Tech Insight : Could ‘Digital Mindfulness’ Reduce Your Tech Stress?

In this insight, we look at what ‘digital mindfulness’ is, how it could help you and your business, and what challenges there are to introducing it.

The ‘Digital Stress’ Problem 

Although the digital age has revolutionised work in terms of levels of productivity and connectivity, it has come at a cost. A significant challenge emerging in the workplace is digital stress, sometimes called ‘technostress,’ a phenomenon increasingly recognised for its detrimental effects on employees’ mental and physical health. This issue is characterised by the stress, anxiety, and burnout resulting from the relentless pace of digital communications, the pressure to remain always ‘on’, and the blurring lines between work and personal life. This constant connectivity, while purportedly beneficial to a business has actually introduced a new stressor into the workplace (technostress) which can come from the anxiety and discomfort stemming from overuse or inefficient usage of technology.

The Scope of the Issue 

There has been quite a lot of research into the issue which has shed some light on the magnitude of this problem. For example:

– A Gallup report (2021) highlighted how 44 per cent of the global workforce experienced workplace stress in 2021 (an increase on the previous year). In the US and Canada, for example, this number is even more alarming, with 50 per cent of the workforce reporting stress in the workplace (CFAH, 2024), positioning these regions as some of the highest for workplace stress globally.

– Also in the US, the American Institute of Stress has noted that more than 8 out of 10 US workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25 per cent identifying their job as the number one stressor in their lives.

– In the UK, stress levels vary by department, with employees within customer service reporting the highest levels of stress at 25 per cent. Interestingly, stress appears to affect women 25 per cent more than men, with work-related stress hitting working mothers 40 per cent harder than their childless counterparts (Spill, 2024).

– Financial stress is, not surprisingly, also a significant contributor to workplace anxiety. According to PwC’s annual (2023) Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 41 per cent of workers who feel financial stress also say that this affects their productivity at work.

The Impact on Health and Productivity 

The consequences of digital stress / technostress extend beyond personal health, affecting organisational outcomes and economic costs. For example:

– 20,000 deaths annually in the US are attributed to work-related stress, with businesses losing up to $300 billion each year due to productivity losses linked to this stress (Spill, 2024).

– Also, stress leads to absenteeism. In the UK (ONS, 2021) mental health conditions, which can include stress, were one of the top reasons for sickness absence, demonstrating the impact of work-related stress on overall employee well-being and productivity.

– In the US, it’s a similar picture, with a million Americans taking time off work each day with stress, thereby perhaps indicating how pervasive and damaging unmanaged stress can be to both individuals and organisations.

Addressing The Problem 

These statistics underscore the urgent need for strategies like using ‘digital mindfulness,’ which aims to cultivate a healthier relationship with technology.

What Is Mindfulness and How Is ‘Digital Mindfulness’ Different? 

Mindfulness, originating from Buddhist meditation practices, is the psychological process of bringing your attention to experiences occurring in the present moment (‘the now’).  Research in neuroscience shows that mindfulness training can actually rewire brain circuits associated with stress, attention, and emotional regulation. For instance, a study published in the journal “Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging” showed that an eight-week mindfulness meditation program led to increased density in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory and learning, and decreased density in the amygdala, which is linked to anxiety and stress responses.

Digital Mindfulness is a concept that adapts traditional mindfulness principles to our interactions with digital technology. It involves being consciously aware and intentional about how we use digital devices and online platforms, aiming to foster a balanced, reflective, and engaged approach to technology, counteracting the autopilot mode with which we often engage with digital devices. This practice encourages individuals to recognise and mitigate the potential for technology to contribute to stress, distraction, and disconnection from the physical world, promoting healthier digital habits and well-being.

The Benefits 

By integrating (digital) mindfulness practices into the workplace, businesses can mitigate the adverse effects of digital stress, improving employee well-being and productivity.

Digital mindfulness also offers a pathway toward a more balanced digital work life (something of real value to employees), encouraging employees to engage with technology intentionally and mindfully, thus reducing the likelihood of stress and burnout.

How? 

Some of the ways that businesses can introduce digital mindfulness to the workplace include:

– Introducing ‘taster’ sessions, i.e. introductory sessions led by skilled practitioners to allow employees to experience mindfulness benefits firsthand.

– Offering training and resources. Supplying formal training and access to mindfulness apps or resources for guided practices.

– Designating a quiet space. Providing a dedicated area for meditation or quiet reflection, free from workplace distractions.

– Encouraging daily practice: Fostering a habit of regular mindfulness breaks among employees to help detach from work momentarily, enhancing focus and rejuvenation.

– Cultivating mindful leaders. Training leaders in mindfulness to model and promote mindful practices within their teams, enhancing overall workplace mindfulness.

However, for a better chance of success, employees must be engaged from the start, understanding their interest in and preferences for mindfulness activities to ensure the program meets their needs. Also, the purpose of it within the organisation needs to be clarified, and active participation and endorsement needs to be secured from senior management to underscore the initiative’s importance and encourage wider adoption.

What’s The Evidence? Does It Work? 

The effectiveness of digital mindfulness is backed by research highlighting its positive impacts on mental health and workplace productivity. For example, a study from the University of California, Irvine, found that employees who practiced mindfulness techniques reported a 27 per cent reduction in stress levels. Also, a program aimed at reducing digital distractions through mindfulness practices at a multinational corporation led to a 31 per cent drop in reported stress among participants and a 26 per cent increase in focus on tasks. These statistics underscore the real benefits that mindfulness can introduce to a technology-saturated work environment, including improved emotional well-being, enhanced concentration, and lower instances of burnout.

