A new type of stress?
I recently saw a 26 year old young man in my office. I have actually been seeing him for a few months. He is highly successful, even at such a young age, working at a fast-paced job in the entertainment industry.
His main complaint was difficulty sleeping at night. He could not seem to shut his brain down. He was always on the go, working at multiple projects at any given time, in fact, he thrived on the fact that he did not sit in one place for more than a few minutes.
But lately, he seemed to be feeling a little anxious. He had tried taking different types of sleeping pills but they didn’t really work for him too much. He was beginning to feel a little fatigued which concerned him because he considered himself to be in his prime. He was diagnosed a few years ago with attention deficit disorder, otherwise known as ADD, and was taking medication to keep him more focused.
One thing that struck me during our conversation was that he kept getting interrupted by his phone which was ringing incessantly. OK, you know I am a nice guy. I don’t get too upset when my patient gets a call or two and they have to take it for whatever reason. And yes, I have been known to take a call myself when I am seeing patients (of course these are calls from the hospitals with patient-related questions). For those of you reading this who are my patients, no comments please. This is my story and I am sticking to it…..lol.
Ahem! Where was I? Oh yes, so my patient’s phone was ringing way too much and he would “have to” take each call because he was conducting some important meetings and needed to be in touch. Finally, I got a little irritated (yes, I do get that sometimes), and asked him if he ever was without his phone. He sheepishly replied with a sigh, “I wish.” Suddenly, I realized his problem: Information overload! Technology stress!!
So I suggested to him that I have a solution for him but he will not like it. I told him that he was addicted to technology. And it is an addiction that most of us are victims of. And I suggested an intervention. He was not very happy about it but he did realize the truth, even though he was initially resistant to accept it. He just did not want to acknowledge that it was true.
Just think about it. How much time do you actually spend away from technology? I am not counting electrical appliances such as hair dryers, washing machines, toaster ovens and the like. I am talking about computers, televisions, cell phones, ipads, laptops, even GPS systems. (Just a sidebar about GPS: I was shocked to realize how many of our youngsters have no idea how to even read a road map; they have no sense of direction at all…. unbelievable!!)
What do most of you do when you have to wait for someone? Do you take out a book and read? Do you close your eyes and meditate or even take a nap? Or do you take out your ever so versatile cell phone to either text someone, check your email, play tetris, get on facebook, or use one of the many hundreds of apps you have downloaded on your iphone or droid?
I recently read about a study (where else but on the internet) in which losing their internet connection was now considered as one of the top stressors, even more stressful that losing heat or water (this was a London-based study). It was also shown that heavy internet users when forced to go offline, went into withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addicts. Are you one of them? In fact technology-related stress has been shown to cause increased levels of dissatisfaction with life.
And so it was with my patient. Further history confirmed that he was suffering from technology stress. And his insomnia was in part due to his inability to turn off his phone. However, recognizing the problem and doing something about it are not necessarily the same. But the first step is recognition.
Have you ever finished a meal without being interrupted by the phone? Do you eat in front of the TV or the computer? If you are forced to wait for something, whether an appointment, or standing in line at the supermarket or the airport, or simply walking down the sidewalk, do you whip out your phone so you don’t “waste time?” Do you check your phone for emails the first thing you do when you wake up? Texting friends at night before going to sleep? Did you know that 25% of people are connected to their internet within 5 minutes of waking up? Do you suffer from FOMO (“fear of missing out”) (I didn’t make up this, I swear) if you are unable to get updates on what your FB friends are doing? Do you pay more attention to your phones or your family and friends?
Maybe its time to take a hard look at yourself. Go stand in front of the mirror, look at the person looking back at you and ask him or her: Am I suffering from technology-overload syndrome? Can I stay away from iphone/droid without going into withdrawal?
How many of you multi-task? I admit I do. But more and more people are realizing the negative effects of this common panacea of modern life. I can be sitting in front of my computer working on a project, while talking to one person on the phone and texting to another. And even on the computer I will have many windows open, emailing someone while working on a patient’s file, all the while eating my lunch. Some of you may be doing even more tasks. But is that truly more productive? Are you able to devote full attention to any one of those tasks?
So let’s take a small step towards unshackling ourselves from the handcuffs of technology. Let’s create some techno-free times (TFTs) during our day. Pick an activity you would not normally do otherwise: read a book, go for a walk and leave your phone behind, eat lunch or dinner with friends or family and turn your phone off, have a conversation with someone by paying full attention to them. Resist the urge to answer every call or text immediately.
Oh yes! And what happened to my patient? Following some of my simple suggestions (after resisting much initially), he was able to sleep better without any pills, his fatigue improved, his concentration actually improved even while decreasing his medication for his ADD.
So how many of you are ready to join me in creating TFTs? Drop me a line and let me know. And join me tomorrow to learn about the mistakes even smart people make about stress that leave them exhausted, burnt-out and running on empty.
Until next time