’t impact your sleep though, so you can still read a few a chapters before bed.
It’s inevitable that there will be times when work is more stressful than usual: maybe there’s big presentation coming up, or your team is short-staffed so the workload has gone up. It’s often tempting to pull extra hours or work over the weekend to stay on top of things. You might even feel guilty for taking a whole weekend off.
Although it might seem counter-productive to ignore your workload when it’s the quantity of work on your plate that’s stressing you out, it’s actually more important than ever to give yourself some downtime to recharge your batteries. When you leave work on Friday, disable your email account on your phone and tablet – here’s a handy hack to show you how.
Don’t worry – this is only temporary and you can revert back on Monday morning. But now you can take the full weekend to concentrate on family, friends, hobbies – basically anything other than work. So by the time you come back to it on Monday, you’re refreshed and ready to commit your most productive self again.
Many of us think we’re pretty good at multitasking – say, writing emails while also carrying on a conversation with a colleague, or delivering two pieces of work at the same time. But neuroscience research suggests that what we often class as multitasking isn’t multitasking at all; we’re simply flicking from one task to another very quickly. Neuroscience professor Earl Miller, at the US university MIT, says that we simply are not able to focus on more than one task at a time. Scientists call the act of doing lots of tasks at once “switch-tasking”, and it can actually harm our productivity and creativity as well as increase stress levels because we’re overloading our brains.
In reality there will always be times when we’re pulled in several directions at once. But committing yourself to one task at a time – at home as well as at work – is a good habit to get into. This weekend, set yourself three things to do that you enjoy: doing something creative with the kids, cooking dinner for friends, spending some time working on the garden, or reading a good book in the bath. Commit to them for a set period of time (make sure your diary is clear), and put your phone and tablet away before you start, so you can give it your full attention without interruptions. And get in the habit of putting tech away for meal times and social gatherings, and commit your attention to the conversations you’re having with the people around you.
Want to take your digital detox up a notch? Book yourself a relaxing spa break, or get together with a group of friends for a more effective detox.