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Science Says It’s Extremely Stressful Being Permanently Online

·565 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

Even before the pandemic drove so many inside, I can tell you that an awful lot of people are pretty much always online.

And it’s not just people who _want _to be online. These days I do most of my work online (as someone who writes for a living), which means spending a lot of time online, but even before I went full time with that, back when I was in a more traditional office gig, I was also pretty much always online.

As the manager of the training department of a psychological consulting firm, I often trained people online via webinar. When I wasn’t personally training, I was usually discussing projects — either with HR at client companies to figure out what they needed for their employees or with the trainers themselves to develop training material together.

Some of this took place over telephone — but most of it took place by email or web conference. (I traveled a bit and did in-person trainings as well, but most of my job required remote consultation.)

And I know I’m not the only one. Pretty much anyone who is management or a project manager in a corporate gig is tied to their phone. A lot of them have bosses or clients that send them 4 am emails (yes, really) about someone else’s procrastination that is now their emergency.

And of course, social media is king these days — and a lot of people are online for personal reasons as well.

Any Time I’ve Been Able to Unplug, It’s Been Amazing

I have only spent a few weeks the past several years being unplugged from online life. This was always part of a vacation — where I was either camping or at sea on a boat.

And can I tell you? It was amazing. I felt my mental health soar.

I’ve longed suspected that being permanently online is extremely stressful (even though most of my professional life has required it). So when I stumbled upon a recent research study that confirmed it, I decided I would share it with you folks.

Science Says It’s Extremely Stressful Being Permanently Online

Here’s a link to the full text of the study, but today I’m just going to point your attention to the following excerpt:

Across three studies, we investigated the stress potential of permanent connectedness. Findings consistently show that communication load did not relate to perceived stress. However, multitasking was quite consistently related to higher levels of perceived stress. Our findings thus lend support to the assumption that multitasking exceeds and exhausts users’ working memory capacities and, consequently, their situational coping capacities. Salience, the constant thinking about online interactions and message content, emerged to be positively related to stress in all three studies. Being “cognitively online” rather than present in the moment appears to go hand in hand with undesirable effects on media users’ stress levels. When people permanently dedicate a considerable part of their cognitive resources to online communication going on “in the back of their mind,” they no longer have sufficient cognitive resources to deal with situational demands and, thus, feel stressed more quickly.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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