It’s not enough to sit quietly while waiting for the bus; you feel the urge to check your e-mail. While standing in line at the grocery store, you text a friend. You never allow a day go by without checking your e-mail, updating your Facebook status, or posting a tweet.
We are attached to our computers and smart phones. We grab our cell phones along with keys on the way out the door. This is the age of instant gratification and “I want it now.” We want, and urgently feel the need, to be instantly connected to our friends, family, and work. We love that feeling of comfort the moment we connect, and enjoy the rush we get when a new message arrives.
Today, we consume three times more information than our parents did in the 1960s. With the deluge of information and being constantly connected to everyone, what is the toll on us? Although researchers are still digging and conducting studies, there is some evidence surfacing that we may be increasing our stress levels, losing our long-term memory and creativity, gaining weight, and, potentially, creating an addiction.
Some studies show that being constantly connected to e-mail, social media sites, video games, and your cell phone may cause increased stress levels. When you stop doing your primary task to check your e-mail/voicemail/text message, you can experience stress. The stress hormone, cortisol, is released, and this gives you a rush. Too much cortisol, studies show, and it can have a negative effect on your long-term memory.
Researchers have found evidence that our brains need downtime. When we’re not doing anything, our brain is able to create on its own, and this aids in learning and creativity. When we constantly feed it information, it doesn’t have time to recharge and regenerate. When you’re bored, your brain continues to work, creating new ideas, and thoughts. It is through downtime that we can increase our creativity and learning.
Many of us have stayed up late playing an online game, checking Facebook, or answering e-mails. By losing sleep, you might be increasing your chances of gaining weight, not to mention increasing your stress and anxiety levels. As mentioned previously, your brain needs time to disconnect and recharge to help you maintain balance. Also, playing video and online games might cause a steady release of dopamine. While this is still being researched with heavy users of video games, early evidence shows that you can become addicted to the rush you receive when the dopamine is released. You may continually return to the activity that gives you the rush which may disrupt normal, healthy patterns in your life.
As a self-proclaimed multitasker, I was shocked to learn that we can only pay attention to one stream of information at a time. Researchers have shown that we are incapable of doing two things at once. They have said that if you answer e-mail while you are working, you might find it difficult to switch from task to task. Researchers also say that multitaskers might have trouble focusing on one task, and have problems filtering out unrelated information, thus slowing them down on completing the task at hand.
On some level, we all knew that being constantly connected was harmful, so why do we continue to do it? It’s for that sense of comfort, connection, and reinforcement. We have conditioned ourselves to look for reinforcement, either positive or negative, from all our communications.
How can you avoid all of this and find balance in your life again? Turn off our device, sit on your hands, and just breathe. Alternatively, you could consciously decide when it’s appropriate to be connected. Over the next few days, be aware of when the impulse drives you, and when you drive it. Then consciously decide if you’re checking e-mail because there is a valid reason, or because you just feel the need.