What you listen to at work could be affecting your productivity

tech and mental health

Photo credit: Bram P. Released in Creative Commons.

Do you listen to music at work? Having worked primarily in bustling health care environments until my current position, I was surprised to find the office environment to be so quiet. When I shared this observation with friends who had worked a desk job for years, many of them recommended listening to music to offset the quiet when necessary.

I wasn’t sure whether this would interfere with my concentration, so I set out to explore the topic a bit further. As it turns out, the type of music you listen to at your desk does affect your brain, and in turn, your productivity. Here’s how the three main types of music affect your work:

1. Music and lyrics: this is the most common choice, because who doesn’t want to bop their head to their favourite song while filling that spreadsheet? But as it turns out, listening to this type of music while working is fairly taxing for your brain, especially if you are doing a task that requires concentration. Studies have shown that memory and reading comprehension both suffer when music is playing, There is some evidence that introverts in particular find it difficult to focus on a task when music is playing.

2. Classical music: While it’s still multitasking to work and listen to classical music, the lack of lyrics frees up more of the brain to focus on the work task at hand. Some studies even indicate that classical music may improve work performance, an effect which is partly attributed to the relaxing quality of the music.

3. White noise: Paradoxically, listening to white noise has actually been shown to increase attentiveness to a task for some people and prompt more creative thought. So if you really can’t stand working in silence, check out noiseli for online white noise generation. You can customize to the sounds that you find least distracting.

What do you listen to while you work?


Using tech to teach children with autism

autismribbonmagnetlargeToday is World Autism Awareness Day.

Commemorated by the United Nations and supported by organizations and individuals around the world, it is recognized as an important day to raise awareness and public education about autism spectrum disorders. Autism Speaks defines autism as “a group of complex disorders of brain development…characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” Recent reports indicate that autism rates are on the rise in Canada.

While most of us have some form of technology or another integrated into our lives, for individuals with autism, technology can be a crucial tool for skill development. New technologies for individuals with autism can improve communication, assist in the development of social skills, and enhance the ability to learn. As a result, specific technology such as game apps are now growing in popularity for autism treatment. You can view a comprehensive list of Autism Apps on the Autism Speaks website.

For more on autism and technology, check out this excellent article on the Daily Mail website.

Why the happiness challenge will not lead to our doom

coffee. techandmentalhealth.wordpress.comOne of the reasons I started this blog is that lately, it seems that wherever I turn there is a news story on how Google is making us stupid or that our dependence on technology is going to lead to our eventual downfall as a society. It’s not that I disregard the evidence behind these claims, but as with all things, I do feel like the media coverage is overly negative, and I want to showcase some of the ways that technology actually improves our lives rather than cause harm.

So I actually laughed out loud when I saw the media coverage last week on how the Happiness Challenge, a social media campaign that challenges participants to share what’s making them happy, has a secret darkside. “Happiness challenge may lead to sadness, psychologist warns,” proclaimed one title, and the irony was not lost on me in the least.

Most of the coverage led from a quote from the chair of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, who expressed concern that individuals who sign up for the challenge may end up disappointed if they fail to meet the 100 day challenge. This may be so, but on the other hand, the pay off for sharing what makes you happy (and its close relative, expressing gratitude) can have immense pay offs on long term happiness. Even if you are not an ardent reader of positive psychology studies, chances are you have heard of how merely writing down three good things that went well each day can lead to increased happiness over time. Personally, I see the Happiness Challenge as an extension of that research – by taking a photo of what’s making you happy and sharing it over social media, you are taking the time to notice it. This small redirect of attention can have a lasting impact, even if you don’t do it for 100 days straight.

So I say ignore the naysayers! Check out the Happiness Challenge website for more info if you want to participate, or just give a little time to pay attention to what’s making you happy today.

The emerging sunshine is making me smile right now. What’s making you happy?

The road to a cyborg society

I’ve mentioned before how the tools we use affect our brains. I find this reciprocal relationship between technology and our evolution so interesting. This Ted Talk by Amber Case takes this idea a step further, positing that the modern tools and technology we have created have essentially been integrated into our sense of self.

In particular, Case points out that:

… in the beginning — for thousands and thousands of years, everything has been a physical modification of self. It has helped us to extend our physical selves, go faster, hit things harder, and there’s been a limit on that. But now what we’re looking at is not an extension of the physical self, but an extension of the mental self, and because of that, we’re able to travel faster, communicate differently.

Check out the video for an interesting take on how tech may be evolving us.

Tech & Mental Health Web Roundup

Here’s a few interesting stories I came across this week:

On email apnea and remembering to breathe

Are you blurry-eyed from all the Monday emails like I am? While you are dealing with the bursting inbox, you may be neglecting your breath.

