Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.

~ Philip K. Dick

It was bound to catch up to us one day.

Techies seem to be the rockstars of today’s society. This is really funny, because most of us are pretty much the opposite of a rockstar. We have no social skills, a lot of us play World of Warcraft, and we like to wear weird gadgets that we impulsively bought on Amazon after reading about it in Wired magazine, which most likely do stuff like dynamically update the geocaching map that we have on our website that no one visits ever.

Still, these days, it seems everyone wants to get into the tech field. And with the techie population swelling each year, more and more of us are being exposed to harmful variables that most of us are completely clueless about. What variables are these? Well, buckle up. There’s a lot.

Just for kicks, here’s a fun fact:

“The very origin of the meaning of “work” alludes to its dual status as an activity that involves suffering and achievement, since the Latin word trapalium (“work”) means a three-piece instrument which was used both as an agricultural tool and an instrument of torture.”

-Quoted from this study

When I was researching this subject, I was actually amazed by all the supporting research that I was able to find. Not only are there studies dating back to the ’80s, but there are lots of them. And none of them are utopian.

You might blow a brain fuse

One of the main dangers of spinning your little hamster wheel too fast for too long is prolonged cognitive load, which is basically exactly what it sounds like: putting your brain under stress for too long of a time. This is a common side effect for some professions which you could probably guess, like engineers, doctors, and of course, tech workers.

What’s the big deal? I’ll tell you what the big deal is, fella. Prolonged cognitive load can cause a myriad of malfunctions, such as:

  • Increased sympathetic activity – no, this doesn’t mean that you’ll actually feel bad for Lauren Burnham for getting dumped at the last second on the bachelor. It means that these things happen:
    • dilated pupils
    • increased heart rate
    • increased adrenaline and noradrenaline
    • quickened breathing
    • excessive sweating
    • decreased movement of the large intestine (you won’t poop)
    • elevated blood pressure

    Basically, you’re in fight or flight mode. As if techies didn’t drink enough coffee and energy drinks, you’re going to go and put yourself in constant fight or flight mode, too.

  • Decreased parasympathetic activity
    While the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” nervous state, the parasympathetic system is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” nervous state. The symptoms of decreased activity in this system are typically as follows:

    • an inability to change heart rate with exercise, which can lead to excessive cardiac work, which can increase your risk for ailments like chronic heart failure and coronary artery disease
    • sexual dysfunction in both men and women (now I finally have your attention)
    • difficulty urinating, incontinence, inability to empty bladder completely
    • loss of appetite
    • constipation
    • diarrhea
    • difficulty swallowing
    • bloating
    • orthostatic hypotension (dizziness when standing up)
    • tremors
    • muscle weakness

Sounds like a commercial for Zoloft, doesn’t it? But wait! There’s more!

Workplace loneliness is a real problem. For 45 hours a week I feel isolated
~ Anonymous

Sure, you might be sitting at work with 10-50 other employees, maybe even more. But are you engaged with them? No. Those of us in the tech field, and here I put emphasis on developers and programmers, are largely talking in code to a little black screen all day, with numbers and functions and logic running through our brains all day – like…a robot.

This is a scenario that I like to refer to as virtual isolation. You’re not physically isolated, but you are mentally isolated, which can be just as bad for your mental well-being. So I guess I should really be calling it mental isolation. Whatever. You get the gist.

All jokes aside, we all probably have some idea what sort of psychological effects isolation can have on the psyche, or maybe I’m just a little too intrigued by mental illness. Either way, I’ll list some of them out for those of you who may not know:

  • depression
  • anxiety (real, physical anxiety that you feel in your chest and won’t go away, not casual nerves)
  • lessened quality and efficiency of sleep
  • elevated levels of circulating stress hormones, which consequently leads to cardiac overwork, thereby damaging the blood vessels
  • decrease in quality of social interactions
  • overall increase in stress, even when “relaxing”
  • increased risk of suicide

If all that isn’t enough, there’s still more.

Yes, too much screentime is bad for you, not just your kids.

via GIPHY

There are, of course, a lot of commonly-known reasons for why screens are bad for all of us. Whether it’s radioactive waves, blue light, or lessening attention span, we’ve heard a lot of it on the news. But here are some things you may not have known that overexposure to devices, including your laptops/desktops, can cause:

  • sleep disturbances
  • depression
  • increased stress levels
  • development of Internet addiction
  • social isolation (see above)
  • and, in some extreme cases, psychosis

All is not hopeless

I’m not a horrible human being, or a sadist, so I wouldn’t tell you all of this without of course giving you some methods to balance out these horrible side effects. See, we’re better than Zoloft.

  • Go for walks: There’s plenty of information out there that talks about the benefits of walking. Even just three 40 minute walks a week can grow the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for your autonomic nervous system (the aforementioned sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems combined), creating new memories, and regulating mood.
  • Download and use f.lux: f.lux helps regulate and minimize blue light exposure. If you’re not familiar with the effects of blue light exposure, check out this link.
  • Drink water
  • Breathe
  • Cut down on technology usage outside of work. Sure, it’s tempting to go home, check the Facebook, fire up the Xbox, and deep-dive into some COD WWII Live. But if you want be healthy, try and cut the phone and Xbox time in half, at a minimum.
  • Frequent conversation with coworkers, peers, family, etc, whether that be virtually or in person
  • Listen to relaxing music

Obviously, the tech field is not going away, and besides, it’s a great way to make a career, and a living.

However, with the research out there, taking action now to limit the negative effects of working in the tech field is, at the least, a decent investment in your own mental and physical well being.

Then again, maybe you like to pretend you’re Neo, and all of this stuff just doesn’t jive with that. Hey, it’s your life. I’m just rambling about the end times.

Published 04/06/18 by Doug Sumner