Does your smartphone stress you out?

Confession: I grew up before the Internet was invented

I remember being shown round a ‘computer cluster’ (room with lots of computers in) at University by my housemate. He introduced me to Netscape Navigator. He showed me how to use email. My first ever email message was to him. He was sitting next to me. It read ‘Shall we go to the pub now?’

I didn’t really understand the point of email back then. Skip forward twenty years and the world is a very different place. One in three people on the planet have an email address. By 2018, it is projected that over a third of the world’s population will own a smartphone – that’s an estimated total of almost 2.53 billion smartphone users in the world.

We are constantly connected. Strangers stumble blindly into each other in the street, their eyes glued to their phones. Friends sit together in silence in bars, restaurants and coffee shops scrolling through their news feeds. Business meetings become ineffective as executives pay partial attention to the agenda discussion in an attempt to keep their email messages under control.

If aliens landed they might think our smartphones were a physical part of us. For many people they are. Have you experienced that gut wrenching panic when for a split second you don’t know where your phone is? Is that healthy?

Our smartphones rule us. They buzz and chime when we receive a text, a WhatsApp, an email, a Facebook update or when we are mentioned on Twitter. And the list goes on. Sometimes people even call us, but actually speaking to someone doesn’t happen as often anymore.

When we hear a buzz or a chime we jump to attention and respond instantly. We are constantly connected yet always distracted. I don’t believe that this can be any good for our mental or physical health

I was at a workshop on ‘Resilience: holding onto your sanity in an increasingly crazy world’ with the excellent Sarah Pryce, The Critical Friend last month.

The group discussed the things that caused them the most stress and feelings of overwhelm. It wasn’t Brexit, or the impending General Election or even Donald Trump as president of the USA. The biggest stress trigger was email.

Can your email really be the biggest cause of stress?

The constant pressure of being contactable at all hours because your email is in your smartphone (whether the sender expected a reply or not) was massively stressful for many people. Then on top of the email stress add the alerts and reminders from other apps and most people felt that they were in a state of perpetual overwhelm.

Smartphones have changed our behaviour. I believe many of us are addicted. We are addicted to the gratification of the buzz and chime. We restlessly check for responses to emails or if we have been ‘liked’. We seek the reward, the self-affirmation when someone likes or comments on our posts. We get upset if we are not ‘liked’ enough. We keep checking and checking and if we don’t get the response we need it becomes less about reward and more about anxiety.

Psychologists Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson would say that we are caught in a dopamine loop.

Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain during pleasurable situations. It also stimulates us to seek out the pleasurable activity. The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. So if there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, like for example the sound of a text or email arriving we are flooded with dopamine and it feels good.

We are like Pavlov’s salivating dogs. We hear the smartphone chime and we pick it up to get our reward.

I believe that this reward and anxiety that smartphone use can trigger is bad for both our physical and mental health. So here are our tips to keep a healthier relationship with your smartphone.

  1. Turn off your email reminder. Check your emails first thing in the morning, midday and in the late afternoon. For the rest of the time get on with doing the day job. You might take the pressure off by setting an out of office telling people that you will only be checking email x3 a day.
  2. Stop idly checking Facebook /Twitter/Instagram etc, it sucks away the most precious commodity you have; time. Set yourself an allocated time each day to check these channels.
  3. Practice mindfulness – being more present in the moment. For tips on how to practice mindfulness go here. 
  4. Think before you post – why are you posting something? How does it add value to the people who will see it? If you’re only posting it for your own gratification and it doesn’t benefit the people who will see it – don’t post it.
  5. Be present. If you are spending time with friends and family, are in a meeting, or have a piece of work to do that requires concentration. Put your phone away. Get into the habit of not checking it every two minutes.

What if we stopped being constantly connected in favour of being more meaningfully connected? Might this help to tackle those feelings of stress and overwhelm.

This blog was first published at www.lucidity.org.uk.

May
9

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The Power of Unity: Fundraising Teams

A guest blog by Sally Collins.

Fundraising projects, and their success or failure, often depend on the ability of the team to function as a coherent unit.  The dynamics of a successful team can be complex, but tend to revolve around communication and well-defined team roles. This is where lessons can be learned from other areas of the business world: the team building activity or day can be extremely useful when it comes to fostering a spirit of togetherness in a fundraising team.

Team Building Days

Many people may roll their eyes at this, and imagine some excruciating adult version of a failed school trip, but there is a reason that many extremely successful companies make use of team building days, and that is because when they are done well they can produce some genuinely superb results for your team.  Many of the team building cynics probably imagine activities full of forced leadership analogies and ham-fisted ‘lessons’ encased in some grotesque parody of fun, and these types of team away days do exist, but successful ones eschew that approach in favour of a much simpler one: get your team to come together and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

Communication

One of the fundamental benefits of a team building day is communication, or rather, improved communication between team members.  Many of the best team building activities involve something that is both genuinely fun and requires some element of problem solving.  Let’s take, for example, the idea of the Crystal Maze, the live action version of the beloved 90s TV show.  Clearly the tasks involved have nothing whatsoever to do with fundraising, but they do require the team to come together, support each other and communicate – indeed, some of the tasks can only be completed by communicating clearly and accurately under pressure.  Furthermore, they are also hugely enjoyable.

The benefits that come from something like this are actually quantifiable; a team that communicates better, particularly when under time-pressure, will be a team that can achieve more, whatever the task they are set.  Good communication and supportiveness within a team are transferable skills.  Of course, if your team building day involves an activity requiring physicality, then it’s important that you, as the organiser, are prepared and have taken all necessary and reasonable precautions to prevent injury; accidents happen, but make sure one doesn’t occur due to negligence.

Team Roles

Another way that a team building day can positively impact your fundraising team or project is via the development and clarification of team roles.  A fun activity, seemingly completely unrelated to anything to do with your business or fundraising team, is actually a great way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team.

A successful and high-functioning fundraising team requires a range of varying skills, and different people are stronger at certain tasks: some people may be great at taking the initiative, others at delegating tasks, others at quality control.  Being able to accurately assess the strengths of your team means that you will be able to deploy your team with maximum effectiveness, and if your team are fundraisers, then that equates to more money for whichever cause or institution you are working for.

Fundraising is a tough business.  It is also vital, worthwhile and rewarding, but it is tough and it is business.  Bearing this in mind, there are many lessons from the business world that can be translated into a fundraising team or project, and that can be used to improve morale, performance and, ultimately, increase the amount of money that your team can raise.

Sally Collins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.

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