Technology Stress

Is your computer (and other technology) causing you stress?

The use of computers and smart phones on a daily basis has become very common in the workplace setting.  For clinicians, I'm not sure if I can think of an instance where a clinician wouldn't need to have access to a computer or phone at some time during their work day!

Now that it has become more common for people to have computers both at home and in the workplace setting, along with carrying their smart phones with them constantly, it has become increasingly harder to separate work and home life as we become more dependent on technology.

Not only can workers be contacted by their employers or clients via e-mail or phone at any time, workers may continually check emails or messages after hours and continue working on projects long after the "work day" has ended.  Workers who tele-commute may find that they are spending even more hours on "work" if they don't establish clear boundaries between their work life and their personal life.  Workers may even find themselves spending more time with their computers than with their spouses or family members.  A survey conducted by Kelton Research (2007), reported that 65% of 1000 Americans sampled spent more time with their computer than their spouse and spent about 12 hours a month on fixing computer-related issues.

A study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (2012) conducted with over 4,000 young adults reported that heavy technology use was linked to fatigue, stress and depression.  Heavy cell phone use and constant accessibility via cell phones was linked to increases in sleep disorders and depressive symptoms.  Heavy computer use was liked to sleep disorders and late night computer use associated with sleep disorders, stress, and depressive symptoms.

The term "Computer Stress Syndrome" was coined to address the overwhelming stress and frustration people experienced due to numerous, persistent technological problems, such as "...technical failures, viral infections, and long waits to resolve support issues".  An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive (October 2013), reported that 45 percent of 2,025 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 admitted that waiting for a slow computer left them feeling more drained than a hard workout.  Just two hours a week spent waiting on a slow computer leaves people feeling "...drained, stressed, and less likely to engage in a healthy lifestyle".

Tips for improving technology-related stress:

Practice Office Ergonomics - Focus on proper posture and placement of your monitor and keyboard.
Make sure your computer is in front of you, rater than to the side, to minimize twisting your body or neck.  Reduce glare on your screen by modifying overhead lights or placing your monitor away from windows and blinds to reduce eyestrain.

Create a contact list for computer support.  This may be your Office IT Department, nearby computer store, online resource (website or blog), or co-workers or friends with technical savvy.  Don't let your computer problems create unnecessary stress or panic.  Reach out for help when needed.

Set a timer every hour and take a five minute stretch or short walk.  Your body and your mind will thank you!

Don't take your work home with you.  Don't check or respond to emails or phone calls after work hours unless it is an emergency situation or a job requirement.

Turn off your computer (and TV) at least one hour before sleep.  Lights from TV and computer screens affect melatonin production and melanopsin stimulation, and throw off circadian rhythms, thus, interrupting or preventing deep, restorative sleep and causing increases in stress and depressive symptoms.

Choose Wellness!


Assessing for Workplace Wellness

The World Health Organization states that occupational health should address all aspects of health and safely in the workplace with a strong focus on prevention of hazards, including stress-related disorders.

Throughout the world, there has been increasing concern regarding the wellness of employees.  Unfortunately, this concern has received more attention in recent years only due to the economic burden associated with the obesity epidemic and numerous chronic diseases that have been linked to obesity, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

Workplace Wellness refers to the organizational policies and workplace activities focused on health promotion. Examples might include providing health coaching or weight management programs, wellness newsletters, allowing flex time for exercising, offering healthy food options in vending machines or workplace cafeterias, or offering financial incentives to participate in health-related activities.

While many larger organizations, such as universities, may offer workplace wellness programs, smaller organizations and businesses, such as mental health agencies, may not offer a wellness program or include wellness in their organizational policies.  Counselors may, in many cases, be responsible for creating their own wellness plans to manage work-related stress or other health concerns.  Unfortunately, many counselors may not realize that the pressure from their workload has become excessive and unmanageable until they experience health problems or exhibit problems in their work performance.

The American Counseling Association's Task Force on Counselor Wellness and Impairment has created a resource page on their website to address the needs of impaired counselors.  For counselors who may be experiencing workplace stress or who would like to monitor their level of stress there are two assessment tools, Self-Care Assessment and Stress Reactions Inventory,  that can be utilized by counselors on a regular basis.  The Professional Quality of Life assessment (and manual) measures compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatization, and the potential for burnout in counselors.

