Finding the Balance, Technology & Mental Health

Technology has helped keep many friends, families, schools, organisations & even governments stay connected and be able to function during the COVID19 Pandemic at mostly near pre-pandemic levels & in some cases beyond pre-pandemic levels. However, it is safe to say that even leading up to the pandemic there had been lots to consider about “Finding the Balance” between what is a good amount of technology & what is likely to be a detrimental amount of technology. As tech becomes more & more ingrained and essential in our day to day lives, we must strive to not only find the balance of how we use technology, but also to maintain it as well. This is to protect both our wellbeing, from over straining our eyes with too much screen time, but also as an important but often overlooked, our mental wellbeing too.

So, with that what does “Finding the Balance” mean? Read on to find out what I think is needed to help you in “finding the balance”.

Firstly,

Finding The Balance

This in its most basic of forms means getting back some “you” time, and for those of us in tech this is meant to mean time you regain to spend on other as opposed to any form of continual busy time, which now seems to regularly mean lots of screen time, like doing something tedious like going through your emails/app notifications or for many, app notifications that you have also received as emails 😒 & limiting those incredibly noisy apps (Twitter/Facebook/GitHub/Teams etc) from dragging all of your work and personal time. I say this as “doomscrolling” is not only incredibly simple to do, it is something that your mind can and does just accept you doing and can easily eat hours of your time without you realising.

You may be thinking, how can we do this??

I’d highly recommend making a list of apps that you need notifications from, like calls, texts, WhatsApp/Signal/Telegram, ones where you want notifications from & which notifications from those apps you actually care about and turning off any that you don’t care about & then turning off notifications from all those apps you have, but barely use.

Why, because most of the time we interact with a number of services is when we get a ping that something “may be of interest” which news sites & social media are terrible for, and then get drawn in to the service instead of doing what we actually were meant to be doing. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would 100% recommend that you go and watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix as this will open your eyes to the tactics used by some of the social networks to get you & keep you engaged, which by turning off your notifications you can balance your amount of interaction back in your favour.

Also be willing to sign out of apps like Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat/LinkedIn/Slack/Teams from your phone or even remove them to further help you find your right balance.

Most mobile operating systems have also in recent years gained the ability to track just how much time you have spent using individual apps & your smartphone in general. I am personally terrible for scrolling Twitter for hours, but that is because there is always something new there, that & I follow an interesting variety of people across many walks of life, but this is time that is quintessentially lost and could be better used.

For those of us with email and have it on our phones, laptops, desktops or tablets, make sure you set up Inbox Rules (Outlook) / Inbox Filters (Gmail) only allowing the most important to land directly into your Inbox & set up some folders for things – I personally make use of an Everything Else folder, with sub folders underneath for each important thing to me, which each have their own rule that rules the mail into a folder.

If you have followed the likes of Dona Sarka (if not I think you should – T | B) she posted this article recently How to make an extra 10-15 hours a week which is a great read & really helps to show what you could achieve if you were to rebalance the scales back into your productive side from time to time.

I would also recommend reading this article Attention Matters More than Time by Josh Duffney (T | B) as it’s an impactful piece as is this one The Digital Declutter which also mirrors some of the points I’ve made above.

Secondly,

Life isn’t just about work, nor is it about tech

Whilst this section is could be seen to be focused towards those of us that we work in the tech sector & have a tendency to eat, drink, breath & sleep technology (I know I do) is becoming as, if not more, important for everyone else who perhaps hadn’t been as deeply ingrained into using tech as frequently as those of us that live, breath and sleep tech.

Find at least 1 good non-tech hobby, preferably 3 or more and spend plenty of time with them. For example, I am an avid Snooker player & have a 6′ x 3′ table of my own (not that I have the right sized place for it) and I spend at least 12 hours a week playing. For me, it is perfect as a wind down from a long meeting or during my lunch break or just for figuring out those really difficult technical / non-technical questions of life.

I’d also recommend buying some interesting sounding books (physical is better, but kindle/audible versions are perfectly suitable too) and commit to reading them. I say this as not only is reading good for expanding your knowledge & vocabulary, but it helps in reducing “screen strain” on your eyes & has also been shown in studies to improve your mental health.

