A modern-day disease, stress seems to be an unavoidable part of today’s fast pace of life, blamed for countless ills from aging and depression to cancer or heart disease. But is it this the problem indeed? Or is it more about reframing our mindset?
Doctor Sharon Coen – a senior Media Psychology lecturer at the University of Salford, examines how stress can affect people’s lifestyle and how the media enhances our angst.
Imagine the following situation: you are running late, you are worried about making your morning meeting, your hands feel clammy as they clutch on your smartphone, frantically trying to tap out an e-mail to let everyone know that you are on your way, traffic allowing. Email sent, you are now inevitably stressed about being stressed. That evening as you get back at home, you anxiously wonder if that tough start to the day adversely affected your meeting and even your health.
“In the past people were not concerned about this topic. There was no one looking at stress because no academic was trying to define it and work on it. So it is hard to say whether pressure has increased as such because we don’t have data about stress before the modern era,” Dr. Coen explains.
Stress is the modern villain – The European Heart Journal published data in 2013 from a 29-year health study, examining thousands of civil servants based in London which shown that 50 percent of participants experienced stressful situations that affected their health “a lot” or “extremely”.
Stress lurks around every corner, ready to grip you with each refresh of your emails, able to take hold both physically and mentally. Raised stress levels have been shown to contribute to aging, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression, not to mention the additional psychological toll that comes with worrying about how much stress you are under.
“It is certainly the case that the advances in modern technology have contributed to pointing stress in our lives.” Explains d-r Coen. “For example, the e-mail introduction in our lives has been responsible for increased demands on employees in different professional fields. The fact that you can be reached at any time of the day and night by anyone with queries or requests that keep piling up in your inbox, rather than on your desk, apparently means that people feel that they are working-life extends beyond their actual hours.”
Indeed, new forms of communication have increased demands on certain activities and to cope with this, it should be taken into account by employers, when they are considering work ethics. Dr. Coen suggests that an adequate solution would be if there is a clear communication policy set up in parallel to the work system.
Very often people blame their anxiety and depression on the introduction of media and social media. However, according to Dr. Coen media is only a tool to connect and communicate with people.
“Within a society, there is a strong set of values and rules about communication. The medium itself doesn’t have the power to induce dependency or certain negative psychological outcome.”
Dr. Coen has observed a new phenomenon called Binge-watching.
Which, in a nutshell, is a new type of consumer who has evolved in recent years—the love child of the Couch Potato and the Channel Surfer, raised by streaming devices and nurtured by entire seasons of shows available at the click of a remote or the mouse button.
For just a few dollars a month, subscribers to Netflix, Popcorn Time, and Amazon Instant Video have access to thousands of streaming movies and TV shows, all updated regularly. And with Netflix’s new post-play feature, which prompts viewers to play the next episode just as the credits of the last one begin rolling, it’s easier than ever to succumb to the appeal of Walter White and Frank Underwood.
“The birth of the binge-watcher has been an intriguing, unexpected development in the past five years. Neuroscience, it turns out, can partially explain the phenomenon.
It is all about because there is the internet that people are binge-watching TV series and it needs to be acknowledged, for sure, that marketers use strategies to induce us or to make us eager to want to know more and to watch more, to get sat on our sofas for hours and hours. But at the same time, if you think of it, if we had a healthier society, in general, that wasn’t driven by certain values and needs, these mechanisms will not so easily fool us. Education and awareness are the keys. You need to be able to structure your free time and only then will the audience become dominant and in charge.”
Social media is one of the main forms of communication. When smartphones were introduced, people became available to their friends and family 24 hours a day, which overall gives us the opportunity to overcome a growing isolation that we suffer within our society.
Dr. Saron explains that media often leaves the impression that the world is a dangerous, criminal and evil place and people should feel more safe and comfortable at home.
“But at the same time, because we are human beings, we need connection, we need to feel part of something larger than ourselves.”
Social media, like everything else, is the tool that can and needs to be used for greater things and to keep in touch, as well as to establish new connections. However, the key is awareness, because there are many risks such as cyberbullying and people becoming an object to cyberbullying. There is an enormous need of training and literacy. Everyone should know what the risks, the advantages and, the importance are.
To relax and be able to enjoy our personal space, Dr. Coen says that pulling the plug for a while just to regain control is not a bad idea.
And don’t forget to take “vacations” to remind yourselves that you have to take care of the real space outside the cyber world.
By Anna Ilieva