5 Work Stresses You Can Alleviate with Tech
by Alexandra Samuel
From the pressure to keep up with social media to the low-level irritation produced by a world in which something is always beeping or buzzing, technology can produce its own set of anxieties.
At the very least, you need to organize your devices, accounts and online time so that you reduce your tech-induced stress. That means letting go of the idea that you need to keep up with social media, reply to every email and accumulate the maximum number of LinkedIn connections.
But keeping your online life from driving you crazy isn’t enough; you can also harness your devices and platforms so that they reduce stress and support good mental health. Here’s how technology can help you tackle five of the most common sources of work-related stress:
Distraction: Whether it’s a constant stream of colleagues knocking on your door with a quick question, or your own tendency to fall into a Buzzfeed quiz hole when you should be working on a Powerpoint deck, distraction is a major contributor to workplace stress. Rein in online distractions with tools like RescueTime (which tracks how you spend your time online), Focus (which blocks distracting websites) or Freedom (which can keep you offline altogether). To get dedicated chunks of work time without real-world interruptions, your best bet is to block off chunks of time in your calendar—then close your door (or get out of the office) and turn off your inter-office chat and email clients.
The demanding boss: If your boss typically contributes to your work stress, rather than alleviating it, it’s time to tame your boss with technology. Have you got a manager who emails you after hours, and expects a response before the next business day? Set up an email filter that sends you a text message when she emails you (so you can stop constantly checking your inbox). If you want to strike a balance between reinforcing her behavior with immediate responses and jeopardizing your job by ignoring after-hours messaging, use a tool like Outlook’s delay delivery or the Boomerang Gmail extension to time your response for a few hours after your boss has emailed. Have you got a manager who only points out your shortcomings, instead of your accomplishments? Use a note-taking program like Evernote to build a file of project notes and positive email feedback that you can show your boss at your next performance review.
The draining commute: Long commutes are one of the top reasons people feel dissatisfied with their work. But your commute can be a productive, energizing or restorative part of your day if you’ve got the right toolkit. For a productive commute by transit, install a newsreader like Feedly or Flipboard and use it to follow news in your field and related industries; hook your newsreader up to Buffer or Hootsuite and queue up a day or week’s worth of tweets and LinkedIn updates while you’re on your way to or from work. For an energizing commute by foot or bike, combine your commute with a workout by using Spotify’s Running feature to get a playlist calibrated to your pace, or the Gymboss app to power you up with interval training (you’ll want a shower at the other end of your commute). For a restorative commute, resist the urge to subscribe to podcasts that make you a better salesperson or in-the-know HR pro, and instead subscribe to podcasts that speak to personal interests like parenting, comedy, or creativity.
Fear of missing out: Professionals have long struggled with anxiety about what they’re missing—the conferences they aren’t attending, the meetings they aren’t invited to, or the industry news they’re the last to hear. But social media makes that fear of missing out (aka FOMO) a lot tougher, because we’re constantly subjected to the tweets, Facebook posts, and LinkedIn updates about all the stuff we’re not doing. If you want to improve your character and mental resilience, you can take each of these moments as an opportunity to build your character and transcend your own petty jealousies—or you can do what I do, and filter out the content that triggers your FOMO. If I’m not attending the SXSW Interactive Festival, for example, I use Tweetdeck to filter out any tweets about SXSW; and if I have a particular colleague whose Facebook updates often trigger my anxieties, I hide him permanently from my Facebook feed.
Sleeplessness: When you’re facing a major deadline or a difficult issue at work, bedtime can be a nightmare: instead of falling asleep, your brain fixates on work and ramps up your anxiety levels. My favorite way to combat that bedtime anxiety attack is with my iPhone. Listening to an audiobook from Audible—typically something light and funny—can usually keep my mind off my work long enough to let me fall asleep; Audible even offers a sleep timer that automatically shuts off your phone after 15 or 30 minutes. If I’m too stressed out for a mere audiobook, I use a guided meditation recording or a meditation app like Stop, Breathe & Think.
Your anti-stress tech toolkit needn’t be confined to these five stressors. Once you start thinking of technology as an ally in combatting stress, rather than yet another source of work stress, you can work to identify the tools and workflows that can help you tackle each of your major sources of work-related stress.
Alexandra Samuel is a speaker, researcher and writer who works with the world’s leading companies to understand their online customers and craft data-driven reports like Sharing is the New Buying. The author of Work Smarter with Social Media (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), Alex holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University. Follow Alex on Twitter as @awsamuel.