Get active, which means getting out and about (when safe to do so) it does not need to be to the gym, or the swimming pool, or perhaps to go play tennis, but do go and get out the house/flat, out of the town/city you live in and spend some time in the countryside, you know where there is an abundance of real fresh air. There are so many amazingly beautiful places to see around the world, so start planning a list of places to go and visit, in your country as well as places in other countries too. A good travel plan, especially a multi-year one, will give you plenty to look forward to in the months and years ahead! I know my list is growing by the week, with a tour of Scotland & its islands being very high up on my list.

Make sure you Stop living at work !!

Lastly,

Expand your horizon

By this I mean do not just sit in your comfort zones, whether that be from a technological perspective, or whether it is what you listen to whilst getting on with your day (music, podcasts, audiobooks) or what you read or watch or play to relax after your day as there is so much awesome content out there waiting to be consumed.

I recently rekindled my love not only for cooking for myself (after a long day in the office I used to get very lazy with food & cooking for myself) but also baking too which in part was helped by the last season of Great British Bake off & some much needed remote company during the series, especially as there really is nothing better than having a natter with friends whilst watching something you enjoy, and I have signed up to get the Bake off Box to get me baking more regularly again.

When it is safe to, make sure you go & visit somewhere new, whether that be 5 miles down the road in your local area or perhaps somewhere a little further afield like another county, or even country, whether in your nearest geographical region or perhaps even further afield still.

There is plenty out there to see and I’d recommend you check out some of the many Travel Blogs listed in this article Best Travel Blogs From Around The World To Inspire You by Matthew Karsten (T | B) and also check out one that an ex-colleague of mine has started up which is aptly called Get Lost and already shows some amazing parts of Yorkshire & I expect will have many many more in the future too.

2021, especially the first few months in the lead up to spring and also into summer will for many of us be incredibly challenging, but there is light at the end of that tunnel, please use this time to reflect on what you want from your life when the world goes back to a sense of normality post-vaccination and set some realistically achievable goals for what you want to achieve in 2021, like reading more, walking more, eating healthier, and most importantly giving yourself a much needed break from time to time by booking holiday from work & just having a bit of a disconnect even if you don’t end up going anywhere.

Humans are not one-dimensional beings so by ensuring you expand your horizons, you do what you can to make sure life isn’t just about work & tech, this should help you in Finding the Balance.

I’m Ryan ( twitter | blog ) a successful IT Consultant & the founder of mhasl and Mental Health Affects Someone Like Me

The Strains that #SleepDeprivation & #SleepDisturbances can take on your #MentalHealth & Physical Health – pt 1

This is the first part in a small series into The Strains that Sleep Deprivation & Sleep Disturbances can take on your Mental Health & Physical Health

We all know the importance of a good nights sleep, and the health benefits this brings us, right? If not then I recommend you have a quick read of this article that explains just a few of the benefits that a good nights sleep can bring you.

Whilst getting a good night sleep is important, this post is however going to focus on the issues that can arise from not getting a good nights sleep, what this can end up bringing you and contains some learnings from my own personal experiences.

Firstly, lets set out some items that this post will cover and their understood definitions, please note there are many links on this article leading to external sites for you to read at your leisure.

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances encompass disorders of initiating and maintaining sleep (DIMS, insomnia (NHS | Wikipedia), disorders of excessive somnolence (DOES), disorders of sleep–wake schedule, and dysfunctions associated with sleep, sleep stages, or partial arousals (parasomnia).

See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK401/ for even more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation, also known as insufficient sleep, is the condition of not having enough sleep. It can be either chronic or acute. The levels of sleep deprivation can vary widely.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_deprivation for more information.

Secondly, lets set a hypothetical scene, albeit for me an all too common one.

Its early one Thursday morning (pre 6am) and its all to common that for me to see this time of day is due to having been unable to actually drift off to sleep at all. This is something that I’ve personally experienced for well over 12 years now, all in varying different scales & can at times be the scale where it is almost unnoticeable to me, to the other extreme where it effects me constantly for weeks or months at a time in batches.

