“They’d be motivated for one or two weeks, but it turned out that their sugar or alcohol consumption was their way of coping with all the stress in their lives,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “Unless we tackled the stress, they were always going to revert back to what they were doing.”
Another thing that struck him was how technology is creating a potent new source of stress. Many people wake up and immediately look at their smartphones and check their email or social media. Then they remain glued to their phones throughout the day, staring at them while they eat, sit at their desks, socialize and lie in bed at night.
Dr. Chatterjee saw a growing number of patients complaining of anxiety and mental health issues, and a high proportion of them were spending vast amounts of time on their smartphones. In his book, Dr. Chatterjee explains that studies have linked constant exposure to social media to depression, especially in adolescents and young adults.
“Now more than ever before, we’re starting to recognize that we’re leading these lives where we can never switch off,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “There’s always something to do. I’m not pro or anti technology, but I think for many of us we’re using it in ways that are harming us.”
While everyone’s circumstances are unique, there are some things most of us can do to minimize daily stress levels. Studies show that controlled breathing exercises reduce stress, increase alertness and strengthen the immune system. One simple exercise Dr. Chatterjee recommends is called the “3-4-5 Breath,” in which you breathe in for three seconds, hold it for four seconds, then exhale slowly to the count of five.
“Any time your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, you help to switch off your body’s stress response and promote relaxation,” he said.
If you stare at a screen all day, try taking a tech-free lunch break. Put your phone down for 15 minutes and go out for a walk. Research shows that simply being outside in a park can ease anxiety. On days when you can’t get outside, try looking at soothing photographs: One study found that looking at photos of trees and nature helped people lower their heart rates and recover from stressful encounters.