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Common Causes of Computer Stress

A Special Report By Morton C. Orman, M.D.
(c) 1996 - 2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP. All rights reserved

Anyone who uses a computer regularly knows how valuable these 20th century machines can be. And anyone who has ever waited for their on-line service to respond, received a "mailbox full" message, had their hard disk crash, been flamed on the internet, upgraded to Win95, or tried to set up their own home-based computer network knows that there is also a dark side to this modern wonder of technology.

Yes, working with computers can sometimes be stressful. And dealing with computer stress is really no different than dealing with any other type of stress in life. The more you understand and focus upon the underlying causes of computer stress, the better you will fare in trying to cope with it.

In this Special Report, I discuss 10 common causes of computer related stress. While this in no way represents a complete list of causes, the ones I will highlight here account for much of the computer stress most people frequently experience.

1. Failing to Anticipate Problems

Many stressful problems computer users experience can be prevented. Yes, power outages do occur, but equipment and software controls are available to keep you from losing data. Theft or damage from children, natural disasters, viruses, intruders, and hard disk failures may not always be avoidable. But adopting a regular backup schedule and keeping a recent backup in a second location can make such losses easier to bear. Software bugs are common in many types of programs, especially new releases such as Windows 95. So if one is uncomfortable dealing with such problems, it may be better to wait before making a purchase.

The point is there are many potential computer-related nightmares, but they can be anticipated and steps taken to either prevent a disaster or at the very least to significantly soften its blow.

2. Trying to Get By on the Cheap

Sometimes we invite disasters by trying to do things on the cheap. That less expensive modem or graphics board you could pick up at a computer show may save you a hundred dollars or more, but are the potential headaches worth the risk? Sure you can save some money if you don't upgrade to a Pentium processor, but are the savings really worth all the frustration and anger you may experience when your slower CPU can't keep up with the latest software? Or how about building a system on your own. If you're not really experienced, it's probably better (and less stressful) to pay a little more and get a system assembled by a pro.

3. Failing to Ask for Help

Many novice computer users (and some veterans too), are reluctant to ask other people for help. This can lead to an incredible amount of stress, most of which is totally unnecessary.

When you are just starting out learning to use your computer, nothing can beat having one or two experienced computer users in your life whom you can call whenever you run into a problem. It also may help to visit your local bookstore and purchase a supplemental training or tutorial guide. And don't forget the many on-line sources of help for all levels of users. Hardware and software forums can be found on AOL, Compuserve, and other popular services. And there is also a tremendous amount of free (and not so free) technical support available by phone, fax, and on-line that is provided by most product manufacturers.

4. Failing to Relate to Stress as Feedback

Whether you get angry, frustrated, or impatient with your computer from time to time, or whether you worry about some computer disaster befalling you, the very best way to deal with any type of stress in your life is to view it as personal feedback.

Instead of blaming your computer, blaming software developers and manufacturing companies, or blaming life itself, take the viewpoint that any type of stress in your life may have something to do with your own thinking and behavior. Did nefarious forces single you out and send that lightning bolt down your electrical lines that fried your expensive equipment? Or did you fail to anticipate this problem and install an adequate surge protector? Are you frustrated and angry because you can't seem to get your slick new software program to run as advertised? Or did you fail to read the instruction manual or skip the online tutorial?

Whatever type of computer stress you might be experiencing, look for your own hidden thought patterns and behavior patterns lurking in the background. If you're not familiar with how to do this, there are several excellent self-help references available. (Try my book The 14 Day Stress Cure for openers.)

5. Trying to Cut Corners

In addition to cutting financial corners, there are many other ways computer users get themselves into trouble by trying to skip important or critical steps. Trying to use hardware or software without reading the manuals or doing the basic tutorials is one very common cause. Unfortunately, the new "Plug and Play" mentality fosters this behavior. Many Plug and Play users, on the other hand, have found out that they still need to understand how their new equipment works (and installs) to get it up and running smoothly.

Attempting to use powerful software programs such as word processors, spread sheets, relational database programs, web page designers, graphics illustrators, and many others right out of the box is another preventable cause of computer related stress. While many of these program are relatively easy to learn and operate at a very basic level, most users could benefit from additional training and tutoring.

