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Stress: The Dark Side of Technology

Written by Ben Leach on

Technology is everywhere, and mobiles have almost become a necessity to everyday life. We’re advocates for technology, but is there a way to embrace technology, without it overtaking your life?

Technology is everywhere, and mobiles have almost become a necessity in everyday life. So much so that in 2017, Statista predicted that 94% of adults in the UK owned a phone and over three-quarters of those were smartphones, this figure is expected to rise year on year. We had a look into the dark side of technology, and how it is affecting us.

The dark side of technology - many social media apps on a phone screen

At HeX, we’re huge advocates for embracing technology and ensuring everyone is firmly placed in the digital age. Along with many others, we recognise the importance and the advantage that comes with technology. However, while technology is good up to a point, is it contributing to the growing number of mental health cases in the UK? And, how can we embrace tech but not let the dark side of technology negatively affect us?

The dark side of technology addiction

There’s significant evidence presented by psychologists and neurologists that suggest people are becoming addicted to their mobile phones, in particular. Research has shown that some people experience anxiety and stress-like symptoms when separated from their phones to the point of having withdrawal symptoms, comparable to those who have a drug or alcohol addiction.

So, is the dark side of technology making us anxious and stressed, and what are the top stressors of having extremely easy to access technology in our pocket?

The stressors

Sleep Dysregulation

More than 70% of us use our phones less than 30 minutes before bed. We all know the feeling, you go to bed intending to go to sleep, but you end up checking your phone ‘just for a second’, and then two hours later you’re watching a random video of ‘cat fails’. Research suggests that looking at a screen can reduce melatonin production, which interrupts our sleep-waking cycles. And, with poor sleep, comes poor resilience and higher stress levels.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

A form of social anxiety that arises from the fear of missing out on social gatherings, concerts, get-togethers, work/social opportunities, etc. Ask around, how many people have ‘considered’ coming off social media for good but never actually followed through? That is FOMO. Unfortunately, social media is a double-edged FOMO sword – if we’re not on it, we think we’re missing out, and if we’re on it all the time, we’re likely to see our friends having exciting/interesting experiences in our absence. One thing is clear; FOMO is not good for stress/anxiety levels.

Work/Life Balance

In the past, clocking out of the office/workplace provided an incredibly clear boundary of where work ended and ‘life’ began, it was pretty much black and white. With the dawn of technology, that area has become very grey indeed. A lot of us have our work emails on our phones, and sometimes, we even check our work emails out of boredom! This makes it incredibly hard to disengage from the workplace and contributes to raised stress levels.

Perpetual Distraction

With all the persistent message tones and flashing of notifications, we are continually interrupting what we are doing to check our phones. A study in the UK found that smartphone users unlock their phones 85 times a day and use them for five hours a day. Ever noticed you are often forgetting things, or lacking attention? You can thank technology for that, research shows a high correlation between smartphones and internet use, and reduced cognitive skills like attention, memory and learning.

Social comparison 

How we think and feel about ourselves is often judged based on how we compare to other people in the world. With the advent of social media, that comparison just got a whole lot easier, it is littered with information that can be used to show how socially successful a person is (followers, likes, shares, retweets, etc.). Often, these metrics make us feel incredibly inferior if someone has more than us. The disparity between real-life and social media is also negative, as we only see ‘the best bits’ from people’s lives, often depicting them to be more interesting/influential/exciting than in reality. Social comparisons can have a significant impact on our well-being.

But how do we deal with it?

There’s often talk of going on a digital detox, but for a lot of us, that just isn’t feasible, either we rely on technology for work, or it’s the only way we stay in touch with our family and friends. In fact, we believe that a full digital detox can be more harmful than helpful, it’s not good to be completely disconnected, and it’s impossible to say that technology hasn’t helped us all for the better. But how can we help ourselves embrace technology, but not let it take over?

Set boundaries

It’s incredibly important to set boundaries. A lot of us use our phones when with friends our families, while eating or even watching TV.

Our Creative Director James comments: “Technological boundaries are so important, being more aware of our real-life experiences and being more mindful of what’s going on can only be a positive. No phones at the dinner table, putting it on aeroplane mode when with friends or no phone use less than 30 minutes before bed can help you switch off and live in the now.

“Similarly, it’s important to create that work-life balance; set boundaries on where the workday starts and ends, decide on the last time you will check your emails and send out any replies. Try turning off email notifications and only check them at certain times.”

Use technology to your advantage

It may seem counter-intuitive to use technology to help turn off from technology but bear with us. In a time when people are becoming more aware of the impact of technology, there are plenty of apps designed with mental health in mind.

Our Accessibility Director, Zara, advises, “There are apps out there that do promote health and wellbeing. The NHS has even made a list of the ones that they are testing themselves. But there are some great apps out there that are based on mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy, or a combination of the two.

“There are also digital balance apps that track the amount of time spent on your mobile, intending to reduce this. In the age of technology, it would be silly not to embrace it to become more mindful – rather than making technology the enemy, make it your ally.”

Curate your feed

Next time you’re on social media, just recognise how different posts make you feel. If someone’s posts are making you feel bad about yourself or make you jealous, it’s easy just to block them.

Our Digital Marketing & PR Executive, Ben, says: “Social media can be tough, it’s a constant ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives. But if posts make you feel bad, hide or unfollow them, even if they’re your best friend; just because someone is great to be around in person, it doesn’t mean that’s true online. It’s important to seek out positive social media experiences actively, whether it’s your favourite comedians or educational posts.

“Minimise the negatives and maximise the positives, while negative social media experiences are linked to higher levels of depression, positive interactions on social media were consistently related to lower levels of depression and anxiety.”

The ally, not the enemy

As Zara summed up, it’s important to see technology as an ally in life, rather than an enemy. Far too often, people are seeing technology as something that is taking over, rather than something that can be harnessed for the better. Think of how far some systems have come in the last few years, wholly designed for the user and how we can now communicate with people across the entire world at the click of a button.

This interconnectivity is something to be marvelled at, not scared of. Embracing technology and using it as a tool, rather than a necessity is when you get that balance of your life back. Embrace technology, but also embrace the natural wonders of this world…without taking a photo of it…