Dealing With Overload In The Digital Age

10/02/2017 14:01 GMT | Updated 11/02/2018 10:12 GMT

Stress and overload isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, the term "stress" and its application to the human condition was researched by Hans Selye in 1936. However, stress and anxiety brought on by the digital age is very much a modern problem, which is set to escalate if left unmanaged.

Looking at today's world, it's no surprise that stress looms large. People commute hundreds of miles each week, and we are in constant communication via phone, email and social media. Modern day stress can largely be blamed on ICT (internet and communication technology). It is addictive, distracting and can cause anxiety. It also interferes with productivity, performance, relationships and health.

The biggest impact of digital stress is on sleep. Our sleep is suffering and the irony is that the busier we become, the more we need to have quality, restorative sleep.

Good sleep aids recovery - mental, emotional and physical. It helps the brain sort out unneeded mental connections; it consolidates and reinforces the needed ones.

The brain produces all sorts of chemicals, "molecular by-products of thinking" which are left in the brain during the day to be flushed away during normal sleep. However, without restful, uninterrupted sleep, this process is hindered.

The brain is also affected directly by the constant deluge of information. It is being forced to work in a different way and the cost is a loss of "Executive Functioning" - which supports focus, efficiency, problem solving and decision making.

The brain likes to start a task and complete it. It likes to absorb and archive incoming information for future reference so that you can refer to it to make wise, complex decisions. The speed of incoming information, interruptions and distractions impairs this.

Feeling your phone buzz, hearing a 'ping' and seeing the name or an image of someone you like, a warmly-worded message or an invitation gives you a "feel-good" glow. This is the result of brain chemicals like dopomine and can be addictive. This of course, makes us want to check out phones even more.

The National Sleep Foundation has found that the average college student loses 46 minutes of sleep each night due to answering or checking his phone. This could be addiction but could also be another increasing and alarming result of the reliance upon our electronic gadgetry - anxiety.

Dr Larry Rozen of California State University carried out a study of 700 college students and while the results found that poor executive functioning did predict sleep problems, a much stronger effect was caused by anxiety. The students that were more anxious about being apart from their phones used them more, checked them more and suffered from 'FOMO' - fear of missing out.

What you can do to prevent overload:

• Diary in a walk each day - try an increase the distance over the days and weeks. This will increase the size of the brain, improve memory and increase learning ability.

• Drink more water and stay hydrated. Walk to the water cooler during the day, stretch your legs and give you brain a mini-break to catch up.

• Work offline for certain times during the day and use an automated message to say that you will get back to people after a certain time. It will stop time wasters or impulsive and unnecessary emails.

• Don't automatically copy in people in a response if unnecessary, it just makes for more work for them and, more importantly, for you.

• If allowed at work, have a plant close by - connecting with nature, no matter how tenuous and small, makes us feel more relaxed and calmer.

• Don't use devices for at least one hour before bed.

• No gadgets in the bedroom - buy a battery or wind-up clock.

• Read a book rather than an e-book. It takes e-book readers and additional 10 minutes to get to sleep over paper book readers and delays the onset of melatonin (the sleep hormone) by 90 minutes, resulting in lowered quality sleep.

• Download for free which is a warm filter for laptops to help reduce the sleep-interfering blue light.

• Have a digital-free time or day once a week with family and/or friends and ask them to do the same. It could be from 12 noon to 4pm on a Sunday, time for brunch, a walk and making memories.

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