The usual excuse for skipping these steps is time. Many people feel that they just don't have the time to sit down and study their manuals, read an additional book, attend a class, or hire a professional trainer. Unfortunately, when you don't put in the time to learn what you are doing on the front end, you usually end up spending much more time (and sometimes money) in the long run.

So try to get yourself properly trained at the outset. Not doing this is a very common cause of computer related headaches.

6. Unrealistic Expectations

Much of our stress in life is caused by our own unrealistic expectations. Many of these expectations are quite silly when examined in the open. But they often lurk in the background of our thinking, causing mischief and stress in ways that we may not always be consciously aware of.

Take the common experience of frustration associated with computers. Much of this frustration comes from expecting ourselves or our computers to function perfectly all the time. While this is a laudable goal, it is not very realistic. From time to time, computer problems will occur. The file we are working on may have appeared to disappear! (Don't worry, it's usually still there--somewhere.) Heavy traffic on our on-line service may preclude us from being able to connect when we want or may cause a system slow down just at the moment we need things to be fast.

Or the new "Plug and Play" mentality sweeping the computer world today may lead us to believe that every installation of every new product we buy will be a pleasurable experience. As many users have already discovered, Plug and Play, in many instances, should be more aptly renamed "Plug and Pray" or "Plug and No-Play."

Another area where expectations play an important role is how we respond to the behavior of others. In the computer world, there are many opportunities to become upset with other people. Some people may not respond in a timely manner (or at all) to your e-mail messages. Others will send you unsollicited e-mail or will flame you repeatedly for making a beginner's mistake. And then there are all the vendors, sales people, repair technicians, receptionists, tech support people and many others who repeatedly fail to live up to our personal standards for how people should behave.

This common source of stress is not just limited to the world of computer usage. If you look at other instances of stress in your life, you will almost always find unrealistic expectations, of one type or another, lurking somewhere.

7. Beating Up On Yourself Unnecessarily

Along with the expectations of perfectionism and universally faultless performance comes the very common behavior pattern of beating yourself whenever you do something wrong or make a "dumb" mistake.

Mistakes in the computer world are very common. All it takes is entering one incorrect letter, number, or symbol and your whole operation can grind to a halt. Deleting the wrong file (or a whole directory of important files!) happens to the very best of us. And when it comes to operating complex software applications or coordinating the installation of complex hardware or networking systems, errors are common, and you should not feel too bad or demean yourself when they occur.

Forgiveness and compassion are what you need to deal with the many intracacies and pitfalls computer usage entails. If you find yourself engaging in their opposites, stop this at once. There is nothing to be gained from continuing.

8. Conflicts With Other People

Much of our stress in life comes from conflicts and interpersonal difficulties we encounter with other people. While the computer world may give you the illusion of working alone and isolating yourself from others, this is not really the case.

Both at home and at work, many different types of computer related conflicts and resultant stress can arise. At home, there may be issues of sharing usage between family members, exposure of children to outside influences, increased financial burdens, conflicts over the amount of time spent at the terminal (or not being spent elsewhere) and many others. These types of conflicts require strong communication, relationship building, and negotiation skills.

At work, similar types of issues can surface. Conflicts over access to shared company resources, such as laser printers, network searches, or the availability of expert assistance, are very common.

And both at home or at work, there are vendors, customers, other computer users and their networked virtual communities, and many other people you might interact with, both on-line and in person. Some of these interactions can sometimes be stressful. Because computers expand our capabilities for social interactions, and because such interactions are often beyond our direct personal control, computers tend to increase our stress in this very important and difficult area of living harmoniously with other human beings.

9. Failing to Do Your Homework

Another common cause of computer stress is failing to do your homework. In some ways this is similar to Cause #5 (Trying To Cut Corners). It too is done mainly to save time. But many problems computer users experience could have been prevented had they researched products or companies more thouroughly or had they spoken to experienced experts before making a purchase.

10. Compromising Your Own or Others' Integrity

When you do something you know is wrong, you don't have to get caught to suffer consequences. Your unconscious will take over and make sure you are punished.

Since no one is actually watching, many computer users feel safe about accepting copied software, using shareware without paying registration fees, giving copies of non-free software to others, or using purchased software programs on multiple machines. But these minor transgressions do add up. And they can be subtle causes of later "accidental mishaps."

Do yourself and others a favor--don't engage in any of this behavior. Even if no one else finds out, you will know, and that's all that counts.

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