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What is technology doing to our mental health?

Posted by: Sam Wheeler
23/05/2016

We can’t deny that technology is a fundamental part of our daily lives, but have you ever stopped to think about the effect it may be having on your mental state?

 We are spending more and more time glued to screens, from Smartphones to TVs the average person spends 11 hours a day interacting with some form of technology. This is creating a “never switch off” culture, so we need to unplug and give ourselves a rest. 

Much of our daily stress can be traced back to technology; we are overwhelmed by the demands and interruptions of it. With the constant messaging services, social media and emails to be answered, we are exhausted. We have also come to expect more from technology and less from people. Our expectation of technology working and our frustration when it doesn’t is fuelling our agitation and stress levels.

Technology is also changing how we interact with one another, removing the need for face-to-face contact which can be damaging to our mental health. Feeling part of a social group fosters a sense of belonging and human contact creates the “love hormone” oxytocin, which in turn releases serotonin and that “happy feeling.” This hormone is essential in the forming and maintenance of human relationships and by replacing human interaction with technology we are missing out on this development. 

Technology is also becoming an addiction with side-effects, studies have reported feelings of anxiety or feelings of being “lost” without a mobile phone. Social media is also fuelling our addiction to technology. The positive reinforcement we receive through the number of “likes” is addictive, so much so that we are willing to go to extremes for that extra special profile picture, even risking our lives with the number of “selfie” related deaths on the increase since 2014, with 12 recorded in 2016 already.

Researchers in Norway have even developed the Berge Facebook Addiction Scale, a psychological scale to measure facebook addiction. But social media platforms are presenting us with an idealised account of real life, often leaving users feeling inferior to their peers, dissatisfied with their lives, anxious that their friends are doing things without them and under enormous pressure to be doing what everyone else is doing. All our time online is also giving rise to cyberbullying, an enormous concern especially for teens, which can invoke constant feelings of distress, worry and loneliness. 

We are also losing our “downtime” to the demands of technology. With the majority of companies handing out smartphones and remote access to cloud systems, people’s jobs are following them around, from emails during commuting time and logging in at home after hours, expectations on employees are far greater than 10 years ago. Work related technology is invading our personal life and it can even spark a work induced depression. Our brains require downtime to recharge and replenish the brain’s stores of attention and motivation. This is essential for productivity and creativity, and achieving our highest levels of performance as well as simply forming stable memories in everyday life.

This tech-indulgence is literally rewiring our brains and how they work. As more and more technology becomes available to us, we are spreading our time across it by multi-tasking such as browsing social media whilst watching TV. This multi-tasking means that we are not able to focus on one thing and therefore we can’t process the information that is presented to us; it is preventing us from getting anything done.

Being constantly wired means that technology doesn’t just interrupt our daily lives; it interrupts us whilst we sleep! Our sleeping patterns are disturbed from the glowing light emitted from the screens. Again, lack of sleep can prevent you from thinking clearly and keeping your emotions stable, so try switching off at least half an hour before you plan to go to sleep to minimise the effect.

Technology is a beautiful thing, it enhances our connectivity to information, the world and like-minded people. It also helps people who may have issues communicating face-to-face with others. But it has advanced so fast that it can be difficult to adjust so we must take the time to be aware of the effects that too much technology can have on our mental health. To manage the effects, it may be best to allocate some “off time” – time when you do not use technology and set yourself limits around when you reply to emails, messages etc. Alternatively, you may enjoy being constantly interrupted and attached to technology, however ultimately, the mental effects it has on you may depend on whether you are in control or if the technology is in control of you.

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