If you’re reading this, you have at least some computer experience and, chances are, you’ve experienced a fair amount of computer stress, from minor frustrations here and there to a virtual visit to computer hell. I’m confident in this assertion because computer stress is common to the point of being nearly universal. As our lifestyles become increasingly dependent on technology—with growing popularity of online banking, telecommuting, and personal websites, and everyone from the very young to the very old using email—it’s inevitable that things will go wrong. This fact is confirmed by recent research: according to a 2007 study with a representative sample of over 1000 Americans, 65% of consumers are spending more time with their personal computer than with their spouse, and the typical user has computer problems, on average, once every four months, and wastes around 12 hours each month trying to fix cyber mishaps. (The survey was commissioned by SupportSoft and conducted by Kelton Research, an industry research firm.) Whatever the cause of your computer stress, the following recommendations can help you minimize or avoid frustration:
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- Be Prepared: This is the Boy Scouts’ motto for a reason: it’s sage advice. When dealing with computers, many of us are a little intimidated, just waning to learn the very basics and deal with the technical stuff as little as possible. While this is understandable, you can save yourself stress down the road by learning the nuts and bolts of how your systems work by reading the manuals and perhaps a book or two on computers. Another important part of being prepared is to have the right frame of mind: realize that there’s a lot of potential for error when working with computers, and expect a few bumps in the road. Perfectionists especially may beat themselves up over unexpected computer difficulties, but accepting that the road may inevitably have a few bumps (and knowing how to navigate those bumps) can keep your blood pressure down.
- Invest In The Best: When you’re able to choose your equipment (i.e., it’s not software that your company chooses for you), it’s a good idea to invest in the best (not just the cheapest) software and hardware. Just like having a comfortable sleeping situation is important for the third of your life that you (should) spend in bed, newer and faster is better in terms of saving time and hassle, especially for those who use their computers often (which includes the majority of us). The money you may save by cutting corners isn’t worth it in the long run if you create a more frustrating daily situation for yourself with a slower and less reliable computer.
- Back Up--Often: If you don’t already have this worked into your routine, it’s vital that you start backing up your files regularly (I recommend once a week), so that if you run into major difficulties, you don’t lose much of your precious work. Enough said.
- Get Easy Answers: Much of the computer stress that results from dealing with technological problems stems from not understanding how to fix problems. Fortunately, you can get quick and easy advice online. For example, About.com’s Computing and Technology channel has full sites devoted to PC Support and Macs, where you can find answers and support. Having information and support is part of being prepared.
- Get Reliable Help: This is another part of your preparedness safety net. Sometimes it’s difficult to use tech support over the phone or online because you don’t know what you’re dealing with, don’t understand the terms used, or are basically stumped about the whole process. One resource I’ve found that can be really helpful in this situation is a site called support.com. They can access your computer remotely, saving you from having to take it anywhere, interpret the problem yourself, or bug your family or friends to help you fix your computer—again! They’re relatively inexpensive, and very user-friendly: you can get help immediately, free diagnosis, guaranteed work, and the people who help you are friendly and understanding (rather than condescending or difficult to communicate with).
- Keep It Comfy: We often forget that being physically uncomfortable can add quite a bit to our stress levels. That’s why it’s important to keep ergonomics in mind when setting up your computer station, as well as other factors like background noise level, privacy, and even lighting. About.com’s Ergonomics site has more on what to do to set up a healthy work station and perhaps avoid repetitive stress injuries and other hazards.
- Practice Stress Management: Part of the intensity of computer stress involves the built-up strain of a tense body. If you can take a few minutes for some deep breathing or a short walk to get some fresh air, you will find yourself more relaxed and able to handle the potential frustration of the occasional inevitable computer mishap. Also, don't forget to maintain relationships and take time to connect with people in real life to avoid feeling isolated, which also adds to stress.