In the first few years I had completely disregarded it as an issue as it was maybe at it’s worst effecting me once a week for 2-3 weeks at a time and then would disappear for months at a time. I just took it to “be one of those things that just happens sometimes” and thought not a lot more about it, mainly due to a mix of not really wanting to accept that I was suffering, but also that I already knew that I had a busy mind and due to circumstances at the time I was constantly overthinking specific scenarios, and as is common with many that have a difficulty in getting to sleep, the mind starts racing at x10 – x100 speed as soon as your head hits the pillow. This is predominantly caused by stress, and the art of stressing tends to be most prevalent at the end of the day in our wind down stage, prior to actually being able to actually sleep, if you are going through lots of stress, please seek some advise from your GP or via services like this if you are in England – https://beta.nhs.uk/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/?WT.mc_id=MHCampaign_Twitter5

 

However I should not have dismissed it so quickly as this was also around the time in my life that I had come to realise that I was beginning to show and feel the traits of having what could be a very mild but noticeable (at least to me due to my lust to learn more about mental health aliments and illnesses) of what could be indicative of the symptoms of having a case of Bi-Polar disorder. There has been some interesting research done out there on a wider variety of different Mental Health issues that ties sleep disturbances and in more extreme cases, sleep deprivation, to being a potential precursor in developing bi-polar disorder, like what is described in this article over at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3321357/

 

A key point to take from the above linked article

Sleep disturbance is a core symptom of bipolar disorder

This one point, kicked down the door and barriers that I had built up and effectively opened me up to properly investigating my thoughts, & understanding, about my own mental health, especially when it related to both Sleep and Mood regulation and reading this 1 point was essentially the beginning point that lead me down the path of truly understanding that there is actually a higher likelihood that there will be a combination of issues that can be at play at any given time, with there being a higher likelihood of there being a series of stronger compounded symptoms, that can include sleep disturbances / sleep deprivation and there knock on effects into other aspects of Mental Health.

 

I guess the point that I am attempting to make here is that the smallest changes, like a change to sleep pattern, a change in dietary tastes, or just a feeling of a more general change of mood can be enough of a sign from your body that something isn’t quite right from a biochemical sense. The body is actually really good at pointing out these changes to you, because under the hood, every action, and all of their subsequent reactions. are all down to the number of different biochemical reactions that occur within the body, and how these then kick off their chain of events that can include items, like the regulation of our Circadian Rhythm, (more commonly known as the process that provides regulation of our sleep cycles) and our digestive processes. Once you learn a little more about how these work and start to understand how the body controls these different processes within the body, including mood regulation (and how you can in time learn methods to help you further in ways that you can self regulate) and the neurochemistry behind how the body manages to do this, then you can start to learn more about how you can self manage and more importantly self regulate difficult spells as well prior to obtaining any external help, and in a later post I will cover some of the things that have managed to really help me over previous years as I have learnt more and more about them and how they all personally affect me, and with everyone’s biochemistry being slightly different, all mileage of how they can affect you can come down to a number of things including, diet, exercise, stress levels, and countless other things too.

At this point I feel it only right to have to remind you that anything I write, especially in regards to my own personal experience with coping mechanisms and my own management of aliments like what I have written about here, all of these have come from personal experience of living with them over many years,  with what totals to be well over a decade’s worth of personal experience and with all of that experience, items that I have tried and tested, has been based on my own understanding of symptoms and their causes and has been based on many thousands of hours of extensive reading into these topics over this time.

Whilst a number of these areas and my coping mechanisms could end up having some potential for their conclusions that could be loosely tied to some themes that resemble some basic common sense (like not drinking caffeine containing products in the evening), some of them will disprove these ideals, and as such I do not recommend that you blindly follow any of them without doing further research of your own to better understand the processes behind them but also then also be prepared to do something useful about it and therefore then tell yourself that you should investigate further, and actually doing so.

Your investigations should include at least a little bit of basic personal research, however, you should not just rely on this as there is plenty of incorrect information being shared out there and I highly recommend that you should also seek further advice from at least your own GP, and any specialists that they also recommend as well, especially where sleep disturbances/deprivation and bipolar are concerned as your GP / recommended specialists are adequately trained, whereas I am not trained in this area, at least not currently, and whilst this isn’t something in my immediate future, this is something that I would find fascinating and fulfilling going into later life and may end up looking at studying properly in future to end up being trained properly in this area.

 

If you recognise any symptoms of Bi-Polar Disorder, as is listed on the following page, or any other mental health issues/aliments (more to come on my views about differentiating these two and understanding the key differences between them in a future post), then I would seriously suggest that you look to book an appointment with your GP, at the earliest opportunity, and seek proper medical advice regarding your symptoms as soon as you can, as just like physical symptoms, catching mental health issues early vastly increases your ability to be able to both manage them and also more importantly accept that you need to make changes to be able to manage them.