I first heard the term email apnea a few years ago when watching this talk from Linda Stone, a former Apple executive and writer who set out to investigate the phenomenon when she noticed she was holding her breath while reading her emails. Stone defines email apnea as “shallow breathing or breath holding while doing email, or while working or playing in front of a screen.” She estimates that roughly 80% of regular users hold their breath or do not breathe properly while sitting in front of the screen. This is partly attributed to the fact that many of us have bad posture while sitting in front the computer, which can lead to restricted breathing. Some observers also note holding their breath while concentrating on their computer work.

email apneaRegardless of the reason, improper breathing can have adverse effects on our ability to function well. In terms of our mental health, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, anxiety and dizziness, as well as affect our processes of learning and memory.

How can we prevent this? There are two main approaches the experts recommend:

  1. Pay attention to your breathing. Try to redirect yourself to breathe fully when you notice you are holding your breath. Practicing meditation is helpful for this, since at its core meditation is about returning to the breath.
  2. Watch how you sit. There are a number of health hazards associated with sitting for long periods of time, so try to get up and stretch every once in awhile. WebMD has a great step by step guide on how to sit properly while typing.

Does email apnea affect you? Would love to hear how you stay healthy if you have to sit all day at work.

Three ways mental health agencies are using social media to help teens

twitterideasThere are a lot of stories out there on how social media can negatively affect youth, especially with the multitude of reports on cyberbullying. Fortunately, a number of Canadian mental health agencies are looking to use the tool of social media to help youth find support. Here are three cool ideas I`ve heard about recently:

1. Three Thunder Bay mental health agencies have teamed up for the #sharehowyoufeel social media campaign, which encourages youth to express themselves through the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and, in turn, find out more about how to access counselling or support services. The campaign was recently profiled on CBC News. Visit their website for more information.

2. Healthy Minds Canada recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the development of a new app which promises to effectively promote empathy, coping and prevention skills for youth aged 9-16. It’s a neat idea – the app is a scenario based game around bullying, and in addition to teaching kids how to handle these scenarios effectively, it will reward players with points that can later be deemed as currency at a variety of online stores. Check out the Indiegogo campaign on the Healthy Minds Canada website.

3. The Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI) aims to connect student athletes suffering from mental health issues with counselling resources nearby. While SAMHI does have a website, they initially launched on Facebook and Twitter and a quick peak at their social media sites makes it clear that these are the primary tools they use to connect with student athletes. Check out their Facebook page for more information.

What do you think – can social media promote mental health?

Weekend viewing: How to be happier

What does it take to be happier? This is the question we’re faced with almost every day, and yet the debate on the topic continues. In his Ted Talk below, Max Killingsworth argues that one of the biggest contributers to happiness is to stay immersed in the moment. Killingsworth shares data from trackkyourhappiness.org, an iPhone app which asks participants to monitor their happiness in real time to discover what factors are associated with greater happiness. After collecting reports from a sample of over 15,000 people, the research found that happiness levels reported were higher when individuals were focused on the activity they were engaged in, rather than when they were in a mind wandering state.

Check out the video above for more information about the study! You can also sign up at Trackyourhappiness.org if you are interested in participating.

Your brain on nature: why hiking is good for your health

I am fascinated by gamification, the idea of applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. I think it is especially interesting in the context of creating healthy habits, since at times an extrinsic reward like a prize can be a great motivating factor to push us to do things we normally wouldn’t do (like exercise). That’s why I was excited to learn that Conservation Ontario has brought back the Healthy Hikes challenge for another year.

The Healthy Hikes challenge is simple. Conservation Ontario encourages all Ontario residents to utilize the province’s 270 Conservation Areas and track their progress for a prize. From May 1 to Oct 31, each hiker registers on the site and logs their hikes for points. Hikers with the most points at the end of the summer are entered into the draw for a chance to win great prizes. There’s no cost to participate, and this year Conservation Ontario has even gone the extra step of listing the conservation areas with free admission.

Aside from the exercise, the time spent outside has its own benefits for mental health. It’s hard to remember this during these dreary final days of winter, but getting outside and spending time in nature makes us feel better. In fact, compared to an urban setting, walking in nature has been shown to increase feelings of energy and reduce anxiety, anger, fatigue and sadness. Check out the infographic below for more of the positive benefits of spending time in nature.

I participated in the Healthy Hikes challenge last year, and aside from the fun of collecting points I found the site a great source of new places to explore around the province. Whether you are an avid hiker or just like strolling through the woods, I recommend checking out the Healthy Hikes website!

Disclaimer: While I am not personally affiliated with the Healthy Hikes challenge, the organization I work for is a partner on the project. This is not a sponsored post. My enthusiasm for the project is genuinely my own.