Women who spend just 10 minutes a day creating a digital oasis of "me time" can help reduce stress, boost brainpower and increase their productivity.
This is the result of research, led by neuroscientist Dr David Lewis at Mind Lab International and commissioned by HP, which examined the effects of taking a "digital time-out" on women’s well-being across different European nationalities.
The results highlight that a short, personal Internet escape – such as swapping photos with friends and family, surfing favourite Web sites, or any other similar online diversion – reduces stress, lowers heart rates and allows the brain to work with less effort and greater efficiency.
“We were surprised at the extent to which even a break as brief as 10 minutes was able to bring down stress levels among our female volunteers and enable them to achieve the same intellectual results with far less mental effort,” says Dr Lewis, director of neuroscience at the laboratory.
Insights gained from Dr Lewis’s research will continue to help HP design the technology products that women want – stylishly designed gear that fits in well in the home or enhance one’s personal style.
“Computers can offer a digital escape, where we can find an online sense of community,” says Luciana Broggi, vice-president: marketing for the Personal Systems Group in Europe, Middle East and Africa at HP. “A stylish notebook PC in the kitchen can not only become a cool accessory, but also provide access to an online cooking school or a visit to a photo sharing site like Snapfish for a 10-minute web ‘get-away’ to keep up with friends and family.”
For the study, 20 women from the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Poland, Switzerland and Italy were fitted with scalp sensors to measure changes in brain activity (EEG), as well as equipment that monitored heart rate and skin conductance – the latter being an excellent indicator of changing stress levels. An equal number of women from each nationality was randomly assigned to one of two groups and tested in pairs – one group having personal time on the Internet and the other not.
“Spending as little as 10 minutes a day surfing the web to a place of your own, even if it’s in cyberspace, confers considerable emotional and intellectual benefits,” adds Dr Lewis. “‘Me time’ reduces physical tensions, decreases stress and enables people to achieve a high performance on mentally demanding challenges – not by thinking harder but by thinking smarter.”
In contrast to the emotional and performance benefits that a digital escape can offer, women do not have enough "me time", according to survey results among French, German, Italian, Spanish and British women.
“Our laboratory research suggests that while having physical space to yourself is ideal, escaping into your own world within cyberspace can offer a practical alternative in many cases,” says Dr Lewis. “The good news is that escaping into ‘me time’ just 10 minutes a day can make a significant difference to well-being.”
Sites related to a favourite hobby, sport or pastime (38% of women surveyed) or message boards and blogs on themes of a special interest or value (24%) ranked highest among women looking to take a break online.