When it comes to stress, blame technology


If you feel like you must be available 24/7 to anyone and everyone, you are not alone.

American workers are experiencing stress like never before, and a lot of that is due to an inability to unplug from technology.

“More than 40 percent of Americans say their jobs are very stressful, and 25 percent say it’s the biggest stress of their life,” said Brian Luke Seaward, executive director at the Paramount Wellness Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Seaward visited Grand Rapids earlier this month as part of the Medicine Beyond Medication conference held at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

He spoke about the factors contributing to people’s stress levels and ways to mitigate that stress.

Technology is the biggest culprit.

“We have a culture of distractions today that can be summed up in one word: technology,” Seaward said. “We are bombarded with sensory stimulation unlike any other time in the history of humanity. As a consequence, our mind is scattered.”

Technology has created a lot of problems for people that didn’t exist previously, such as screen addiction, digital obesity, digital dementia and more.

“One of the biggest problems is screen addiction,” Seaward said. “People are basically addicted to their devices. We now know through research that when people hear a ping or an alert, there is a little squirt of dopamine emitted, and dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to the addictive process.”

Digital obesity and digital dementia are other newly coined terms to describe what technology is doing to people’s bodies and minds.

“Digital obesity refers to people who sit on their butts all day. Sitting is the new smoking,” Seaward said. “You have to move.”

“Digital dementia refers to people who don’t have good long-term memory. In order for us to put things into long-term memory, the brain has to be able to relax. If you are on the go all the time with your devices, always looking to see a social post on Facebook or Twitter, you don’t have the chance to relax.”

Insomnia is another stressor that people are experiencing in even greater numbers since devices became mobile.

“Over half of Americans don’t get a good night’s sleep regularly, and that impacts productivity,” Seaward said.

While many companies have taken steps to institute stress management-related programs within their offices, Seaward said a lot of the techniques he suggests to people need to take place outside the office.

First, Seaward said taking time for meditation is important.

“I’m a big fan of meditation. Mindfulness meditation is big right now. It’s the antidote to sensory bombardment,” he said. “I’m talking unplugging from the world, focusing on breathing and clearing the mind of ego chitter-chatter.”

It provides the brain with a chance to store those long-term memories, too.

Second, Seaward said stepping away from your desk and particularly into nature is a great way to relax and recharge.

“I’m a big fan of getting out in nature, and Grand Rapids is great for that,” he said.

Seaward said many studies have found health-related benefits as a result of communing with nature. In Japan there is even a specific name for getting outside; it’s called “forest bathing.”

Third, Seaward said, set a laughter quota.

“You need at least 15 laughs a day to be healthy,” he said. “If you look for one funny thing a day, you’ll finds lots, but you have to consciously look.”

Fourth, Seaward said people need strong relationships.

“It’s important to have a couple of good friends,” he said. “Friends are essential for longevity and they boost the immune system.”

Fifth, Seaward said getting a good night’s sleep is essential.

“Turn off the Wi-Fi router before bed and get the cellphone out of the bedroom,” he said.

He noted it’s important to stop using screens at least two hours before going to bed, too.

Finally, use that vacation time, and truly unplug when you do.

“Eighty-five percent of disease is related to stress,” Seaward said. “We have a society that is a disease model for health care, and we need a wellness model for health care.”

Seaward has a new book focused on sleep: “Getting a Good Night’s Sleep; Digital Detox and Mindfulness.”

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