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Digital Addiction: Wired for Stress?

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The early 21st century brought about a major change in the way we communicate using mobile electronics. The advent of the cell phone and its descendant, the smartphone, meant we were no longer bound to a nearby telephone receiver to hold voice conversations, send and receive text messages and email, post comments on social media and browse the internet. And yet, with this new freedom came new health and safety issues.  

By now, we're likely all familiar with the dangers of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. But research into smartphone use over the past decade or so shows that distracted driving isn’t the only hazard faced when going mobile with mobile devices.  

More than four out of five adults in the U.S. (86 percent) report that they constantly or often check their email, texts and social media accounts, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) report "Stress in America™: Coping with Change" released earlier this year. The report’s findings suggest that attachment to devices and the constant use of technology is associated with higher stress levels among those who participated in the study.

This excessive technology and social media use has given rise to the “constant checker” — a person who checks his or her email, texts and social media accounts on a constant basis. The survey found that stress level is higher, on average, for constant checkers than for those who do not engage with technology as frequently. 

On a 10-point scale, where one equates “little or no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress,” the average reported overall stress level for constant checkers is 5.3, compared with 4.4 for those who don’t check as frequently. Among the ranks of the employed in the United States who check their work email constantly on their days off, the reported overall stress level is even higher – 6.0.

Just under two-thirds of those surveyed (65 percent) indicated that they somewhat or strongly agree that periodically “unplugging” or taking a “digital detox” is important for their mental health. However, only 28 percent of those who say this actually report doing so. Other commonly reported strategies used by people in the U.S. to manage their technology usage include not allowing cell phones at the dinner table (28 percent) and turning of notifications for social media apps (19 percent).

For the past decade, the American Psychological Association has commissioned The Stress in America™ survey to measure attitudes and perceptions of stress among the general public and identifies leading sources of stress, common behaviors used to manage stress and the impact of stress on people’s lives. 

The full report of the most recent study is available at http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/technology-social-media.PDF

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Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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