THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION (APA), in its annual survey on “Stress in America™” has looked at sources and effects of stress on “health and sense of well-being on Americans living in the United States” since 2006.
Until January 2017, the survey had revealed that “overall” levels decreased every year since that initial report, with the lowest level in a decade charted in August 2016.
That August survey also “revealed that social media conversations about politics and culture have had an impact on Americans’ stress’. Almost 4 of 10 adults said that these discussions caused them stress.” In fact, those whose used social media seemed to be more stressed about the 2016 election than those who did not.
Unfortunately, a change in the steady state was detected in a special additional January 2017 poll which revealed more Americans were feeling stressed. Rather than the usual issues (money, work, and the economy), people were “citing personal safety and terrorism” as concerns, possibly building upon the polled psychologists’ patients expressed anxiety about the upcoming US elections reported earlier in the year.
Part 2 of the survey was conducted to follow-up on this stress increase and find links between Americans’ use of technology and social media and their “stress, relationships and overall health and well-being”. The survey report indicates that the percentage of Americans using social media increased greatly over the past decade (7% in 2005, to 65% in 2015), with the largest increase seen in the ages 18-29 years (12% to 90%). It says 43% of Americans are “constant checkers” of emails, texts, and social media accounts.
Here’s an excerpt from that report: “For constant checkers, stress runs higher than for those who do not engage with technology as frequently. On a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” the average reported overall stress level of constant checkers is 5.3. For non-constant checkers, the average reported stress level is 4.4. Constant checkers also reported a higher average level of stress related to technology during the past month than their non-constant checking peers (3.0 vs. 2.5, respectively). Among employed Americans who check their work email constantly on non-workdays, their reported overall stress level is 6.0.”
Although about 65% of us feel it’s a great idea to periodically ‘unplug’ or ‘detox’ for the sake of mental health, few report doing so (roughly 28%).
What this means for runners and exercisers is that communicating and checking in with social media at or around the time of exercise could potentially cancel or diminish the health benefits of our sessions. Especially if we check-in constantly, allow interruptions, and perceive such activities as stress provoking.
Rather than totally unplugging indiscriminately for large chunks of time, prioritizing and identifying smaller critical periods to be offline may be easier. Families try to do this. Perhaps laying down some ground rules to carve out specific running/exercise times, as we do with sacred family and friend time, can preserve its positive effect on our physical and mental well-being. We, like most Americans as the report shows, probably know we should disconnect from electronic devices, but don’t.
However, it’s not as simple as it seems for highly active individuals. Many use tracking devises and GPS while running, walking, and exercising. We possibly are as addicted to physical feedback and performance measures as to social media, and may even regularly share this data on social media.
There is online advice on how to ‘disconnect’ by tech experts. Check it out if you understand the methods and don’t find tinkering with phone settings each time you train another unwelcome stress.
Another option is to return to the time-honored practice of running by feel that allows you to turn off most phone functions (switching to airplane mode is one tactic). Advocates include Coach Jay Johnson (his newsletter) and Matt Fitzgerald (his book). Coach Jenny Hadfield recently wrote an article for Runnersworld.com on the subject. She offers a step-wise approach that might be easier than going cold-turkey.
The bottom line is that time spent improving our physical selves is precious, just as the time is that’s devoted to building and preserving personal relationships. We should make the most of it when possible.
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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