 

If you can try to keep a track of things that start off as being uncommon in occurrence, just in case the frequency in which they occur becomes more regular and more intense and just like psychical health issues like colds, or illnesses, the sooner they are caught the easier they can be managed and in future posts I will cover some of the coping mechanisms I’ve come up with when I have suffered sleep disturbances and deprivation in the past, and like I mentioned in this previous post It’s #TimeToTalk, But it’s also #TimeToWrite, making even small notes down can help you later on in trying to understand patterns in how these differing aliments can affect you, and perhaps more importantly, how you can perhaps get to understand them and in time manage to maintain and control them.

That’s all for Part 1 of this series, and we will bring part 2 to you in the coming weeks

I’m Ryan ( twitter | blog ) a successful IT Consultant & the founder of mhasl and Mental Health Affects Someone Like Me

 

It’s #TimeToTalk, But it’s also #TimeToWrite

Whilst today Feb 7th is #TimeToTalk Day, a day that symbolises the need for people to talk about their Mental Health, this also raises a perhaps unspoken point around the need to write about mental health as much as it does to talk about it.

Writing about your own mental health can be extremely daunting to begin with, with many questioning where to start, should it be public or private, what level of detail should you go to and other similar questions. However it needn’t be daunting for long and with the following suggestions I think you too can start writing about your own mental health more, even if it is just for simple tracking purposes.

So lets look at how you could make getting started with this, perhaps, a little easier.

Firstly lets look at it whether you should write publicly or privately and the benefits of both

Publicly

Writing Publicly, whether it be a blog post like this, on a site like this, or via Facebook or Twitter, can be hugely beneficial, especially if you have a number of good & supportive people that are following your blogs/posts/tweets as they will likely be open to providing you moral support on the good and the bad days.

When writing Publicly I would recommend starting with something as simple as

Today was a good day #MentalHealth #mhasl #HappyToTalk

or

Today was a bad day #MentalHealth #mhasl #NotHappyToTalk

These are just some simple examples of how simple you can go with this but you can go the other way too and be more detailed instead.

Today was a good day as I was able to control not only my anxiety, but I also felt like I had a happy day overall which is means my management of my depression is getting better.

or perhaps something more like this

Today was horrendous, I had a pretty bad panic attack and since I’ve been unable to stop crying at small things that typically wouldn’t get me upset, like running out of milk so I couldn’t have a much needed comfort bowl of coco pops.

These are good examples of micro-blogging and if you get into the habit of posting these kinds of items in public, over time you’ll find it easier to open up further, when and most importantly, if you feel confident to do so.

However, openly publishing about how your mental health is, is not for everyone, and if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so, then please don’t feel like you have to, especially as no one is going to force you to do so.

Privately

Some people find that writing privately is much easier and also much more beneficial, and whilst this can be for many reasons, typically writing privately is for many the easier initial option, often this is because they don’t have to worry about any potential negative interaction from anyone. If you think that writing privately may be more useful for you then there are a few different ways you can do this and here are some of my own suggestions (comments on other suggestions are welcomed)

You can

  • Get a dairy and write it in there, the benefit of this is that it is there for you to look back on.
  • Send yourself a daily email using the same subject line.
  • Update a daily spreadsheet with a simple rating system of how you felt the day went.
  • If you use Facebook you can actually make a post that is only visible to you. This is something that I used to do quite regularly especially on particularly special dates in the year, like birthday’s / Christmases etc as this allows me to see how whether or not over the years has my Mental Health been improving and how well it has been improving.
  • Post it notes – these are great for jotting down a quick thought and sticking it somewhere like the back of a wardrobe door. Be sure to date them as they can be interesting to come back to in future when tidying up and either reliving the bad days or reliving the good days. If you go with this I’d recommend either using the left door for bad days and right for good days, or using the front for the good and the back for the bad. That way if you are having a bit of a bad day you can go to your door and read through the good times to help cheer you up.

Personally, I do a mix of both Public and Private posts and at varying levels of detail with a much higher proportion of them being private, but when I do post publicly I tend to find that I get support from others, whether that be publicly for others to see or privately via DMs.

If you have any further questions that you think would be good to be added to this post please either comment on this post or you can find me on twitter where you can DM me.

If you are interested in writing here on mhasl then please see this previous post where you can find out more and if you do publish any tweets about mental health please add the #mhasl ( as we are tracking this hashtag)

I’m Ryan ( twitter | blog ) a successful IT Consultant & the founder of mhasl and Mental Health Affects Someone Like Me