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What Is Technology Stress & How Can You Beat It?

I live in denial about the impact of technology. I pretend I’m not squinting at bright screens in bed, I ignore my perpetually tight shoulders, and I convince myself that to be hunched over a keyboard is a natural state. (Despite my body basically screaming at me to stand up and go outside.)

Deep down, I know better. Between reports that reading on a screen before bed may actually be killing us (but for real) and my own therapist recommending I sleep in a screen-free zone, my fear of disconnecting eclipses common sense. The idea of not having instant access to my phone, my computer, or even my television seems worse than jeopardising my physical and mental health for the sake of checking Twitter – and, obviously, I’m not the only one.

Back in 2013, my inability to sleep was so bad I’d lay in bed near tears, refusing to acknowledge that maybe my choice to work/watch TV in/hang out on my phone in bed was part of the reason. But even now, though my sleep habits have gotten better, I still roll my eyes at proof that my sleep hygiene is less than ideal. I mean, I won’t drink coffee after 5 p.m., but I’ll fall asleep in front of Netflix religiously, despite the latter being worse. Despite countless studies screaming at us to please, for the love of all that is good, put your phone down.

“The use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment has greatly increased recently,” claimed experts in a study from Harvard Medical School in 2014. “We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppress levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces the alertness the following morning.”

So, screens in bed are bad (duh). And not in the sensationalist way our parents clung to when telling us that sitting too close to the TV would make us go blind. (Fact: it causes eye strain at worst.) Nope: this time, our technology habits are putting a huge strain on our bodies – and not just in terms of sleep.

When this piece was assigned to me, my editor mentioned experiencing tremors in her thumbs and forearms after she’d been typing too quickly – on top of repetition-induced strain if clicking too long or doing the same series of actions on her mouse or keyboard. Which sounds like The Office episode in which Toby tries to relay the issues stemming from carpal tunnel. (To Michael Scott’s humiliation.) But at the same time, she’s far from alone. Two years ago, Debra Milek of the University of Washington warned about increased cases of forward neck posture (think: a gooseneck), arm disorders, carpal tunnel, inflammation of the thumb’s tendon sheath (de Quervain’s tenosynovitis), and even cell phone elbow – all from the way we interact with our iPads, phones, computers, or whatever-else-tech-you’re-into. And unless we want to surrender to a lifetime of discomfort, pain, and irreversible damage, it’s time for some literal damage control. So, here’s a few tips on where to start:

1) Keep your bedroom screen-free

Or, at the very least, refrain from using your cell phone in the dark before bedtime. But if even that makes you want to scream into the night, follow The Sound Sleep Institute’s tips by turning technology off about half an hour before bed, and slowly increasing off-time as you progress. And you can start even smaller: if pre-sleep TV is like a security blanket, keep your cell out of reach or dim your screen so your eyes aren’t completely battling.

2) Keep technology at eye level

If your computer isn’t at eye level, you’re likely more than familiar with the neck and back tension that starts to creep up as the week goes on. Fortunately, that can be amended, at least according to The Guardian’s Jack Schofield:

“Your eyes should be roughly level with the top of your screen, your arms should be roughly horizontal to the keyboard, and your feet should be flat on the floor with your hips slightly above your knees,” he wrote a few years back. “You should sit up reasonably straight, with the chair supporting your back.”

And this may mean adjusting your chair, picking up a computer stand, or getting a separate keyboard (if you’re using a laptop). The good news? You can likely write all of it off since it’s work-related. The better news? You will no longer feel like death.

3) Try at-desk yoga

I know, I know – this sounds like a lot. But there’s a way to stretch and breathe without rolling the mat out and confusing your co-workers. YouTube channels like Yoga With Adriene feature clips like Yoga At Your Desk, which are easy and quick ways to re-centre yourself at work (in less than ten minutes.) And it’s amazing what a difference a few minutes of stretching makes. Especially if you’re stressing out and already tense (or if this is the only you-time you’ll get until bed.)

Can’t do desk yoga? Get up and walk around.

4) Listen to your body

We’re all addicted to technology, and the first step is admitting it. But as suggested by Milek, that obsession with whatever-we’re-using shouldn’t trump what your body’s trying to tell you. When your fingers or arms or neck begins to hurt, put down your phone or stop typing before the numbness and aching comes through.

5) Change up the norm

And if you can’t put down what you’re doing? Consider alternatives.

“Use other fingers for texting instead of only using your thumb,” Malik recommends. “There’s also a whole other hand to use. For any really lengthy text messages, think about using the voice-activated feature or an add-on portable keyboard. With really long phone calls, switch to speakerphone or a headset so that you don’t have to hold the phone for a prolonged period of time.”

Ultimately, shifting your relationship with technology takes commitment, and preventing tech stress depends on us being mindful about the negative impacts of living in such a technology-saturated world. Sure, phones and tablets and laptops make things easy, but if they’re compromising our ability to sleep or function, they’re negating any/all benefits they have.

Which means it’s on us to be responsible for our own tech habits, tedious as that may be. While I know I’ll never not fall asleep in front of dimmed-screen Veep reruns (they’re comforting, okay?) I have started to keep my cell phone out of reach and reserve Snapchat creeping for the morning (and daylight.. And to be honest, it’s helped. I fall asleep a little sooner, I squint a lot less, and, by keeping my clock covered up at night, I’m less fixated on what time it is – which is surprisingly debilitating when you’re trying to relax.

The next step? Accepting that the world won’t end if we leave our screens and go take a few deep breaths outside.