I was having difficulty connecting with my teen son last week. I realize that this is a familiar parent-adolescent communication issue in general, but it was definitely a change in pattern. I texted him and called him, but he didn’t pick up. After having this go on for a few days, I was a bit irritated. I sat him down to ask what the disconnect (literally) was. Thoughtfully, he looked at me and said “It’s too much- the phone is sometimes too much. Texts, social media notifications, calls- it is overwhelming and I’m tired.” So, he decided that for blocks at a time, he would simply turn on the Do Not Disturb function on his iOS (iPhone Operating System). That way he can actually focus, be engaged in real person-to-person communication, and have moments of peace, aka self-care.
He’s not alone in feeling the anxiety that our phones bring these days. Over the past 4-5 years, there has been increasing research showing the association of social media use with anxiety and depression, particularly in the teenage group. There are many reasons that this could be true; waiting for reactions to posts or checking for “likes” and messages, can trigger the same dopamine response as certain substance dependencies. This can lead to an almost addictive need to check the phone, and 50% of teenagers are constantly on social media. Additionally, many teens use the phone late into the night, and feel the need to check the phone at night for texts as well as notifications. These actions disrupt sleep which can lead to less focus and an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
In fact, adults can also feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of inputs that we have daily. Emails, often with 2-3 different accounts, several social media accounts and texts constantly can leave us all in an overstimulated state. FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, a known psychological entity, drives the need for us to check our media accounts but it often leads to anxiety and depression, especially seeing posts that make it seem like everyone else has a beautiful home, a wonderful relationship, and incredible vacations. Feelings of depression as a result of this is well documented. In fact, in a 2018 study at the University of Pennsylvania of young adults, those who restricted their use of social media to 10 minutes per day, had reduced feelings of depression and loneliness.
And 24-hour news can exacerbate our stress and the sympathetic systems “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, the news cycle elevates mostly bad news, and can often, with algorithms, feed the user more negative news, based on their interests. The “if it bleeds, it leads” principle has led to more stressful news, which is constantly being on top of the feed that we see when we open any news app or email. The result is that consumers that are exposed to media can live in a constant state of fear.
If we are to address mental health from a preventative standpoint, which is as necessary as prevention for physical health such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer, we need to acknowledge the contributing pillar of media, social media and honestly, the overwhelming stream of information from emails and texts too. This will be essential in any approach to helping solve the mental health crisis.
In the meantime, I’ve taken a page from my son’s approach. This past Sunday, most of the day, my phone was on “Do Not Disturb.”
The Forbes.com Well Beings Blog is a series that addresses critical topics around the health, mental health, and well-being of America’s youth and adults. The blog launched in 2020 as a companion to the Well Beings Youth Mental Health Project and Ken Burns Presents Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, A Film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers (PBS.org/plainsight | WellBeings.org/plainsight), which is now streaming on the PBS app. #WellBeings #WellBeingsLive
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