Challenges in Learning and Implementing Mindfulness 

Despite its benefits, the path to integrating mindfulness, especially in a digital context, can have its challenges. Scepticism about its effectiveness, the perceived time investment, and the irony of leveraging digital platforms to escape the downsides of digital overuse are common hurdles. However, incremental steps, such as designated tech-free periods and mindfulness meditation breaks during the workday, can facilitate a smoother transition. Encouragement from leadership and success stories within the organisation can also help overcome initial resistance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

For businesses, the adoption of digital mindfulness may qwll be more than just a wellness initiative and once it’s learned, its power shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, many businesses now see it as worthwhile as a strategic investment in the digital age. This is because the benefits extend beyond individual well-being to impacting organisational health too, by driving down stress-related costs and increasing productivity. Companies that cultivate a culture of digital mindfulness can, therefore, expect to see not only happier employees but also a more focused, efficient, and innovative workforce. To embark on this journey, however, businesses can start by offering workshops on digital mindfulness, and how to integrate mindfulness practices into daily routines, and promoting a culture where disconnection is respected and valued. Possibly easier said than done!

By confronting the realities of so-called ‘technostress’ head-on and embracing digital mindfulness, businesses can foster an environment where technology isn’t a source of endless distraction and stress.

Tech News : Your AI Twin Might Save Your Life

A new study published in The Lancet shows how an AI tool called Foresight (which fully analyses patient health records and makes digital twins of patients) could be used to predict the future of your health.

What Is Foresight?

The Foresight tool is described by the researchers as a “generative transformer in temporal modelling of patient data, integrating both free text and structured formats.” In other words, it’s a sophisticated AI system that’s designed to analyse patient health records over time.

What Does It All Mean? 

The “generative transformer” type of AI is a machine learning / large language model (an ‘LLM’) that can generate new data based on what it has learned from previous data. The term “transformer” is a specific kind of model that’s very good at handling sequences of data, like sentences in a paragraph or a series of patient health records over time (temporal), i.e. a patient’s electronic health records (EHR).

Unlike other health prediction models, Foresight can use a much wider range of data in different formats. For example, Foresight can use everything from medical history, diagnosis, treatment plans, and outcomes, in both free text formats like (unorganised) doctors’ notes or radiology reports and more structured formats. These can include database entries or spreadsheets (with specific fields for patient age, diagnosis codes, or treatment dates).

 Why? 

The researchers say that the study is aimed to evaluate how effective Foresight is in the modelling of patient data and using it to predict a diverse array of future medical outcomes, such as disorders, substances (such as to do with medicines, allergies, or poisonings), procedures, and findings (including relating to observations, judgements, or assessments).

The Foresight Difference 

The researchers say that the difference between Foresight and existing approaches to model a patient’s health trajectory focus mostly on structured data and a subset of single-domain outcomes is that Foresight can take a lot more diverse types and formats of data into account.

Also, being an AI model, Foresight can easily scale to more patients, hospitals, or disorders with minimal or no modifications, and like other AI models that ‘learn,’ the more data it receives, the better it gets at using that data.

How Does It Work? (The Method) 

The method tested in a recent study involved Foresight working in several steps. In the research, the Foresight AI tool was tested across three different hospitals, covering both physical and mental health, and five clinicians performed an independent test by simulating patients and outcomes.

In the multistage process, the researchers trained the AI models on medical records and then fed Foresight new healthcare data to create virtual duplicates of patients, i.e. ‘digital twins’. The digital twins of patients could then be used to forecast different outcomes relating to their possible/likely disease development and medication needs, i.e. educated guesses were produced about any future health issues, like illnesses or treatments that might occur for a patient.

The Findings 

The main findings of the research were that the Foresight AI tool and the use of digital twins can be used for real-world risk forecasting, virtual trials, and clinical research to study the progression of disorders, to simulate interventions and counterfactuals, and for educational purposes. The researchers said that using this method, they demonstrated that Foresight can forecast multiple concepts into the future and generate whole patient timelines given just a short prompt.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Using an AI tool that can take account of a wider range of patient health data than other methods, make a digital twin, produce simulations, and forecast possible health issues and treatments in the future, i.e. whole patient timelines until death could have many advantages. For example, as noted by the researchers, it could help medical students to engage in interactive learning experiences by simulating medical case studies. This could help them to practice clinical reasoning and decision-making in a safe environment, as well as helping them with ethical training by facilitating discussions on fairness and bias in medicine.

This kind of AI medical prediction-making could also be useful in helping doctors to alert patients to tests they may need to take to enable better disease-prevention as well as helping with issues such as medical resource planning.  However, as many AI companies say, feeding personal and private details (medical records) into AI is not without risk in terms of privacy and data protection. Also, the researchers noted that more tests are needed to validate and test the performance of the model on long simulations. One other important point to remember is that regardless of current testing of the model, Foresight is currently predicting things long into the future for patients and, as such, it’s not yet known how accurate its predictions are.

Following more testing (as long as issues like security, consent, and privacy are adequately addressed) a fully developed method of AI-based health issue prediction could prove to be very valuable to medical professionals and patients and could create new opportunities in areas and sectors related to health, such as fitness, wellbeing,  pharmaceuticals, insurance, and many more.