Does high-tech cause high stress?

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mahatma Gandhi

Stress! It's everywhere at the moment.

November is International Stress Awareness Month and this Wednesday it’s National Stress Awareness Day.

The HSE defines stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them. There is a clear distinction between pressure, which can create a ‘buzz’ and be motivating, and stress, which occurs when this pressure becomes excessive."

Stress can be beneficial. It can increase motivation. In an emergency, it can help you handle a crisis. Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage and enable resilience.

However, constant or unmanaged stress is bad for you and those around you.

Why reduce stress?

The benefits of reducing stress are numerous, e.g. in the workplace, reduced stress can ensure:

  • Healthier, happier, more engaged employees
  • Improved performance with more productive employees
  • Reduced absence levels
  • Reduced workplace disputes
  • Improved employee retention and attraction.

This year's theme is “Does High-tech Cause Hi-Stress?”

I think we all know how beneficial technology is in the workplace – improved productivity, immediacy of communication, greater accuracy and efficiency.

But what are the disadvantages to employees?

Examples include:

  • Blurring of the boundaries between life and work: when you read your emails at home or on the commute
  • An "always on" culture where employers expect their employees to answer their mobiles (especially personal mobiles) out of hours or when on holiday
  • Loss of interpersonal communication – how many times have you emailed someone in the same room rather than talk to them?
  • Work distraction: when employees spend the day on Facebook rather than working
  • Technological dependency: the stress when technology does not work as it should or your battery runs out
  • Prolonged exposure to digital devices at night: this lowers melatonin production, an important hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle and can raise cortisol levels associated with stress.

Too much, too often, can lead to a build-up of stress.

So, how can you reduce these negatives?

  • Your organisation will have a defined IT use policy: ensure you read it and adhere to it
  • Limit your screen time, particularly after work. Turn off your devices two hours before bed
  • Get outside at lunchtime: exposing yourself to sunlight will send a signal to your body and help regulate your circadian rhythm
  • Adjust screen brightness. Many mobile phones and computers offer the option to adjust your screen’s brightness. You may find that shifting your brightness down during the evening can help minimise light pollution in your home
  • Plan activities where you can’t be online, allowing your mind to wander and think creatively.

"The truth About stress"

Fiona Phillips explores the latest scientific research into the perception, experience and management of stress

Watch the programme