Seven Ways The Overuse Of Technology Is Eroding Your Mental Health
Dr. Gregory Jantz
According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of U.S. adults own a smartphone, and adoption has more than doubled since 2011; and 69 percent of U.S. adults are social media users. The meteoric, ubiquitous rise of smartphones—and internet-connected devices generally—could not have been predicted. And it all happened before we stopped to ask ourselves—is this behavior healthy?
A ubiquitous feature of practically every Internet activity is that it’s solitary. Sure, you may be messaging or chatting or gaming with online, but generally, you are physically alone. This isolation can be damaging in many ways, but two in particular have negative consequences for people suffering from depression. First, interacting with others only through electronic media filters our communication and strips away a huge range of important nonverbal signals. Researchers estimate that anywhere from 65 to 85 percent of all communication takes place through eye contact, facial expression, hand gestures, body position and posture, and so on. Real connection by electronic means is impossible. Essentially, online relationships skip normal development and often create a sense of “instant intimacy,” which is not true emotional closeness.
Social isolation and its tendency to enable behavioral extremes is a two-way street. It’s damaging to indulge in those things yourself but also to be exposed to them coming from others. Cyberbullying, while normally thought of as a problem only among teens, can happen to anyone online. According to the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of US adults report they’ve been the target of online harassment, including 18 percent who say the incidents were “severe,” such as sustained stalking or threats of violence.
Discomfort with Solitude and Inactivity
Overuse of technology often creates a need for more and more stimulation to keep our brains and emotions satisfied. All of this has an often-overlooked consequence: a sense of discomfort and restlessness with solitude, stillness, and silence. As a society, we have largely lost appreciation for quietness and introspection. It is in moments of tranquility that we allow our imaginations the freedom to conceive new ideas. It is in moments of contemplation that we listen for spiritual guidance. It is in moments of unhurried reflection that we come to understand who we are as unique individuals.
It’s long been recognized that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a big part of what keeps us all running the “rat race.” Those may be outdated phrases these days, but the condition of unhealthy envy they describe is alive and well. Those suffering from depression are already poised to believe that their lives don’t measure up to the lives of others. The Internet provides persuasive “evidence” they’re right about that.
While much of what you see on the Internet presents an overly rosy view of reality, millions of other sites peddle the opposite extreme: nonstop doom and gloom. It’s an alarming parade of war, famine, political strife, social injustice, and environmental catastrophe— almost as if news organizations, bloggers, filmmakers, chat group members, and millions of commenters have conspired to turn whole regions of cyberspace into a scene from Dante’s Inferno I believe a steady diet of “digital distortion” is harmful to anyone’s mental health and magnifies depression symptoms.
You feel drained of the energy and motivation needed to complete even the most commonplace tasks. An often-overlooked item that also belongs on the list is time leakage. A person who is depressed will spend eight hours avoiding fifteen minutes of cleaning the kitchen by filling the time with every possible distraction. The Internet presents an infinite warehouse of options. One click leads to a hundred more possibilities. Social media is a bottomless pit of posts, likes, follows, and comments, and before you know it, whole days have disappeared. Reclaiming your time and how you spend it is a vital step in reclaiming your life from depression.
Someone surfing online will sit hunched over a keyboard, sometimes barely looking up for long periods of time. Health risks associated with such a sedentary lifestyle are well documented: high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, obesity, reduced immune system function—and depression and anxiety. One study titled “The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed” noted that “depressed patients are less fit and have diminished physical work capacity on the order of 80% to 90% of age-predicted norms, which in turn may contribute to other physical health problems.”
Dr. Jantz is the author of Healing Depression for Life: The Personalized Approach that Offers New Hope for Lasting Relief. He is a licensed mental health counselor with a doctorate in counseling psychology and a world-recognized expert and innovator in the treatment of behavioral disorders and addictions.