Choose Wellness!

Being Authentic includes Self-Care

As counselors we know that being authentic with our clients is important for establishing and building relationships.  As we work with clients to help them improve their level of wellness and self-care, it is important that we practice what we preach.

Counseling is a "one-way caring relationship" and some therapists may be naturally inclined to focus on the needs of others first or become caretakers in their personal relationships.  It may be difficult for some therapists to focus on themselves and practice the self-care or wellness tips that they highly recommend to their clients or loved ones.

Instead of going it alone, counselors can reach out to peers and other professionals to create wellness support groups or participate in ongoing activities outside of work to promote wellness, such as attending yoga classes, scheduling lunch dates with peers, or attending a movie with friends or family.

At work, instead of looking at wellness as something you "do" once or twice a week, begin to incorporate wellness into your daily work routine as much as possible.  This could mean taking a couple of minutes for a mindfulness meditation between clients, setting boundaries regarding the number of clients you see each day or adjusting the times when they are scheduled, taking several 15-minute breaks throughout the day to get outside, walk around and take in some fresh air, or meeting with a peer consultation group or a clinical supervisor on a weekly basis to problem-solve cases.

Choose Wellness!

Resources:Shallcross, L. (2011).  Taking care of yourself as a counselor.  Counseling Today.  American Counseling Association.  


Work Engagement

The results are in!  GALLUP's survey, State of the American Workplace:  2010 - 2012, reports that 70 percent of workers in the United States are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work!

The term "actively disengaged" refers to those employees who are emotionally disconnected from their companies and, as such, more likely to miss work and negatively influence coworkers and/or customers.

Participants in the study who were at the beginning and the end of their careers tended to be the most engaged in their work.  So, what does that mean for everyone else who is floating somewhere in the middle?

Tips for becoming more engaged in your work:

Focus on your strengths.  If you aren't using your strengths in your work, maybe it's time to let your boss know what your strengths are and how they might best be utilized.  Per GALLUP's research, people who used their strengths everyday were six times more likely to be engaged at work.  As clinician's we help our clients identify their strengths.  Have you been ignoring yours?

Know your roles and responsibilities and make sure you have the right tools and training to do your job.  If your role and responsibilities at work are unclear, you may need assistance from your supervisor to identify what they are.  If you are taking on other peoples responsibilities, it may be time to speak up and let them carry the load for themselves.  If you don't have the training that you need for the types of clients that you are working with then it's time to find the training that you need and seek supervision from someone who has the experience to guide you.

Be friendly and practice gratitude.  Everyday is another opportunity to build relationships with your co-workers and clients.  Practice gratitude by focusing on the positives in your work environment.  If there aren't too many positives, and you've tried to change things, it may be time to look for a job and a work environment that will build you up instead of tear you down.

If you are one of the 70 percent who are experiencing dissatisfaction with your job, you might want to ask yourself the following questions.  Share your responses with a friend or trusted peer if you need to process things.

What do I get out of my role or job?

What do I contribute to my job, my team and my company?

Do I belong in this job and with this company?  Do I have the ability to learn, grow and input my ideas here?

Based on your answers, you might find that you are able to tweak a few minor things at work that will increase your level of work satisfaction.
You may find that you are not able to change your responsibilities or a work situation that creates dissatisfaction but you may be able to make peace with it, especially if you can find the benefits that the job provides you with right now. 

Benefits might mean a decent salary that allows you to save a nest egg or pay off student loans, health insurance, educational or training opportunities, or a flexible schedule.  As a registered intern working towards mental health licensure, I remember the pay wasn't the best but I was getting the direct client contact hours and supervision I needed, plus some great experience conducting individual, group and couples counseling.  The work experience I gained during that time definitely outweighed the low salary I received. 

After evaluating your responses to the questions above, you may find that the negatives of your work completely outweigh the positives and it's time for you to look elsewhere for job satisfaction.  If so, it's time to happily update that resume and start networking because staying in a job that makes you miserable is just unhealthy.    
Choose Wellness!