- Dr. Darrell Wade
Going low tech for better mental health
In a society that is increasingly reliant on technology and social media as a form of interpersonal communication, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to the negative impacts that a digital world has on our overall well-being. On top of the obvious health impacts that result from spending too much time hunched over a device that makes us look more like our primate predecessors than humans, when we focus too much of our energy on what’s happening in the “online world”, we also risk affecting our mental and spiritual health by living virtually rather than focussing on what’s going on in the real world around us.
Often we justify excessive social media use with the excuse that we’re keeping up to date with friends and family or current affairs. What we often neglect to recognize is that what is depicted online is most often an entirely false representation of what these peoples’ lives really look like (especially if they are celebrities!). Social media can be more accurately described as a “highlight reel” – a collection of carefully crafted and selected photos, videos, and moments – the best photo out of 50 that were taken, one happy moment in what might have been an otherwise terrible day for someone.
The danger in seeing this as anything other than a “highlight reel” is that it leads us to compare ourselves to a curated and likely inaccurate version of someone else which can have a major impact on our well-being and mental health. The resulting thoughts such as: “I wish I got to see my friends as much as _____ does,” “I wish I looked like _____,” or “I wish my clothes were as nice as _____’s.” can diminish both our self-esteem as well as our overall mental health.
In addition to these negative thoughts that may arise as a result of social media use, our over-reliance on technology and social media can also lead us to the point where we aren’t truly interacting face to face with anyone! Sitting in a waiting room, riding on public transit, or even waiting for your food to arrive at a restaurant are all prime opportunities for genuine, face-to-face conversation, whether it be with your friend sitting across from you at a restaurant or the stranger sitting next to you on the bus. In reality though, we tend to miss out on these opportunities for genuine human interaction when we choose to spend this time scrolling through social media or texting someone that isn’t even around.
Technology has made it so easy to sit down and scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, that a great portion of our days are now spent simply doing this – living vicariously through people you know ( or even worse…someone you don’t even know!) who just uploaded an album of photos from their trip to Hawaii – rather than being present and creating positive moments and memories in our own lives with the people around us.
Let’s be clear, technology and even social media can be wonderful tools, when used appropriately and it is unlikely that anyone would prefer to go back to the days before electricity and running water however it is important to recognize when these advances are making our lives worse rather than better. If any of this resonates with you then here are a few tips that may help you reconnect with the real world
1. Start and end your day technology-free. Many of us reach for our phones the moment we wake up and scroll through social media in bed before falling asleep. Instead, use the first and last moments of your day to read a book, write in your journal, or just spend some time inside of your own head thinking ( as scary as that might sound!!!).
2. Turn off social media notifications. Social media notifications are one of the most sophisticated marketing traps ever invented and they are most likely hijacking your day at such a constant rate that you may not even realize it anymore. Checking a notification is almost never just checking a notification – it is a trap that most often results in distraction from whatever we were previously doing to spend several minutes (or even hours) scrolling through useless information.
3. If you are going out for a special dinner or event, turn off your phone’s data capabilities . Most people feel uncomfortable being without their phones these days especially if you have children or elderly parents or someone else that may legitimately need to reach you if something goes wrong. So while leaving your phone at home might not be an option, you can easily disable your data so that the distractions of social media do not invade the one quality night that you get to spend with your friends or spouse every 6 months. Be present with the people you’re with and enjoy each moment fully, engaging in real conversation.
4. Make plans that force you to get out of the house and be active. Doing this will ensure that time isn’t wasted sitting at home scrolling through social media. Make sure that if you pass someone on the street or in the grocery store you make eye contact with them and say “ Hello” or ‘Good Morning”. You will be surprised at the willingness of others to interact when the ice is broken.
5. Try spending your weekends free of social media. This may seem extreme at first but a great way to minimize the urge on weekends is to delete all social media apps from your device so that you are forced to do other things. Don’t worry, it won’t erase you from cyber space and unfortunately it is all too easy to reverse on Monday morning but it will give you the freedom to focus on more important things like spending time with family and friends, exercising, or even getting out of the house to do something fun.
6. Just be You! Always use yourself as the benchmark for progress rather than using someone else. Focus on improving from who you were yesterday rather than who someone else is today.